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Readers question putting women in combat

Feb. 4, 2013 - 09:34AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 4, 2013 - 09:34AM  |  
Opening the door to women in combat would be "disastrous," say some, and it's long overdue, say others who joined in a torrent of responses to the announcement that the Army isn't just "brothers" in arms anymore.
Opening the door to women in combat would be "disastrous," say some, and it's long overdue, say others who joined in a torrent of responses to the announcement that the Army isn't just "brothers" in arms anymore. (Army Times)
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Opening the door to women in combat would be "disastrous," say some, and it's long overdue, say others who joined in a torrent of responses to the announcement that the Army isn't just "brothers" in arms anymore.

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Opening the door to women in combat would be "disastrous," say some, and it's long overdue, say others who joined in a torrent of responses to the announcement that the Army isn't just "brothers" in arms anymore.

The Defense Department in January announced its decision to allow women to serve in direct combat roles.

In more than 100 letters to Army Times, nearly 20 percent voiced unconditional support for the move. In comments from those who offered a definite opinion for or against, women were 2 to 1 against it and men about 4 to 1 against.

Although the majority voiced concerns with the plan, many of those indicated they would agree conditionally. Others flatly disagreed with having women in traditionally men-only combat roles.

The reasons the women cited against the decision include sexual harassment, different physical ability compared with male combat troops, and husbands in combat situations with women, among others. Men's objections focused largely on difference in physical ability.

The dozens of comments on Army Times' Facebook page showed an even split between men who agree and disagree with the plan among those who offered a definite opinion one way or the other. One soldier wrote, "No more all balls, no brains Army!"

The majority of women's comments on Facebook went against the decision.

A resounding theme from both men and women is a call for equal physical fitness standards for both genders if women are to serve in direct combat roles. Many men, some in the infantry, said they approve of women in combat provided the women can handle the physical requirements of combat duty, which may be tougher than the standards of the Army Physical Fitness Test.

When the program was announced, the Army has promised to revamp physical fitness testing to add specific job-related physical tasks for each combat military occupational specialty.

Several men noted that serving in potential combat situations is different from being assigned to a combat unit and living that life day after day.

A sample of the messages readers sent:

This decision blows my mind. Normally, the Army makes changes through gradual progression. By making such a drastic change, numerous logical steps have been bypassed for reasons I can't figure out. No one questions why there aren't any females in the National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, National Hockey League, etc. No one questions why there is a male Ultimate Fighting Championship division and a female one. No one questions why Mike Tyson is not allowed to fight in the female boxing division. Olympic athletes are the elite of the elite, yet no one questions why the women compete against women and men against men. Why? Because it just makes sense. No one wants to see a woman getting tackled by a 350-pound lineman. And these are just sports.

In sports, lives and missions aren't on the line. In combat, losing means someone dies. Until women are allowed to compete in men's contact sports on equal footing and prove that they can truly "hang with the boys," they should not be allowed in front-line infantry units, where they can put others' lives in danger, all for some grand social experiment.

Capt. Matt Lewis


Fort Polk, La.


I think it's great. They already allow women into most fields aside from infantry, armor and special forces (Green Berets, not Special Operations Forces). Those branches are the last bastions of the "good ol' boy" system, which has historically favored Caucasian males from the academy for more prominent career-enhancing positions. The entry of women into those branches will reinvent the system, especially on the commissioned side of the house.

Capt. Ronald Stephenson



Having been deployed and seen the issues that combat arms face not only overseas but stateside, as well, I cannot agree with the decision to put women in combat roles. My husband is an 11B infantryman, and I have yet to meet a woman who can keep up physically and/or mentally with the demands from this kind of work environment. The brotherhood that is built by these men is a necessity to their work, and I do not believe that a woman can fit into that environment comfortably.

I believe there are women who can meet the physical standards, but very few. I also believe that, if in this role, women should have to meet stricter standards as to hair and makeup. This isn't a fashion show; this is combat. The last thing our guys need is some prissy trying to look good while they're being shot at and trying to survive an intense firefight.

I can't even imagine the claims in sexual harassment from women in these "all-men" roles, and I fear that they would be targeted for verbal harassment.

When I was in theater, I found that a very high percentage of women couldn't seem to keep their legs closed. Married or not. Men, as well. Has anyone thought how this would affect combat readiness?

I can't think of anything good that can come from this change in policy. It's not about equality, it's about effectiveness. This will lower our effectiveness as an overall force.

Former Spc. Keri Purvis

Colorado Springs, Colo.


Having waited 21 years for this policy change, I can attest that it is a long time coming. But after Grenada, Persian Gulf War I, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, where women all served and some died, it is also a bit hollow and moot.

At the organizational level, the male-only units will sorely need training on gender socialization to enable a welcoming instead of recalcitrant integration in the coming years.

Personally, with more combat flight time logged than garrison, it amounts to an affirmation for combat time already served.

Maj. Patricia G. Baker


Inver Grove Heights, Minn.


I know just as many men who could barely carry their fat asses to the chow hall, let alone carry someone across a battlefield. Don't hold onto misplaced objections that women can't hold their own in combat. History settled this debate a long time ago. It's time for the Army, as always to lead the charge in equality.

Aaron Mishler

Combat medic

Via Facebook


I have no issue with the Army allowing women to serve in any role in the military, so long as they meet the standards for the [military occupational specialty]. I agree that we should remove the outdated "gender roles" in the service.

I also believe in the "one Army, one standard" concept. There should not be gender distinctions in the Army Physical Fitness Test, nor in AR 670-1. The "standard" that is good enough for one soldier should be good enough for all soldiers.

Staff Sgt. David J. Henderson


Fort Bliss, Texas


I feel as if the U.S., while at war for the past 11 years, has tried to cater to people's feelings. Putting the word combat in front of MOSs is one example. Don't get me wrong, some medics put their lives on the line, but leave well enough alone. When a son, husband or brother is killed in action, that is a loss. But it will be even more devastating to lose a sister, wife or daughter. You also have to consider the way infantrymen live at combat outposts with no running water, missions outside the wire that get extended on the fly. I feel that if there are women who say they can do it, carry an M240, the rounds that goes with it and a ruck up a 5,500-foot mountain in Afghanistan. That is a weapons squad gunner's pack. If not, leave history alone and let the people who do it do it. It is so easy for people to file lawsuits these days. Stop the nonsense.

Staff Sgt. Bert R. Alcon


Fort Jackson, S.C.


Whether we like it or not, women fail to be equal to men when it comes to physical capabilities. For this reason alone, women do not compete against men in amateur or professional sports.

For these lucky women who choose this great endeavor, they will endure hardships that won't be shared by those who put them there. These hardships involve the lifting of heavy equipment, long road marches while carrying 50-pound ruck with ammo, and sharing close quarters with males for personal hygiene and latrine.

In truth, women will have fewer opportunities because many lack the physical stature to serve in these units. This shortcoming will be reflected in their [physical training] test scores.

Admittedly, this decision breaks the glass ceiling for some women. As for those lucky few, it will create promotional benefits from their service. Sadly, these women will have to wait many years before they can enjoy the fruits of their labor where they will be qualified for such positions as sergeant major of the Army or to serve as a joint chief.

Staff Sgt. Ralph Klinestiver (ret.)

Macomb, Mich.


Must be opt-in, and they must maintain the same physically standards. It'll be a hard transition, but the women who want a combat job are the ones who can hack it.

Adam Maynard

Via Facebook


I applaud the decision 100 percent, with one caveat. Physical dual standards must be ended, certainly for any woman entering the combat arms. That means if the Ranger Physical Fitness Test requires a minimum of six pullups, then a woman at Ranger School had better be able to do at least six pullups. That means that Army Physical Fitness Test scores must be on the same scale so that all soldiers are evaluated by the same standard regarding promotion points, promotion boards and evaluation reports. That means if a woman joins the infantry, she can carry a true battle load (over 100 pounds for many infantrymen) in a rucksack for days on end and should be able to fireman's-carry a 180-pound buddy with gear if they ever had to do nonstandard casualty evacuation.

However, if the double physical standards are maintained, it will degrade our fighting force and only create resentment.

Capt. Jake Couch

College Park, Md.


I feel terribly sorry for them. They may not realize what they are getting themselves into yet, but they are going to be hurting eventually. I feel even sorrier for those women that are going to be excessively discriminated against in units where they were not wanted in the first place.

Men have always and will continue to protect their women and children during long conflicts or when being faced with danger due to fierce combat situations. Although every now and then we see a badass female combat operative fighting alongside her counterparts in an elite combat unit in movies and it both feels and seems great, the reality is that it only happens in movies for a reason. If we are to seriously let women finally into all combat jobs in the military, I say the Army needs to set its record straight as far as different standards for male and females when it comes to PT. Women should have to do everything that males do to pass their PT tests, as well as being able to perform all other combat-related duties that their field or duty entails. Cut women no slack if they desire to go into these new, dangerous combat positions.

Am I against women serving in combat or holding combat positions? Not at all. I am saying that they need to be able to perform at the same level that their male counterparts do for the benefit of everyone in their unit. Finally, women can make some of the best snipers if trained and used properly in line units.

Sgt. Rafael Fanola (ret.)

Federal Way, Wash.


This poses a huge problem for our military. Either our standards are going to lower to accommodate women (making our military more vulnerable and not as effective) or the standards will remain in place, but women will be thrown into special schools/selection and will not be able to pass, thus taking slots from other people that can use them.

Either way, mission readiness will be lowered, there will be sexual tension/relationship issues introduced to jobs such as the infantry, and the working environment will be drastically affected. I think women would become a huge distraction to the highly important missions of such people as infantrymen, thus putting lives of other soldiers (as well as themselves) at risk.

As much as some would like to believe, women are not physically capable of performing the same duties as men. I disagree with the decision.

Pvt. 1st Class Kristy Burciaga

Gary, Ind.


It was going to happen, but this doesn't do anything for the military or the protection of our nation. It is all politics these days.

Pvt. 1st Class Jordan Gremillion

New Orleans


We waste too much time and effort trying to accommodate every possible story line. If you are in the military, you should have to perform to the same standard, man or woman. If you can't cut it, you can't serve; it's that way for men right now. Let's truly be an "Army of One" and let the chips fall where they may.

1st Sgt. Robert Gaddis (ret.)

Cambridge, Ohio


This is a regrettable decision for our nation's military. This women-in-combat decision would be awesome if standards were gender-neutral. But they are not equal. Female soldiers can have higher body-fat content, be slower and weaker than their male counterparts.

Either they lowered the bar of readiness for our military or, much worse, implemented legal discriminatory practices against the great men who serve our nation proudly.

The Army must concentrate on three items to figure out a universal Army standard: first, MOS or job; secondly, unit; and last, mission the unit is responsible for.

Maj. Richard Mulkern

St. Paul, Minn.


As Clint Eastwood so succinctly put it, "A man's got to know his limitations." If the infantry runs out of men, in a dire situation, then and only then should women be allowed.

Judi Rhodes

Santa Cruz, Calif.


As a Vietnam veteran, I think it is a very poor idea. And I fear that the physical requirements will be lowered to accommodate the women for the sake of making our Army more "diverse."

But the Joint Chiefs seem satisfied to accept every social experiment that comes down the pipeline.

Former Spc. Roger Young



It's about time. Women have been serving in "combat" positions for years without acknowledgment (no Combat Infantryman Badge, etc). Women have been killed in action since long before I served and have proved themselves time and time again. Like adapting to the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the military will grow with the times. This is another blow to the "good ol' boy" network.

Sgt. 1st Class Lauren E. Orrok (ret.)

Jacksonville, Fla.

I have no problem with women serving in combat units, but if they are required to do the same job, they should be judged by the same standard. If a female can do 16 pushups and get a great APFT score but she can't lift a 100+ pound ruck, then why is she in the infantry? In your S1 or S2, if everyone passes the APFT, you're fine, but if you're 11B and everyone passes the APFT, that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be fine because the job requirements go so far beyond just the APFT.

Sgt. Marc Brown

Military Police

Savannah, Ga.


My two cents on this topic after 28 years of service as an infantryman and 48 months leading units in combat from Desert Storm to Afghanistan: I have served as a drill sergeant, Warrior Leader Course instructor, paratrooper, and if this matters, I have been married for 20 years to a retired command sergeant major.

I support the decision to allow women in infantry units as long as the current standards are not changed. They are already low enough. The difference physically for those who perform infantry missions is huge. Not all male soldiers have the physical attributes to perform these duties.

There is a difference between being in harm's way and navigating up and down Afghan mountains with over 100 pounds of gear, ammo, water and food.

This issue has nothing to do with "can females do infantry work," it has to do with males getting faster promotions, achieving higher ranks and greater opportunities for advancement because of front-line combat duty.

The solution is not to put soldiers in infantry units that cannot meet the rigorous physical requirements of daily combat.

Sgt. Maj. John E. Mangels


Fort Irwin, Calif.


After Desert Shield/Desert Storm, the Bush administration appointed a commission to evaluate the roles of women in combat. As one of the research analysts, we reviewed a multitude of aspects regarding the role of women in the military and if the Risk Rule was changed, what the processes, costs, modifications would be, along with the impact on cohesion and the overall view of society. The most discussed subject was whether women could physically "do the job." What we found was only the Air Force had physical requirements for a specialty code/MOS.

Where the confusion sets in is when "physical fitness" is confused with "physical requirements." Consult with a physiologist and learn that "fitness" is different for men and women. This argument was loud in 1992, and I am still seeing comments that the standards are not "fair" because women have to do less. The Army should identify the workload for each MOS and set basic requirements (physical, mental and academic) to successfully carry out each position.

With many years associated with the military as a civilian and as an officer's wife, I have met women in the service who want to serve their country with honor, and none want special treatment or standards lowered for their gender or any other reason. I challenge the Army to establish requirements for each MOS. Once established, no one will then have to ask, "Can they do the job?"

Elizabeth Bogart Osborne

Research Analyst, Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces (1991-93)

Macomb Township, Mich.


I have no issues with females on the front line. The only thing I would still see being an issue is the PT test standard. To allow equal opportunity for the force, both males and females should have to do the same amount of pushups, situps and two-mile run. This would ensure that females are able to keep with the physical demand.

Staff Sgt. Israel C. Arroyo


West Point, N.Y.


I disagree with the decision for a personal and selfish reason: I have two daughters, and I would never want them to do the same things I have to do as an infantryman. It's an ugly, shocking and life-altering thing to "see the elephant." I also disagree for moral/ethical and gender separation reasons everyone has discussed (physical differences, the fraternity culture of the infantry and other combat arms, close-quarters living and dying). I have nothing but the highest respect for women. I hope standards do not lower one single iota for any combat arms MOSs, special operations positions, schools and training or any other process of selection or assignment of soldiers.

Let my sister soldiers have the same fair shake, and I believe the substantive outcome of this will be an open, honest and equitable acceptance of our sisters-in-arms across the Army culture rather than a mass convergence of women into combat arms. There may be a few, but that further acceptance and integration of women into the Army as equals and colleagues will be a very good thing and long overdue. Women are not lesser, incapable, unequal or inferior in any way; some of our best and brightest in our Army are our sister soldiers.

1st Sgt. Dan Churchman


Fort Carson, Colo.


I am pleased that women have a choice and the opportunity to serve in combat MOSs. Women have come a long way since I joined the Army in 1985.

I have seen some worthless males, as well as some worthless females, and I have seen some outstanding males, as well as some outstanding females in the Army. So I wouldn't base being able to perform in a traditional male gender role on a person's genitalia, I would base it on their individual abilities, ambition and drive.

The culture within the combat-MOS units will need to change. It will over time. Most people realize it really doesn't matter about race, creed, sexual orientation or gender as long as a soldier loves his or her country, meets the standards and does his or her job.

Sgt. Maj. Libbie A. Adams


Fort Lee, Va.


Women should not serve in traditional combat. It's not about physical limitations or unit cohesion. For every military standard, there exists a woman who can meet and exceed it. But men still instinctively agree that this fact doesn't validate why women should be exposed to traditional combat. It's not that women can't serve in combat. It's that women shouldn't serve in combat. It's wrong.

The argument in recent times for women already serving in combat has been attributed to urban combat, where the front lines are blurred and the true canonical definition of "combat" has rarely been experienced. Women have served as turret gunners in convoys and in security and logistics operations that have come under fire. And they have demonstrated stellar performance.

But the day has not yet passed when we are engaged in open hand-to-hand battle where females are pitted against their male adversaries, where the female is the last hope of carrying a wounded 230-pound soldier along with his military gear away from lines of fire in open desert or jungle warfare.

Remember, the enemy also has a vote. The exposure of women to enemy front lines presents an unnecessary target of opportunity. The prospect of women being exploited in war changes the calculation by the commanders on both sides of the campaign.

The right to fight in the fronts lines of military combat is not a civil liberties issue. It's often a fight to the death.

In a voluntary Army unencumbered by political will, there should be no obstacle to women excelling to the pinnacles of service without the nation having to ask them to fight or die for the opportunity to do so.

Capt. Samson Nwosu

Fort Meade, Md.


Bad move because it does not make our military stronger. Can't deny the obvious, the female gender cannot carry all that gear and another soldier while taking fire. The endurance is not there naturally.

Secondly, adultery will skyrocket and invite a weakened moral climate.

Capt. Carlos Ruiz

Mission Viejo, Calif.


Just like the desegregation of the Army, many soldiers will fight this idea for a long time (sad to say, since we live by the Army Values). If the officers appointed over us say that females can serve in combat MOSs, we as soldiers need to adapt and carry on with our mission.

Christopher Willmouth

Via Facebook


There will be a lowering of standards that will not only allow a certain number of females into the infantry and special ops but will allow males who would not ordinarily make it. Sadly, this will be the only way [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta's order will succeed. Sergeant Major of the Army [Raymond] Chandler wanted to toughen the PT test by making soldiers run four miles in 36 minutes and a 12-mile ruck march in four hours or less. … If the powers that be thought Chandler's proposal was too tough, I can imagine the standards the military will accept to allow a certain percentage of females to meet the qualifications.

Getting a cadre of support personnel for women in the infantry is ludicrous, at best.

Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny Oliver (ret.)

Enterprise, Ala.


The clowns who assert that female soldiers don't see combat are obviously ignorant of the fact that they already do.

Jose Galindo

Via Facebook


I believe this is perfectly fine. Just like us men, some can do it, and some cannot. We are already hard-wired as soliders to protect everyone in our squad. You think it's going to be different for a woman? Nope. There is no real statistical evidence that says they should not be in combat.

Seth Williams

Via Facebook


Anyone who actually thinks getting into combat arms MOSs is going to help them with their careers don't have a clue what they are talking about. There was a day, way back when, that one of the fastest ways to make rank was to be infantry, but those days are long gone.

David Rush

Via Facebook

Note: Service members' career fields are shown if they were provided.

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