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January 28, 2013

On Women in Combat Arms, Questions & Facts Matter

“What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

― Robert A. Heinlein

Whilst recovering from back to back illnesses, the Editorial Staff have been reading various articles on SecDef Leon Panetta's recent announcement that the military will open formerly closed specialties in the combat arms (infantry, artillery, etc) to women.

What is remarkable about nearly all of this "coverage" is the near-total absence of statistics related to the performance, attrition, physical fitness, or injury/illness rates of women currently serving. The debate seems to be characterized by magical thinking about a best case scenario female soldier who - despite being smaller, physically weaker, and vulnerable to a whole host of ailments related to female plumbing (not the least of which is pregnancy) - will somehow rise above all these disadvantages and should be allowed to serve because... fairness.

Women, we are told, are just as dedicated as men and therefore they deserve a chance to serve in the combat specialties. But fairness and individual advancement have never been the primary determinants of whether men are allowed to serve. My youngest son played soccer as a midfielder throughout high school, repeatedly earning places on select teams. There was no doubt of his physical fitness, and yet he was not eligible for military service. The reason? Mild asthma, easily treatable with inhalers. His condition never once resulted in emergency treatment and never once prevented him from playing soccer...or basketball...or any other sport.

At 18, my son was far more fit than the vast majority of Marine recruits, yet he was ineligible for military service. Was that "unfair"? I don't think so, because the military routinely screens out recruits for all sorts of minor medical reasons. In my son's case, clearly "fairness" was subordinated to practical considerations like military readiness. If we are now considering putting women in the most physically demanding specialties for reasons that have little or nothing to do with readiness and everything to do with identity politics, what information should we have on hand to help us make an informed decision?

This post will ask a lot of questions and offer only a few answers.

Question 1: What effect does pregnancy have on combat readiness?

This is anything but a frivolous question, given the high rate of unplanned pregnancies in active duty females:

Nearly 11% of more than 7,000 active-duty women surveyed by the Department of Defense in 2008 reported an unplanned pregnancy during the previous year....

Unplanned pregnancies can have a significant impact on the health of military personnel and on troop readiness, according to the study.
Servicewomen who become pregnant unexpectedly while at home cannot be deployed, which may affect their career. Servicewomen who become pregnant while overseas must be sent home, which can cost the military around $10,000.

The military's response to the problem of non-deployable women is alarming. Faced with Gulf War-era studies that showed that women were three times less likely to be deployable than men, how did the Department of Defense respond?

If you guessed, "They stopped keeping track" of how pregnancies affect deployability, a stuffed marmoset is on its way to you by parcel post:

"We're definitely not tracking it," said a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, which runs the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I've been attending operations briefings for two years, and I don't think I have heard once that pregnancy has come up."

Let's repeat that statistic: for various reasons, during the Gulf war women were unable to deploy at rates over 3 times those of their male counterparts. This is a big deal, and it will have a far greater impact on readiness if women are admitted to the combat arms. Is there more recent data? There should be, and if there isn't the Department of Defense should explain why not.

Question 2: How do injury/illness rates of military men and women compare?

What we do know isn't promising to the argument that expanding participation of women to the most physically demanding specialties will have no impact on readiness:

...we need only to review the statistics from our entry-level schools to realize that there is a significant difference in the physical longevity between male and female Marines. At OCS the attrition rate for female candidates in 2011 was historically low at 40 percent, while the male candidates attrite at a much lower rate of 16 percent. Of candidates who were dropped from training because they were injured or not physically qualified, females were breaking at a much higher rate than males, 14 percent versus 4 percent. The same trends were seen at TBS in 2011; the attrition rate for females was 13 percent versus 5 percent for males, and 5 percent of females were found not physically qualified compared with 1 percent of males. Further, both of these training venues have physical fitness standards that are easier for females; at IOC there is one standard regardless of gender. The attrition rate for males attending IOC in 2011 was 17 percent. Should female Marines ultimately attend IOC, we can expect significantly higher attrition rates and long-term injuries for women.

A recent Army study on musculo-skeletal injuries found that:

The combination of anatomy and physiology appears to predispose women to a higher risk of pelvic stress fracture and anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. The diagnosis of pelvic stress fracture has been reported as 1 in 367 female recruits, compared with 1 in 40,000 male recruits, and rates of ACL ruptures for female athletes range from 2.4 to 9.7 times higher than in male athletes.

...Army women are more likely to be disabled than men and are approximately 67% more likely than Army men to receive a physical disability discharge for a musculoskeletal disorder.
The discharge rates for musculoskeletal conditions have been as high as 140 per 10,000 Army women per year, compared with 81 per 10,000 Army men per year.

Military women tend to suffer a higher incidence of injuries than
military men. Several studies have identified female gender as a risk
factor for injury in Army basic training programs in the united states and around the world. For example, one study shows the cumulative injury incidence in basic Combat training (bCt) was 52% for women versus 26% for men. It was 30% for women versus 24% for men in Advanced Individual training (AIt). Other studies showed a similar incidence for training injuries in bCt populations: approximately 50% for women and 25% for men.

In addition, the proportion of trainees discharged from bCt for medical reasons was 12.7% for women, compared with only 5.2% for men. There was even reported gender differences in the utilization of medical services on a military ship. During a 6-month period, females were evaluated at a rate 9.2 times that of males (6.44 vs 0.70 visits per year). Only 39% of the visits were gender-specific, whereas gender-neutral conditions resulted in a female to-male visit ratio of nearly 6:1.

It is impossible to evaluate the effect of admitting women to the combat arms on military readiness without looking at how they are currently performing under far less strenuous and dangerous conditions.

Finally, Question 3: What is the relative average cost of training male vs. female recruits?

I could not find any data on this, but it's important.

The amount of fact-free bloviation on this topic is just stunning. If it is indeed true that women can serve in the combat arms with no negative effect on readiness, the facts should bear that out.

So where are they?

Posted by Cassandra at January 28, 2013 04:09 AM

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It's all about the "equality," isn't it?

“With regards to Selective Service, you know, that’s not our operation,” Panetta said. “I don’t know who the hell controls Selective Service, if you want to know the truth. But, you know, whoever does, they’re going to have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.”

Hey! Whoever the hell controls Selective Service? You'd better get crackin' on this. It's all about the equality!

Posted by: spd rdr at January 28, 2013 01:08 PM

Kind of amazing that the SecDef would not know the answer to that (who runs Selective Service, really?). I imagine his notes on that are in the consulate at Benghazi.

"we're not keeping track of that" smacks of Sgt. Schulz of "Hogan's Heroes" - I Know Nothing!

If you don't know the answer, then you don't have to fib about it.

"Jerry, it's not a lie if you believe it " - George Constanza, fictional character......or is he?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 28, 2013 01:51 PM

Shorter Panetta to Mr. Lawrence G. Romo (Dir. Selective Service): Dude, I can't be bothered to learn your name, why would you think I'd include you before I change the rules and make your life hell.

Taking the people who will be affected by your decisions into account is for wimps. Other people aren't near as important as your political ambitions.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 28, 2013 02:03 PM

Where Equality reigns facts are f... shucked. The last remaining fact still extant and in service: nature is a social construct therefore subject to reconstruction. American Armed Services – RIP.

Posted by: George Pal at January 28, 2013 02:04 PM

There must be something terribly wrong with me, because I don't see any defensible theory under which we can say there are no important differences between men and women that should prevent women from serving in the combat arms and then turn around and exempt women from the draft.

Not that I think the DoD will come out and say that, mind you. They'll come out with some goofy rationale under which women are fully-equal-yet-not-fully-responsible.


Posted by: Cass at January 28, 2013 02:19 PM

Well, you see. Women have the right to choose.

Hell, if making women do something, like provide for their birth control the same way men do, is called a "war on women", what then is making women go to war called?

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 28, 2013 02:40 PM

Back in the 1980s when we were first married, I was an ardent advocate of letting women try to serve in the combat arms.

I was a housewife and I could pass (not excel at, but pass) most of the male PFT - excepting the upper body stuff. So I couldn't understand why there were even differing standards for men and women.

But there was so much I didn't understand about real conditions in the field. The Unit used to tell a story about being in the field in the desert and walking off aways to take care of the morning constitutional. There is zero privacy - no latrine tent, nothing. Just a guy, some TP, and his entrenching tool.

People can and do walk up to you. It drove him nuts, but it was unavoidable. I can't imagine women in that environment. They have documented issues with female pilots on long flights. The guys can pee into a tube. The tools for women don't work when you're sitting down.

Some of this really is just craziness. I'm actually quite sympathetic to the desire to serve, but at some point reality has to be a consideration too.

Posted by: Cass at January 28, 2013 02:42 PM

Hell, if making women do something, like provide for their birth control the same way men do, is called a "war on women", what then is making women go to war called?

YAG, you ignorant man-slut :p

That's a big part of what really offends me here.

Women are helpless victims who must be protected... except when we're just as strong and capable and aggressive as men. Then, protecting us is discrimination.

But it is NOT discrimination, for instance, to evaluate women using more lenient standards. And it is NOT discrimination to provide women with protections and special accommodations we don't provide male service members.

It's only discrimination if you don't like it.

Posted by: Cass at January 28, 2013 03:11 PM

It's only discrimination if it doesn't buy votes for Democrat politicians.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at January 28, 2013 04:07 PM

Well yeah. This is a total vote buying act.

Whether women can meet the Minimum Physical Requirements (and no, not just getting through boot camp) will be the final arbiter. Unless they lower the standards. And then in combat or a deployed situation, and the unit effectiveness goes way down, and then what? I'm sure Mr. Panetta and President Obama won't be answering those difficult questions. And some other hogwash was uttered by the Chairman of the JCS the other day about it.

But today, huzzahs! for more vote-buying. I sure hope those deployed women won't have to touch any of those icky assault rifles either. Wait, that's what the Army and Marines carry in combat? Troubling indeed.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at January 28, 2013 05:37 PM

I sure hope those deployed women won't have to touch any of those icky assault rifles either. Wait, that's what the Army and Marines carry in combat? Troubling indeed.

I can never figure out how the media reconcile their continual handwriting about women suffering Pretty Much Everything and being generally Victimized by Life with their utter contempt for anyone who asks questions consistent with the media's view of women as perpetual victims (but don't you DARE question their toughness!!!).

I'm not terribly impressed by the arguments about women POWs being raped, etc. The things that were done to men in Vietnam were so horrific that I think this is really kind of a dumb argument. Torture is torture, and I see no reason why we should care more when women are brutalized than when men are brutalized.

And I'm likewise not terribly sympathetic to the argument that men can't control themselves sexually. They can, and most of them do most of the time. Lots of women have demonstrated that they can't control themselves sexually too. This poses a significant discipline problem for commands, but of course we are not supposed to take that into account. The problem isn't just men. It's men AND women being attracted to each other.

It's just so bizarre to read some of the idiotic media articles and then go and read official government studies on known health issues of women (including recommendations that women MUST be given privacy and access to regular showers, etc. to ensure their reproductive health and well being).

What's even more ironic is that in many of these studies, actual women were surveyed and complained about these things too! So it's not like a bunch of chauvinistic men are making them up! This is women, telling medical professionals that these things are problems.

What are we to make of this? I have no idea. I do know that smart people like journalists who have never served know far more about this than women who have served, or the doctors that treat them.

Posted by: Cass at January 28, 2013 06:13 PM

I'm all for it just to see how folks like Senator Kerry handle it. Imagine if he said the things he did about people, "stuck in Iraq" with women involved. Wait a minute he did.

And, the media, gotta love it. They could write stories about women with combat experience who are just walking time bombs waiting to commit murder and mayhem.

On a serious note I do not have a problem with women serving in many combat roles. Mechanical advantage handles many of the strength issues.

Posted by: Allen at January 28, 2013 09:18 PM

Lots of women have demonstrated that they can't control themselves sexually too. This poses a significant discipline problem for commands, but of course we are not supposed to take that into account. The problem isn't just men. It's men AND women being attracted to each other.

My personal experience bears this out. I attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey California from 1992-1994 (Arabic takes a while to learn). It's one of the few places in the military where the male/female ratio is about 1:1. There was a bronze statue of an eagle on post, and there's a legend about that eagle. The legend states that if a [female] virgin were to graduate from DLI, that eagle would fly away.

Liaisons between male and female servicemembers was RIFE at DLI. At least once a month, probably more, command held random "health and welfare" inspections at around 2am. The purpose was not, as the name implies, to make sure we had adequate accommodations, but to see if you had contraband in your room. Normal contraband items were alcohol in quantities beyond what SOP said you could keep (6 beers, 4 wine coolers, or one liter of wine per room occupant), hot plates (which I don't recall anyone getting busted for), and (as was most often the case) a member of the opposite sex. Article 15s (aka Captain's Mast or NJP) are a matter of public record in the Army (pour encourager les autres, as it were), and following each one, it was something of a sport to look over the bodies of the fallen. "There but for the grace of God, go I," was the general feeling. But it is important to note, that no one really thought THEY would ever get caught.

I tell that story to relate the following information. During health and welfare inspections, the cadre would post NCOs outside the building. For you see, our barracks had windows on only one side of the first floor. The first floor being where the females bunked. And invariably those NCOs would catch someone leaping out of the window of one of those first floor rooms. And, if you can believe it, those leapers were NOT 3am window repairers! I can't recall hearing of any female leaping out of a second or third story window, but perhaps it happened. And the point is in all cases, men on the first floor or women on the upper floors, ALL of them were there by invitation, and all were consensual liaisons. At least during my two years there.

The fact is, it takes two to tango, as Cass said, and I'm not sure why it is expected the Infantry would behave any better than Military Intelligence would.

Posted by: MikeD at January 29, 2013 08:45 AM

Oh, and lest you think me a cad who would take advantage of some poor defenseless (but totally and completely in all ways equal) female soldier, I can state with a clear conscience that I never once was caught in a H&W inspection. A monk, was I. A veritable paragon of ... what? Well... I was never CAUGHT, at least.

Posted by: MikeD at January 29, 2013 08:49 AM

...the point is in all cases, men on the first floor or women on the upper floors, ALL of them were there by invitation, and all were consensual liaisons. At least during my two years there. The fact is, it takes two to tango...

Bingo. When I was younger, men used to approach me all the time, but I learned very quickly that most men don't enjoy being rejected and it took very little to politely discourage them. Most women know that - even young ones.

It's definitely true that a woman will receive more male attention on a military base. I think this is true for a variety of reasons: the concentration of young, healthy, fit males, the relative scarcity of women, maybe self selection. But most guys will leave a woman alone if she really isn't interested in casual liasons.

If shenanigans are occurring, it's generally because both the man and woman wanted them to.

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2013 09:16 AM

I agree with nearly everything I've read here, except that I'm surprised how high a profile pee/poop breaks are assuming in the controversy. I must be weird, but if the guys around me could deal with lack of privacy for elimination functions, I could too, and frankly if I couldn't, I'd consider that enough to disqualify me right there.

I know I'd be hallucinating if I though we could enact a policy that required women to deal with exactly the same conditions as the men before we put them into combat roles. Inevitably someone will decide that the poor little darlings have to be more protected than that. From Jim Crow straight to affirmative action, every time. It's very discouraging.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 29, 2013 10:16 AM

I agree with nearly everything I've read here, except that I'm surprised how high a profile pee/poop breaks are assuming in the controversy. I must be weird, but if the guys around me could deal with lack of privacy for elimination functions, I could too, and frankly if I couldn't, I'd consider that enough to disqualify me right there.

Maybe it's you. My wife still (after 16 years of marriage) still doesn't like to pee if I'm in the bathroom, and I think she would kill me if I confided to you that she actually DOES poop on occasion. The fact that she will only use a public restroom under duress and defecate there only in extremis indicates that (at least in her case) she'd never be able to casually eliminate in a field environment. I cannot say how representative that is for her gender, but I will say, guys are normally a lot more open about the cruder biological functions than women in my experience. The relative humor of the fart joke as perceived by men and women is somewhat indicative of this.

Posted by: MikeD at January 29, 2013 12:59 PM

I think there's a HUGE difference between the expectation (and value) of privacy from people that have the same plumbing you do, and the opposite sex.

Women, in general, are not big on showering in public even with other women (except on dumb films made for guys to watch). I don't recall a whole lot of high school or college pillow fights whilst wearing filmy lingerie either, but perhaps I was just hanging with the wrong crowd :p

A lot of folks have brought up an article in the WSJ that described 24 men in the back of a truck for an extended period. They were so overcrowded that they were literally sitting on each other's laps and to relieve themselves meant standing right next to one or two other people and doing it right in front of their faces.

Now that's not what happens most of the time, but Marines do have to deal with conditions like that and they can be very unpleasant even before you have to take the presence of the opposite sex into account.

What's really annoying is that the people who are making light of this are the SAME ones who hyperventilate about how awful it is that women have to be around gross men who are attracted to them and secretly want to rape them. I wish these folks would make up their minds.

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2013 01:18 PM

Also, on what Mike said about valuing privacy, that's one of the things the spousal unit hated about deployments and field ex's.

So it's not just women.

When we bought this house, one of the things we wanted was bathrooms with some privacy. Even people who know and love each other don't always want all that much togetherness :p

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2013 01:21 PM

Yep, I'm weird. I even like fart jokes. But anyway, the point is that if it's a problem for me, then I don't belong there. It's just like the problem of needing to be in the 0.01 percentile in upper-body strength or whatever: only the rare woman would qualify, because no one is going to be able to convert combat conditions into comfortable bathroom accommodations with privacy, any more than they're going to be able to ensure that female combatants can stay current on their manicures.

I'm just surprised, because I'd have thought there were about a million battlefield conditions that would cause a huge problem before we got to the need for private bathrooms.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 29, 2013 03:35 PM

When I went to the field in 1979 with 2nd Marine Division HQ for one of the SOLID SHIELD exercises, we deployed women with us for the first time ever. Granted, we were a division HQ as opposed to an infantry bn, but things went suprisingly smooth.

We set up separate shower hours for the one field shower, but we didn't have separate heads.

I knew of only one 4-holer (2 side to side backed up against 2 side by side), but there might have been more, and the only privacy was shoulder high canvas separating the individual "stalls." No canvas in front.

No problem. It's a mental thing, and since you can't really see much, even if standing directly in front, it's mainly a noise thing. So you just accept that it's part of human nature for people pooping to make noises while doing so.

But it's certainly different different at an infantry bn, where you're lucky to have a sit-down shitter at all. Usually it's just a slit trench if you're bivouacked, or nothing at all except for the hole you just dug if you're on the move. But C-rats, and now MRE's, cooperate--they tend to make you constipated!

Posted by: Rex at January 29, 2013 03:40 PM

When I went to the field in 1979 with 2nd Marine Division HQ for one of the SOLID SHIELD exercises, we deployed women with us for the first time ever. Granted, we were a division HQ as opposed to an infantry bn, but things went suprisingly smooth. We set up separate shower hours for the one field shower, but we didn't have separate heads.

Conditions like what you describe shouldn't be a problem, I agree!

I don't know how common that is, though. This sounds more like what I remember hearing about:

it's certainly different different at an infantry bn, where you're lucky to have a sit-down shitter at all. Usually it's just a slit trench if you're bivouacked, or nothing at all except for the hole you just dug if you're on the move.

The spouse describes having to hike off a ways from everyone else on flat terrain where there is absolutely no cover, but that was in the desert. I don't think they had showers - I think I remember him describing using his helmet liner to hold water to shave and wash up in but it's been so long I'm probably screwing something up.

What strikes me here is that people seem always to describe the best case scenarios and ignore the worst (or just the normal). I agree with Tex that if a woman really wants to do the job, anything is negotiable.

If I believed that's where it would end up, I might feel differently about this. But I've seen too many instances where everything becomes a grievance and the leadership (often to the dismay of women) gives women all sorts of special accommodations.

To people living rough, it's very hard on morale to see one group of people being treated differently (and better). For the Marines in particular, special accommodations would make them less mobile and limit their options.

I'm willing to be persuaded - it's just that I want people to look at the data that has been collected and make informed decisions rather than basing everything on hypotheticals and best case scenarios.

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2013 03:59 PM

This will become a cluster fsck of the highest order. I am certain that there are some women Marines who can do better at the infantry task set than the average Marine. They are few, however. Those who would be interested are probably even fewer. I fear that the standards will be lowered, so that the numbers will look better ... which will endanger all Marines, and those who rely upon them.

Posted by: htom at January 29, 2013 04:03 PM

Oh, and I do *not* like fart jokes :p

Just wanted to get that on the record for posterity, so to speak...

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2013 04:04 PM

I am certain that there are some women Marines who can do better at the infantry task set than the average Marine. They are few, however. Those who would be interested are probably even fewer. I fear that the standards will be lowered, so that the numbers will look better ... which will endanger all Marines, and those who rely upon them.

That's about as good a summary of my assessment as I've seen.

The first article I linked to about unplanned pregnancies is a perfect example.

We're talking about grown women with access to free health care and free contraceptives who can't be bothered to get and use them! And how is the "problem" framed?

In 2012, the Navy issued a policy requiring all females to be offered contraception services immediately after receiving orders to make sure they have time to find a contraception method before being deployed, Pilip-Florea said. Navy medical facilities also have a film on the different kinds of contraceptives; the facilities will soon receive another film on the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. [BECAUSE REALLY - WHO KNEW?] The Navy also plans to add a "multi-hour, facilitated classroom lecture on family planning" to their mandatory training after boot camp, according to Pilip-Florea. Grossman acknowledged these efforts, but said more needs to be done across all branches to provide education and access to contraception for servicewomen. "These findings highlight an important public health problem within the military that has not been adequately addressed," the study authors wrote.

Maybe they could assign someone to follow these people around and make sure they are having safe sex. More must be done!

Posted by: Cass at January 29, 2013 04:10 PM

"Oh, and I do *not* like fart jokes :p"

I guessed as much, and you'll notice that I never make them here! I save them for the low company I keep.

I'm sure you're correct that, no matter how sensible it would be to set the same standards and stick to them, the entire thing would devolve into theater of the absurd in which women sued for nicer privies, on the basis of some incomprehensible Constitutional penumbra. I'm sorry to knock my own sex like that, but women have been treated as a special protected class, and in this society special classes all end up that way eventually -- thereby screwing it up royally for the members of that class who just wanted to be human beings.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 29, 2013 11:43 PM

I don't thing the suing for special privileges has anything to do with women, per se. It's just human nature and incentives.

As long as politicians have something to gain from championing special interest groups, there is leverage for that sort of nonsense. If white males were perceived to be a disadvantaged minority (and if current trends continue, there may be some actual basis for such a belief) then they'll start doing the same thing and politicians will pander to them.

You can already see this with all the stupid calls on the right for affirmative action for college men, and wanting the entire educational system to be re-engineered to cater to "boys' learning styles" (which apparently don't include learning to complete assignments on time even when students have two weeks to do something that requires maybe two days). Yesterday I read a blog post featured on instapundit where the blogger was seriously claiming that boys shouldn't have to keep track of or complete assignments! Oddly, I had trouble with that very thing, as did my Dad ... long before feminists supposedly changed the schools and filled them with girly stuff.

Try getting away with that line of BS in any job that pays decently. "I shouldn't have to complete my work on time or keep track of deadlines. I'm a man!" The idiocy just never stops.


It's not just the left that does this. The right is getting to be just as tiresome.

Human nature.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2013 06:41 AM

The focus on 'bathrooms' and the physical fitness test (PFT) is interesting.

But ignores - for me - other more interesting aspects of the problems of the quality of life in a rifle squad in the field ( pigs live better in a sty ) and the physical aspects of the job that aren't on the test, AFAIK.

Whatever. Our masters have spoken: equality now, and forever. Women can attend SOI. Perhaps they may need to expand the barracks assigned to the Med Hold platoon, but they will attend.

Maybe they can come up with little wheels or something to make carrying all that heavy-as-death gear actually possible.

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at January 30, 2013 07:49 AM

Another thought occurs to me as well. I think even the most rabid proponent of women in combat arms knows at least some of this stuff at some level. And I'd suspect most of them wouldn't want to be an infantrywoman themselves, but there are complaints (and probably pretty valid ones) that the top levels of command require combat arms experience. And it's kind of demonstrable. I don't think there's ever been a SMA that was NOT combat arms. And how many Chiefs of Staff of any branch were not from the combat arms side of their service? Sure, you can make a star without ever being combat arms, but you cannot reach the pinnacle of your profession without it. I never could have been SMA, because I was MI. Mind you, I never whined about it, but I realized it was certainly true.

Now, since that's (supposedly) the reason we need to allow women into combat arms, let's turn the premise on its head. If the actual issue is "only combat arms experience gets you to the top levels of command," then isn't the obvious solution removing THAT barrier instead? After all, allowing women into combat arms doesn't guarantee them access into the top levels of command anyway. Less than .01% of all military men ever reach those lofty heights. And we're all pretty much in agreement that only the most exceptionally physically gifted women would be able to hack it in combat (but that such women exist). So it stands to reason that only .01% of that minute sliver of women would reach those lofty heights. So what... one female Sergeant Major of the Army? One female Commandant of the Marine Corps? Ever? And that at least thirty years down the road? MINIMUM?

The truth is, if it's ACTUALLY about providing equal opportunities for advancement (since it's CLEARLY not about actual military readiness), then wouldn't the sensible solution be to provide equal opportunities for advancement regardless of Military Occupational Specialty or branch of service? And honestly, the argument then becomes something along the lines of "but then you've got a command that doesn't understand what the warfighter at the bottom is going through." I've got short shrift for that argument. You will never be able to convince me that the JCOS have the SLIGHTEST idea what the troops think/need/want. These are the guys that said the blue on green attacks we are suffering is because our soldiers are blowing their noses in front of the Afghans. All but blaming the victims for being murdered. They are NOT battlefield commanders, and haven't been since the days of Omar Bradley. They're the epitome of staff pukes (and I say that as a man who was most assuredly a REMF). The idea that their past combat arms experience makes them more qualified to hold that post is laughable.

Posted by: MikeD at January 30, 2013 08:44 AM

It's an interesting point, and one where my ignorance is huge. What do you think is the actual connection between excellence in the top ranks and combat experience? Will we degrade the performance of the highest officers if we don't require them to have combat experience? Because if so, then it's sort of tough noogies if women can't meet that requirement.

Posted by: Texan99 at January 30, 2013 11:02 AM

What do you think is the actual connection between excellence in the top ranks and combat experience?

In my opinion? I was just an E-5, and my dad was just an O-6, but honestly? I don't see how there could be. As I said, there has not been a combat commander in the JCOS probably since Omar Bradley. Oh I'm sure men who have served on the JCOS since then have combat experience, but that's not WHY they're there. They are in the top position because they are political creatures. They make the right friends, say the right things, and don't make waves if they can help it. There are exceptions, of course. Gen Mattis probably amongst the most notable. But then again, the Marine Corps has always been the least political of the branches (much to their detriment, I should say). Their combat experience certainly gives them credibility as "leaders", but that's not why they're there. In my opinion.

Will we degrade the performance of the highest officers if we don't require them to have combat experience?
This one I'm more comfortable in answering in the negative. By the point a General is up for consideration to be a Chief of Staff, he's not been a leader of combat troops in anything but the most notional sense for over a decade. An LTC MAY lead troops into combat, but even then there's no guarantee. I think the last rank where you can say "he's leading the fight" nowadays is probably Captain. And ALL Generals have gone through the War Colleges. I'm not sure how you can say that a career Quatermaster officer has less knowledge of what it takes to command at the highest level than a career Armor officer. In fact, I could make a strong case that the Quatermaster branch officer is MORE suited for such a command, as logistics is what he's done his whole career.

Because if so, then it's sort of tough noogies if women can't meet that requirement.
As can be easily determined by my answers, I'm not supportive of women in combat. But I have no objection to their leading at the highest levels. Again, because I don't consider combat command to be all that critical. No one expects CJCOS Dempsey to lead troops into combat (which is good for all involved, I have a remarkably poor opinion of his "leadership"). He will never again go to the field, except on a show tour, he will never again pick up a weapon and shoot it in anger. In fact, I'd be remarkably surprised if he takes APFTs and has yearly weapon qualifications. His life is so far removed from the lower enlisted as to be a completely different job. So why should he need to have been a combat commander? Perspective? He's the one who's blaming our troops in the field for being murdered on base by al-Qaida/Taliban plants rather than admit they're al-Qaida/Taliban plants. Even when the Taliban takes credit. The man HAS no perspective. He's a politician in uniform doing what he's told. I see no reason a qualified female officer could not do his job.

Posted by: MikeD at January 30, 2013 12:28 PM

I can't speak for the other services, but combat experience is very important in the Marines. Gen. Conway commanded 1-MEF in Iraq during the war. He had 60K people (including Brits) under his command.

Not sure about Gen. Amos, but Joe Dunford (the current ACMAC) spent almost 2 years in Iraq, commanding RCT5 during the invasion under Jim Mattis. He earned the nickname, "Fighting Joe".

I would not be surprised if he is the next CMC. He should be.

I don't think lack of combat experience should necessarily be a deal killer for promotion, but I absolutely do think it's important at the Joint Chiefs level. I say that as someone whose husband did not have combat experience, and yet was a valued senior officer. I think Conway and Dunford in particular brought a deep knowledge of and passion for what combat troops experience to the job, and I don't think an officer who hadn't experienced that directly would have quite the same outlook.

I don't disagree that 3 star generals get there b/c they are political animals, but in the Marines at least it's damned hard to rise to the top without combat experience and I don't think that's a bad thing.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2013 12:53 PM

One more thing: I think combat experience is important in the fighting services' top billets for morale reasons.

Young men and women should know that their leaders have walked the walk, so to speak.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2013 12:57 PM

Will female service members have equal opportunity to be voluntold into combat roles? Most of the discussion I've seen so far assumes that it will be for the few who are physically qualified and who want to do it, but if we're all the same now, why would they be given that choice more than any other enlistee?

Posted by: Sig at January 30, 2013 01:46 PM

Sig, I couldn't agree more with this.

The draft is also a big consideration. Once combat arms jobs are open to women, the justification for only making men register for Selective Service vanishes.

This is a big deal, and frankly I'm just stunned that DoD has brought this up at this particular time when there are so many huge budget cuts pending.

It's a distraction. We're talking about a TINY number of an already small minority of women serving. Canada has only 2% women in its combat arms roles after decades.

It's absolutely ludicrous.

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2013 01:50 PM

What do you think is the actual connection between excellence in the top ranks and combat experience?

And I just re-read the question AFTER posting. *SIGH*

Let's try again. The actual connection is that I'm sure it's seen as a "he's been there and done that, so he's qualified to lead" by those that have gone before him (the ones who determine that he will move up the ladder). In other words, it's a perception that the head guy in charge should have (at one point) been down in the trenches with the men so that he understands what they go through. But I think it's a false assumption. Generals no longer lead their men into battle, and have not for a VERY long time. And I wish I could say it's better on the enlisted level, but far too often, it's true of Sergeant Majors as well. Just look at our current SMA's attempts to "tighten up" AR-670-1 (wear and appearance of uniforms). He wants a tattoo free, clean cut, all American (but culturally sensitive) appearing soldier. But as Kipling said:

We aren't no thin red 'eroes, nor we aren't no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An' if sometimes our conduck isn't all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don't grow into plaster saints;

Now what kind of combat commander would worry about if his infantrymen have tattoos? The answer is, none. I was a REMF and I think this is stupid, "garrison uber alles" thinking. But this is what the senior enlisted man, a man who (through the unofficial selection process for SMA mandates) was at some point a member of the combat arms thinks is important for soldiers. And remember, we're not talking about 'guidelines' here. AR-670-1 is an Army Regulation (hence the 'AR'), failure to follow that regulation is a violation of the UCMJ and punishable as a felony (since all violations of the UCMJ are felonies). And I'm to believe that his combat arms experience gives him some unique understanding to lead soldiers? Bravo Sierra.

Posted by: MikeD at January 30, 2013 02:07 PM

The burning issue of tattoos in the service. They need to get right on that as soon as everyone finishes diversity sensitivity training.

I had to sit through diversity seminar once. It was an eye-popper. Who knew that the way to deal with a subordinate would have absolutely no connection to whether his performance was remotely satisfactory?

Posted by: Texan99 at January 30, 2013 05:02 PM

Not having read the Army regs, I can't really comment knowledgeably.

I will say that there's always some moron who has to push the envelope. I don't think it's asking too much for an employer to be able to specify minimum appearance standards (like no tattoos on your head or face).

I wrote years ago about some jackwagon who was complaining that the military wouldn't accept him because (I kid you not) he had Nazi tattoos on his face and neck that could not be hidden.

I don't have problems with this kind of regulation. The military won't let men grow their hair long, nor does it allow normal mustaches. I've never seen a Marine with a beard.

So there's ample precedent. If the Army is trying to outlaw tattoos, period, I think that's just plain dumb. But I'm also willing to bet it's a response to morons pushing the envelope and wanting to litigate absolutely every rule within an inch of its miserable life.

But, I could be wrong!

Posted by: Cass at January 30, 2013 05:34 PM

Senior Leadership, combat arms, women, experience.

I may have missed something. Women are allowed to be 'in combat', right now: support elements come under fire, all the time. We've had women pilots since the 90s, flying fighters.

I was _enlisted_ when the Navy first embarked a mixed-sex air wing for a year at sea, which was a long time ago.

Where women are not - or were not until this week - allowed was an actual combat arms team: infantry, armor, artillery.

Or am I wrong?

Posted by: Brian Dunbar at January 30, 2013 09:49 PM


I myself have no tattoos (I can't actually think of any art I'd want permanently put on my body... heck I don't have any for the walls of my house), and I agree that an employer can set all the appearance requirements they want. But many of the changes the SMA wants in the revised AR are what we used to call "Mickey Mouse B******t". Link to the changes below:


Now, as you say, an employer can set whatever standards they like. BUT! We're talking about regulating what soldiers will wear OFF duty as well (and not just tattoos). Clean shaven OFF duty (which would include on leave)? Pardon me, Sergeant Major, but bite my shiny metal butt. And then there's this gem:
The new regulation will specify civilian clothes standards both on and off duty and both on and off post.

REALLY? This is what the SMA thinks is good for soldiers? And his EXTENSIVE combat arms experience gives him insight into what soldiers think/need/want? Really? Because as I see it, we can get this kind of nonsense from a SMA who was a cook just as well as we can from a Ranger.

Posted by: MikeD at January 31, 2013 09:37 AM

From what I can see, some guy got a Word document from an unnamed source. I wouldn't put too much credence in that sort of thing. Lots of things are discussed at meeting that never come to pass, and I'm not sure why anyone would leak notes from a meeting.

That's the whole purpose of meetings - to get all the ideas out and discuss them. Like I said, many of them die a horrible death right then and there :p

But I agree that some of the items (particularly the ones about off duty attire and grooming) are a tad overboard, to say the least :) Others (no long fake nails) strike me as quite reasonable. I've seen women with absolutely ludicrous fake nails that prevent them from even picking things up normally.

Posted by: Cass at January 31, 2013 11:33 AM

It may indeed not be finalized, but it's clearly the beta test version:

And I also came across this, which while funny might be a tad less credible ;)

But it IS indicative of the perception of this garrison minded SMA.

Posted by: MikeD at February 1, 2013 09:07 AM

I'll admit that I definitely have an "officer's wife" outlook on this :p

I think you raise a lot of very good points, but my take is very much colored by a lifetime of watching the military change.

When I was growing up in the Navy, there were rules for pretty much everything and the Navy had no problem pressuring wives and telling them what to do (IMO, far beyond what was necessary). But then that was consistent with the times - back then, there was a degree of social pressure that I don't think most people understand now because frankly it's unimaginable.

I can remember when my husband first got in (1981), wives - or at least officer's wives - were not allowed to wear blue jeans to the Commissary! Today that seems quaint.

Going grocery shopping was a half day ordeal - get all gussied up, and even your kids had to be dressed to the nines. But I contrast that with what my Mom and mother in law dealt with: to take your freaking kid for a walk or to the store involved even *more* preparation than what I was doing. My kids as toddlers still wore leather shoes, but they weren't the old fashioned white ones that had to be polished and got shameful black scuff marks on them 20 seconds after you put them on your toddler or baby.

I used to have to dress my boys in their finest to go to the store.

And I can remember one of the things that impressed the bejeezus out of me about Marines and their families was that most enlisted and staff NCOs I knew ironed their blue jeans. I was used to the relatively sloppier Navy, but Marine enlisted families, even if they were struggling paycheck to paycheck, invariably looked neat, well groomed, and well dressed.

They took a real pride in their appearance, but there was - had to be - considerable social and command pressure to make that happen.

So I look at the proposed regs through that lens - one of having lived under very strict standards myself, and remembering my parents living under even stricter standards. My husband, for instance, always shaved on weekends b/c he would get in trouble if anyone saw him unshaven even out of uniform. That was "normal" for us.

Was it a pain in the a**? Absolutely, and now that he's retired the Unit frequently says he doesn't miss that aspect of things one bit. I can remember feeling a lot of stress and pressure to keep up appearances. We were taught that we were ambassadors to the civilian community and our behavior as officer's wives reflected on our husbands, on the command, and on the Marine Corps. And I have to say I taught my kids the same thing.

My oldest son is frequently taken for a Marine vet because he keeps his uniform neat and his shoes shined and his weight under control. That's not the norm in his police dept. But I didn't let my sons go to school in collarless shirts. I taught them that school was a preparation for work, and they needed to set a higher standard than the bare minimum.

At the same time, as a person I find all of this very tiresome :p And yet, I see value in it too. One of the things I learned when my parents plucked me out of public HS and put me in a private school with a strict dress code was that kids behave better when they are required to dress neatly and have a dress code.

As a person, I have mixed feelings about such regs but as a parent and 30 year Marine wife, while I often chafed under the Marine Corps' strict standards, I also saw great value in them.

I also understand all your points, and have a lot of sympathy for them. But I do think we've lost something as a society. We are reflexively opposed to any attempt to hold people to a standard. But the best organizations do exactly that, and loads of studies suggest that standards of dress and appearance really *do* shape our behavior and attitudes.

The old fashioned part of me says that's a good thing. The Bohemian in me (left to myself, I'd live barefoot and wear shorts all year round) is irked by rules. It's a puzzlement :p

Posted by: Cass at February 1, 2013 10:31 AM

There's one more point I wanted to touch on.

Conservatives often lament the decline of standards. But they seem to gloss over the fact that standards only work when they are enforced - when there's a painful penalty for defying them.

When we look back at crowd photos from the past, people from all walks of life are dressed up and look amazing. But that didn't happen spontaneously or even wholly voluntarily.

People felt shame to be seen in an unironed shirt or torn, worn, or ripped clothing. Now, they sell jeans with rips already in them. There was a phrase I remember, "Her clothes were worn, but clean and pressed". I remember my Mom and mother in law marveling over the decline in standards, and saying they used to stress out before simply going out because you knew people would judge you on your clothes, your hair, the way your children looked.

I think there's much the same phenomenon going on with work standards. I can remember when people would be berated for turning in a letter or paper with typos: "Are you ignorant/sloppy?"

Now, typos are everywhere. When I first got on the internet, I never had typos in my comments. Now, I almost always do. It bothers me. I see typos in my posts, and it's because I've done them too fast, with none of the care I used to take.

Standards have decline. 8 years ago I would have been ashamed to have so many typos. Now, I tell myself, "80% now is better than 100% later... or never".

I wonder: is that really true? When I first started blogging I worried endlessly about turning out poorly reasoned or shallow posts. I still worry about that a lot (in fact, it keeps me from writing at all some days), but I suspect it doesn't worry me enough :p

Posted by: Cass at February 1, 2013 10:41 AM

Standards have decline.


I just proved my own point! There was a time when I would have seen that immediately (and before I hit "post"!).

Posted by: Cass at February 1, 2013 10:43 AM

I'm obsessive about typos, so it drives me nuts that I can't edit my comments and fix them when I find them.

I've been preoccupied for a long time with the issue of standards and penalties, especially in the context of accidental pregnancies. We barely stigmatize them any more, which seems merciful, but also results in a lot more of them. People react to consequences. We know better than to remove them, but it's as if we always convince ourselves that this time it will be different: we'll just be the nice guy for eliminating the pain of the consequence.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 1, 2013 03:27 PM

I also understand all your points, and have a lot of sympathy for them. But I do think we've lost something as a society. We are reflexively opposed to any attempt to hold people to a standard. But the best organizations do exactly that, and loads of studies suggest that standards of dress and appearance really *do* shape our behavior and attitudes.

And I certainly get your point as well. But to me, it's a level of intrusion that I think is beyond reasonable. I am actually (for the most part) ok with many of the "in uniform" regs. And honestly, none of them would have affected me. I have no tattoos, I have no piercings. But what troubles me is not the SMA's belief that he DOES have control over the off-duty (to include leave) personal time of soldiers, but that he SHOULD.

The obvious argument is "what if they need to be recalled at a moment's notice?" I question the validity of the idea that a soldier recalled from leave won't have time to scrape the stubble off his face before reporting for duty. And if it IS so dire an emergency you need to recall him to duty, should the state of his hair growth in the intervening time REALLY be your top concern?

To me, while I understand appearance relates to attention to detail and the concept of looking dress-right-dress with your fellow soldiers, it strikes me as focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time. We still have troops deployed in harm's way, massive budget cuts are coming down the line, and frankly the world is still quite a dangerous place... is this REALLY the time to worry about form over function?

I'll leave you with two anecdotes about the garrison mindset that happened to me. The first is more innocuous. In garrison, soldiers were expected to iron and starch their BDUs. However, the regulations strictly forbade the use of starch on the Battle Dress Uniform as it degraded the IR suppression chemicals in the cloth. But woe betide the soldier that failed to starch for inspection. Yes, you COULD fight your command on the fact that you cannot use starch and if done right you might even avoid getting in trouble for arguing, however you'd still get dinged for "improperly pressed uniform". Soldiers who used starch passed those inspections. Funny how that worked out.

The second was a little more (financially) painful. Myself and two other soldiers were tasked with painting the interior of a building. A building that was in use (but being slowly vacated) by the Signal Officer's Basic Course. As such, there were a large number of LTs and CPTs inside the building as we were painting. Our CSM decided that with so many officers around, the three of us should (in order to present a "professional appearance"... his exact words) wear BDUs while we painted. Now, as anyone who has ever had to paint a LOT of walls knows, there's next to no way to avoid getting paint on yourself. So at the end of the first day, we reported back to the CSM and the SGT in charge of the detail said "Well Sergeant Major, we've now got three unserviceable uniforms, and the unit needs to replace them for us." The CSM said, "You're painting in civilian clothes from now on." Which is what we wanted in the first place. Oh, and they never replaced the uniforms. So we had to replace them out of our own pockets.

Posted by: MikeD at February 4, 2013 09:15 AM