Women in Combat study under fire by Marines

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Women in Combat study under fire by Marines

Writing this post is a bit fraught with danger, since I don't set policy for The American Legion, and am not in upper management, so I am going to do what I don't usually do, and lay out our OFFICIAL position through our resolution first.  

Resolution No. 277: Military Occupational Specialty Standards states:

RESOLVED, By The American Legion in National Convention assembled in Charlotte, North Carolina, August 26, 27, 28, 2014, That The American Legion strongly believes that the Department of Defense and all branches of the military services must maintain the current physical and mental requirements and qualifications for acceptance into military service that have created the best and most respected military in the world; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That the mental and physical qualifications of all military personnel, regardless of gender or age, should be held to a single duty position specific standard depending on Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and not be amended without Congressional authority; and, be it further

RESOLVED, That The American Legion requests the Congress of the United States to hold extensive and in-depth hearings on Military Leadership Diversity Commission Recommendation 9 eliminating the “Combat Exclusion Policies for Women,” and the DOD’s Review of Laws, Policies and Regulations Restricting the Service of Female Members in the U.S. Armed Forces since Congress andonly Congress can codify the elimination of the “combat exclusion clause for women”; and, be it finally

RESOLVED, That The American Legion believes that without such Congressional hearings and oversight there exists the distinct possibility that changes will be made to lessen the current standards or set a double standard, one for men and one for women, for the sake of accommodating personnel for “social experiments,” therefore, reducing our nation’s military effectiveness.

So in essence our policy is that the existing standards need to be adhered to, but if women can meet that requirement, than they should be given that opportunity.  Flash forward to two pieces which appear today.  The first is from The Washington Post:

Marines involved in a controversial experiment evaluating a gender-integrated infantry unit say they feel betrayed by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus after he criticized the results of a nine-month study that found women are injured more frequently and shoot less accurately in simulated combat conditions.

“Our secretary of the Navy completely rolled the Marine Corps and the entire staff that was involved in putting this [experiment] in place under the bus,” said Sgt. Danielle Beck, a female anti-armor gunner with the task force.

Mabus questioned the findings of the research after a four-page summary of the results was released Thursday, saying he still thinks all jobs in the Marine Corps should be opened to women. He said results that found women were more than twice as likely to be injured and ultimately compromise a unit’s combat effectiveness were an “extrapolation based on injury rates, and I’m not sure that’s right,” he told NPR.

Another male Marine felt the same:

Sgt. Joe Frommling, one of the Marines who acted as one of Beck’s monitors for the experiment, said he was frustrated with the secretary’s comments.

“What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time,” said Frommling. “They said, ‘Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.’”

“All the work that the task force did, the rounds that we shot, didn’t mean anything if he had already made up his mind,” he added.

My big fear right now is what happens to Sergeants Beck and Frommling for stating their opinion.  There's a First Amendment right to give your opinion, but in the military it is curtailed somewhat.

Either way, not to be outdone in the criticism department, Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew went even further, and apparently got slapped down for it (from Military Times):

An influential Marine leader who received the nation's second-highest valor award and helped run the Corps' monthslong study on women in combat slammed Navy Secretary Ray Mabus this weekend for questioning the validity of the experiment.

In a publicly visible post on his personal Facebook page, Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew said Mabus was "way off base" to suggest that female Marines of a higher caliber should have been selected for the service's integrated task force experiment and that officials went into the test anticipating the women would not be successful.

Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew is a Navy Cross recipient and

Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew is a Navy Cross recipient and the top enlisted leader with Marine Corps Training and Education Command. (Photo: Marine Corps)

Mabus' comments run "counter to the interests of national security and [are] unfair to the women who participated in this study," wrote LeHew, who played a key role in the service's nine-month experiment as the top enlisted leader with Marine Corps Training and Education Command.

"No one went in to this with the mentality that we did not want this to succeed," he added. "No Marine, regardless of gender, would do that."

LeHew later removed or hid the post from his Facebook page. He did not respond to Marine Corps Times requests' for comment sent via email and Facebook.

Last week I went on a rafting trip with 23 Marines and Corpsmen, and there was some trepidation that our river guide for our boat was female.  That lasted about a day, and then she just became one of the guys.  There was worry about privacy issues and things, but it just turned out that it didn't matter.  No one cared that she was female.  We cared that she REALLY knew how to drive the boat, she knew her history and geology, and she learned to swear like the rest of us.  But the thing is, she could (and did) do EVERYTHING we did.  She didn't complain, and the standard was the same for her as everyone else.  She helped load and unload the boats, and did all the grunt work you expect. 

But here we have Marines who are feeling like their study was undercut, after they invested a lot of time and intellectual capitol in making sure that they were honest and forthright.  Secretary Mabus may not like the results, and it is plausible that there are deficiencies in the data that should be addressed.  But this leaves a bad taste in everyones mouth when our service members work hard on a study commissioned by higher, only to have it's key thesis rejected on a basis that has no factual underpinnings.

I go back to our resolution, male or female, it is incumbent that every warrior meet the standard, not that every standard be changed to address the warrior.


Posted in the burner | 9 comments
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20 years ago I was one of the first females who entered an all male career field, I was not told it had just opened up to women. As the only woman in 72 man flight I definitely stood out which is the opposite of what I wanted, I wanted to fit in. The harder I tried, the more hurdles I jumped, the faster I ran, when I beat some of the men it just upset them. I was singled out by the higher ups and it was unfair and it never became fair, but not because of me. All I wanted was to fit in and be a soldiers but as long as some men have a preconceived idea about what boundaries women should fall to we will never be seen as equal in anything even when we meet the standards there will always be some men who question it and some men who authorize the bending of the rules to meet minority expectations.

I, too, entered the Navy, in 1975, as a first in my category. I lasted three tours, nearly 8 years...I was finally put in a situation that left me no out. The Chaplain in the chain of command said he knew I was getting a raw deal, but he would not help me, because he was a Catholic Priest, and he did not believe in Woman Chaplains. I finally transferred to the line, won promotion to Commander as a line officer, and retired when i could.

There are others out there who have also face the same experiences you have experienced. It is not fair, it was something you had no control over, but it sure feels terrible, and no matter how hard you tried, was not accepted. I still have some anger at being forced out of my chosen field. I hope knowing that there are others out there who have shared similar experiences will help in the rough times! Pr Chris

As a female soldier/sailor retired, I agree, women should not be in combat, not that they cannot do it, or that they cannot serve in many supportive roles, but as far as I am concerned I am ashamed of our government for even thinking of approving it.... Women should indeed be recognized and honored for the roles that they have played in the past. and currently, to contribute to and facilitate the accomplishments of our war and peacetime missions, but lets face it they are the future mothers and nurturers of mankind. IF they absolutely want to serve in the capacity of COMBAT soldier, then they should be trained and treated as such, and have the CHOICE, but to attempt to make them non gender is impossible and they should be respected and treated honorably. Instead of trying to make the standard for qualification in the field totally from a male perspective, the different weaknesses and strengths between the sexes should be thoroughly studied and balanced, capitalizing on the strengths and incorporating them....but I still feel that men are more adapted to combat, and should be left to it.

I believe that over the past 100,000 years we have seen that the job of killing things and breaking stuff seems to be highly male dominated. The job of nurturing seems to be highly female dominated. I think putting women in combat in other than a nurturing role - nurses - is therefore unnatural.

A big fat no to women in combat.....Veteran of W.A.F. 1949-1951.

As a Retired Marine MGYSGT with 30 years of service and having served in numerous peace-time and war-time positions with women Marines, I would be one of the first to tell anyone that female Marines can hold their own in almost any situation. The reality is that men and women are built differently, are raised differently and are seen in different social roles. Men have more muscle mass and strength on average than women do. The average adult male has approximately 43% muscle and 15% fat compared to average adult female who has 36% muscle and 26% fat. Much of the women’s fat content is essential to the body’s health and for reproductive reasons. The rigors of war demand strength and endurance that taxes most men. I'm sure there are some women that could probably out perform some of the men, but we are talking about standards and setting a baseline based on requirements. Generally an aptitude test is used by the services to determine ability to learn, understand and then perform the required skills. Some specific jobs require additional traits or aptitudes to qualify for such as having good color vision to be an electrician or to defuse bombs. No one questions those limiters because if you can’t tell the difference between a blue and a green wire, it might go boom. This cause’s people to not trust the judgement of the next person called to defuse a bomb. Likewise there are requirements for other jobs where you must be able to lift a certain weight to qualify, to have a certain vision, to swim a certain distance in a certain time, etc. These standards were implemented based on injury rates, war time casualties, deaths during training and war, failures to meet objectives and more importantly, could the mission be accomplished.
Not knowing the physiology of women and men at the time, I expected my Marines (male and female) to perform equally in all tasks assigned to them. I didn’t know that women had only 40-60% of the upper body strength of males and 70-80% of the lower body strength. I had a few female marines who could outrun half the male marines and one female who could do more pushups than 60% of the males. But these were not the average female marines. During bunker building with sandbag filling and moving, the majority of females tired much faster than the majority of the males. During force marches with the same amount of equipment, the majority of females tired faster than the majority of males and was much more prone to injury trying to keep up with the males. It was pointed out several times by upper echelons that the packs for the females should be made lighter to increase their ability to complete the marches. This is where standards need to be validated. If a 65 lb pack is what experience has determined is absolutely necessary to survive in the field, what impact does reducing it to 45 lbs have on the individual or the unit? Should average males be required to carry to an additional 10-15 lbs each to make up for the reduced weight of the average female pack? What impact does that have on the male’s endurance and stamina? If the unit is divided, who makes sure that an equal number of heavy packs accompany lighter packs to maintain the survivability of each group?
The bottom line is that there are some positions in the Marine Corps where female marines can run circles around male marines. There are some females who could perform any job in the Marine Corps as well as the males. But, there are some positions in the Marine Corps where the average male consistently outperforms the average female. To change a rule or a standard simply to allow the exceptions to the average to participate is to jeopardize the mission that job performs. While this may work in many social areas where additional people are hired to compensate, this never works in war where there are no extra people or allowances for those who can’t keep up.

Very well said Master Guns!!

My Mother was a medic in Vietnam and is proud of her service but has always said that she is not confident that she could pull a full grown man in full gear out of a burning tank and therefore does not believe that women should be in combat infantry units. She always told us that women do some amazing work in the military but that they are simply (on average) not built for the rigors of humping pack, armor, weapon, etc up and down the mountains of Afghanistan while returning fire and seeking cover like a male can.

When I joined the Marine Corps, I saw what she told us first hand. Our female Marines performed admirably in most things that we did but in more physically demanding instances, they frequently fell behind or became injured simply by the fact of their physiology.

Semper Fi!

Sp/4 US Army Security Agency 1963-1967. I have seen and worked with female military members, and with women in industry, since 1963. I can not wrap my head around the idea that anyone would or reasonably could consider them to be anything less than 100% qualified to be evaluated as soldiers, with all that entails, including combat.

For those of you newsikies who are running your jaws about how women should not be in combat, why don't you go ask today's subjects of your discourse ("A big fat no to women in combat") how *they* feel about being excluded from any position they prove they can handle, simply on the basis of their sex. Come on, guys, wake up. This is 2015, not 1865. And even then, there were women in the military. In combat, serving indistinguishably from their male counterparts until someone caught them squatting to pee. If a woman wants to do so, why on Earth should she not be given the opportunity to prove herself at any job (even an infantry machine gunner) that she feels she can do, based on the same requirements that men have to meet? Kudos to Mothax for his rafting story. We need much more of *that* attitude and much less of the "Oh, she's a girl, and therefore needs to keep herself safe for being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen." ("but lets face it they are the future mothers and nurturers of mankind.")

A personal view that women should be forced to stay home and raise children is unreasonable, outmoded, and frankly, pigheaded. A person might just as reasonably say that men should stay home and be prepared to make a woman pregnant and to assume a responsible and faithful role as husband, father, and at least partial provider. In keeping with the mores and attitudes of this day and age, that would be just as reasonable.

A short story: In 1966, three weeks before that year's Tet Offensive in Viet Nam, I watched in one of the Eastern US Army posts as a nurse (Yes, they *were* assigned there! Just as ASA personnel were, although according to DoD we were not supposed to be there either and DoD still denies that we were.) at the forward hospital was faced with being right in the midst of a firefight. She grabbed the M-14 that had belonged to the nearest dead US Marine and, because she (in her white uniform with a huge red cross over the right breast pocket) was being shot at by the Viet Cong, figured out in about 5 seconds how to use it. She returned fire, and I saw at least three VC go down from the first magazine. That made her marksmanship far better than ordinary. Anyone want to argue that? Imagine how good a soldier she might have been if she had received the full Trainfire program!

When will we realize that *people* come in all sizes and shapes, weights and muscular structures? The 'average' male GI is *not* 6'6", and 220 lbs of rock hard muscle, although to hear some of the grunts talk it sure sounds like that's what they would like others to believe. I went through my time with guys (males) who varied from 4'10" to 7'2", and 122 to 290 lbs, but the vast majority of them were lumped nearer the low end of both height and weight. At 5'11" I was one of the taller ones. And at 137 lbs, I certainly was one of the lighter ones. Yet I kept up, and outdid many of the big hulks. I could climb where the big guys could not, or where they took forever to get, and I certainly was a far better shot, missing qualifying as expert by just 3 points. I could hand-over-hand 40 feet up a 1" rope WITH a full field pack and my M-14, and I was third in my company to complete the qualifying 20 mile hike. So don't continue to feed me that bull about how you have to be 'big and strong' to be a combat soldier.

In fact, in the late 1930s, DoD commissioned a different study of the capabilities of women for combat, with the idea of laying forever to rest the concept of women being in combat. On average, sure enough, most could not pass the strength and endurance tests. Of course, they were not allowed to run or do pull-ups, or any other activities in school that would make their skirts fly, in order to develop their body strength. That would not have been 'feminine'. But you know what? They were superb at organization, at understanding tactical situations and devising the best plans for dealing with them, they had much faster reflexes, were far more accurate as marksmen, and could plot trajectories by eyeball, intuitively, at much higher levels than males. DoD promptly hid the results of that study as classified, for over 70 years.

Another short story: My daughter is 5'2", 100 lbs. At 17, she was pushed down by a 6'3" 200 lb 20 yo male who wanted his way. She decked him, and broke his jaw in three places to do it. One punch. *I* won't fight with her! (BTW, the man apologized.)

I don't know about you, but if I am on a battlefield, I want the MOST qualified soldier for a task next to me, doing his or her job. If that means that she needs to have her partner/observer lug her ammo box for her sniper rifle, fine. I'd be happy to oblige, and say "Thank you" for each enemy soldier she took out. I want her steady aim, qualified eye, and cool brain THERE, not back in the USA sweeping the floor to satisfy the ego of some obdurate male.

We went through over 100 years of argument about whether Black servicemen had the 'ability' to be qualified for anything other than cooks, dishwashers, or orderlies, based solely on skin color. Certainly they could not fly, or shoot, or lug a pack, or be a diver, or qualify as an NCO or an officer. *Everyone* KNEW they were too stupid and lazy. We still are fighting that ridiculous battle, in spite of the superlative abilities of General Colin Powell. Do we really have to repeat that idiocy? When will we stop wasting the talents of 50% of our population? Let women do whatever they can show themselves qualified to do.

And not just in the military, either.

Just sayin'.

Tech Writer, former MOS 98J30

As a former Marine Combat Engineer and former Army Infantryman, I have a very pointed take on the matter. I served with some absolutely fantastic WM's in the Corps. Sadly, I also served with some less than stellar ones. That is the same with male Marines. No different. It is essential that the nation's security and defense are not used as a social experiment. Incorporating women into the military was and still is a just decision, it was not an experiment. Trying to make men and women gender neutral is an experiment. Experiments using the one tool our nation has to project force is a poor decision. One of the things which makes America great is our individualism. As a nation we are a collection of individuals. Individual rights, individual points of view and individual strengths and weaknesses. If, and only if, the existing proven standards are met should the individual female be allowed to perform combat restriction roles. The Corps does not have a second set of rank for the females. The Corps did not differentiate between lawful orders of a female officer and a male officer. There should not be a second set of standards. The requirements should remain fixed whether a male or female faces them. To the question of should females serve in combat designation positions is best answered by the individual female. Can she meet the proven standards. If yes, then yes. If no, then no. I doubt that we have all the information that the Secretary had available to him for his decision making. If we had what he had, we may have come to similar conclusions but I doubt it. I don't think that the females I served with were injured or tired any more or less than my male Marines. However, they were not in the same roles. I would have to see all of the material the Secretary had to either concur or non-concur with his assessment. I hope this clears the mud a little.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.