Monday, February 18, 2013

Women In Combat

I've had this particular post percolating for quite some time now. Not just because Leon Panetta (in his "infinite" wisdom) decided (on his way out of office) that the Pentagon was now in favor of this. Quite honestly I wasn't altogether sure of where I stood on this issue.

I have two daughters. Both on active duty in the United States Navy. Both extremely capable in their chosen career fields, both better than many of the men in their fields. I'm not just saying that as their father.

I've talked privately to their peers, subordinates and superiors. All of whom had very complimentary things to say about my daughters. All of whom were warned that if they tried to feed me bullshit in their answers to "How is she doing?" I would recognize it immediately. I am a retired Master Sergeant. I was trained to recognize BS and have a certain amount of experience at detecting BS.

In fact, I have a lot of experience in the field of Bullshit Detection. Not only was I on active duty for 24 years, I also have three kids. I've also had the opportunity to work with lawyers. That lot is very good at both dishing it out AND detecting it. Bullshit that is. (Someday I will tell my "I was a bailiff at two military courts martial" story. And a sordid tale that is, involving lieutenant colonels and various indiscretions of a personal nature. Hhhmm, I may tell that story sooner, rather than later.)

Where was I? Oh, yes. So to continue, both of my daughters had to meet the same standards as the men in their chosen fields. The exact same standards.

So by now you're no doubt wondering just what it is my daughters do in the Navy. The oldest daughter is a Lieutenant in Nuclear Propulsion. Did her first tour on a destroyer, her second on an aircraft carrier.  Why yes, those are both classified as warships. Meaning that if a war breaks out, they don't pull over and let all the girls off before sailing into harm's way. No, not at all.


My youngest daughter is a Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) in the F/A-18F (aka Super Hornet or Rhino), assigned to a Fighter-Attack squadron out west. Yes, the Rhino is an aircraft used in combat and no, the girls don't stay on the ground when they launch these aircraft on combat missions. If called upon, they climb into the jet and go forth to do aerial battle just like their male counterparts.

So women have been in combat roles in the US military for quite some time now. (In case you were confused by the verbiage spouted by any one of the various sources currently expounding on this topic.) The big stink is allowing women into what are known (in the Army) as the combat arms. Infantry, armor and artillery. Which also happen to be the most traditional of the military specialties in both the Army and the Marine Corps. These are also the military specialties most likely to see people wearing different uniforms than our folks. Who are shooting at our folks. (Well, nowadays if they're wearing uniforms at all!)

So really, the big stink is having women in direct contact with the enemy. On the ground. Face to face with the bad guys, so to speak. Intentionally. In a military specialty which by its very nature is intended to seek out and kill the bad guys. Officially.

The point I'm trying to make here is that American women have already been face to face with the enemy. American women have already been killed and wounded in action. American women have already been captured by the enemy. So it's a "been there, done that" scenario for American military women in a certain sense. So what's the problem?

The problem, as I see it, is that there are standards which have been set for those seeking entry into the combat arms. If an individual does not meet those standards, they do not get the job. Period. The problem is that the people who want to see this program "succeed", want it to succeed at any cost. Even at the cost of getting young Americans killed in combat.

If one lowers the standards so that more women will qualify for, let us say the infantry, what does that mean? What's the big deal? Of course, this could mean that now more men would also qualify for the infantry, who couldn't make the grade before. Where does it stop? Do we really want men and women in the infantry who can't carry 100+ pounds of ammunition, rations and other equipment, plus their personal weapon over rough terrain. I think not.

But if you lower the standards to make more women eligible, all you're doing is setting them up for eventual failure. Most of the people making the most noise over the "women in combat" issue will never be one of those women in combat. They may be women who served their time on active duty and have since retired or otherwise gotten out. Perhaps they wish they could have had those combat arms "opportunities" when they were still wearing the uniform. I'd be willing to bet that's a pretty small percentage of the women who have served.

Another argument I've seen advanced for allowing women into the combat arms regards promotions. As in "gee, only the combat arms guys have a shot at making general". Uh, yes. That's true. The job of the Army and the Marine Corps is to close with and destroy the enemy. The old "blow things up and kill people" mission statement. So you'd want the people in charge to know how to do that. Right?

Would you want to have the person in charge of an upcoming battle have come up through the ranks as a personnel specialist? Or a supply officer? I mean why should we limit their chances of commanding a mechanized infantry division simply because they're not infantry? Because they have no idea what they're doing from a practical standpoint.

So yes, not having women in the combat arms certainly does limit their promotion chances. So let's make sure women can be in combat for that small percentage of girls who want to grow up to be tank generals. Let's get lots of our daughters killed so little Molly can command Hell on Wheels someday. Or not.

Let me diverge here a moment for an example. Now all three of my children wear glasses. (My fault, the Missus Herself had perfect vision until fairly recently. And yes it is important to this tale.) When my son was looking at going into the military, he had three ROTC scholarship offers. One Army, one Air Force, one Navy. Being a good son he came to the old man (moi) for advice.

Now the Army scholarship was rejected pretty much out of hand. Not because of any disdain for that fine service. My Dad, his brothers, my Gramp, various and sundry great-uncles etc all were soldiers in the Army of the United States. I once toyed with the idea of becoming a soldier. The reason the Army ROTC scholarship was rejected was that it was for three years. College (for most of us) lasts four years.

Now the Naviguesser, loyal son that he is, asked me what I would do, were I him. I asked him who he figures runs the Air Force. He correctly guessed that it was that class of magical beings known as "pilots". Yes, the job of the Air Force is "to fly and to fight". As my son wears glasses, I recommended that unless he was enamored of spending his time in a support role, the USAF was probably a bad idea.

Now the Navy was different. Should he have decided to make it a career, flag rank was attainable. All things being equal, like "was he a good ship driver?" (And yes he was as a matter of fact. Just sayin'...) So he chose a service based on where his abilities and physical abilities might stand him in good stead. There shouldn't be waivers or exceptions made in the ranks of the aerial warriors for those requiring corrective lenses. And there aren't. (At least not yet.)

Another example I like to trot out as to physical ability and providing waivers for things and lowering standards is the two, rather petite female airmen who worked for me in Korea. Before I go further I must say that both were qualified for the job as determined by the standards of the time. Which applied regardless of what wedding tackle you were equipped with.

One of those standards was the ability to lift 60 pounds, all by your lonesome. Keep this in mind. Another key piece of data, for later, is that the radar receiver-transmitter (R/T) as installed on the F-4D Phantom II weighs 120 pounds. Now how much is 120 divided by 2? If you came up with 60, go to the head of the class.

Now one dark and stormy night, whilst engaged in my duties as the NCOIC of the swing shift at the 8th Component Repair Squadron (part of the immortal and renowned Wolf Pack by the way) I was called to the phone by one of my flunkies subordinates. It seems my two female airmen were requesting assistance with dismounting a malfunctioning R/T from the Weapon Control System on the jet they were in the process of performing radar calibration on. (Remember that little math exercise above?)

Well, as a firm believer and proponent of equal rights, equal pay, blah, blah, blah. I asked Senior Airman Cindy what the problem was? Was there a stripped bolt perhaps? Was something broken?

Why no Sarge. The thing is too heavy for myself and Airman First Class Delta to lift.

Hhhmm, I asked her if the unit was different somehow than it was on the other aircraft. No, same as usual. I see, I said.

"So, Airman Cindy. You have two choices. If the R/T was indeed suspect, then bring it here, down to the shop. OR *long dramatic pause* I'll send Staff Sergeant Dave up to help you. And I'll go with you tomorrow to the commander's office to explain why you need to be transferred to other duties. As apparently you are no longer capable of doing this job."

"Your call."

Airman Cindy, "We'll figure it out. If we're not there shortly, send Dave up."

Approximately 30 minutes later, my two female troops showed up with the R/T. No one was hurt, the unit was intact. Seems they pulled out the tech manual and followed the instructions contained therein. Like they should have in the first place.

Now the ladies learned two valuable lessons. One is that I expected them to do their jobs. Two is that I would treat them as another cog in the Big Blue machine, no special treatment because they lacked a "Y" chromosome. They actually appreciated that. At their last assignment the powers-that-be treated them like delicate flowers, NOT like full-fledged members of the United States Air Force.

Bottom line is, if the ladies can cut it and meet the EXISTING standards, then let them play war with the boys. But if they can't, and the ee-jits in Washington want to lower the standards for the sake of (D)iversity or political correctness then be prepared to watch our daughters come home in body bags.

As to making women sign up for the draft as men have to? I'm not prepared to go there. Not only do I have daughters...

I also have grand-daughters.

If they want to volunteer, more power to them. I don't think the government should have to compel people to serve. If they do, then perhaps it ain't a good fight to be in. But that's this Old Sarge's personal opinion. As always, YMMV.

14 comments:

  1. You know of course that powers to be will swear up and down that standards will not be changed, and you know of course that eventually studies will show previous standards are outdated and need to be changed and your analysis is 100% correct if 100% politically incorrect.

    I posted similar sentiments weeks ago and comments suggested I was a Neanderthal. Glad to see someone with REAL Credability make similar arguments. I expect you will receive few negative comments, I also expect you will not be heard and I fear your judgement will be correct.

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    1. I have strong feelings on this subject, having two daughters in uniform and having served with a number of fine ladies with whom I was proud to serve. That being said, I fear there will be no winners here. Only those who perhaps pay the ultimate price in the name of political expediency.

      Time will tell Joe, time will tell.

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  2. I'm firmly ambivalent on the women in combat arms argument. My only combat arms assignment was as a 13B (gun bunny) on M-109 and M-198 howitzers. There is an upper body strength issue involved, particularly with the towed guns - elevating the tubes in particular will take the starch out of you. The round weighs about 100 lbs and quite frankly two person lift is a fine standard, but not how it's done. The Army PT standards do not adequately evaluate or prepare someone for the job, and as a result, people fail at it and are removed from the gun line. As long as women are allowed to fail along with the men, the screening takes place after the assignment. That's OK - it's how the Army works. When it comes to infantry, there are women who no doubt have the physical and mental capabilities - I know one who was attached to an infantry unit in Iraq (http://airpogue.blogspot.com/2013/02/faces-of-guard-flight-medic.html) and I've deployed with others in less exposed combat operations. My concern is that when the real screening occurs on the battlefield the Services are going to get hammered for "not adequately protecting" soldiers who weren't really fit for the job, but because of political correctness and reduced standards were sent up anyway. Of course the next conflict is unlikely to be as low casualty as this one, and the public is likely to be seriously shocked. We won't always have the luxury of fighting Arabs. You've served in Korea and Viet Nam, so you know East Asia is a whole different ball game. A minor sounding but probably more immediately significant issue is the Army will have to start really dealing with field hygiene - while showers and porta-johns were always (mostly) available a FOBs, the OP's that the infantry lives at for months on end have no showers and open latrines. It sounds like a minor thing, I know...

    As far as the draft goes, isn't it funny how the same morons who demand a draft now to "stop war" were the ones who demanded to end the draft in 1971 "to stop war."

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    1. Yes, I too am kind of ambivalent on the whole thing. I am something of a traditionalist, ladies if you think ill of me for that, my apologies, but in my book chivalry is most certainly NOT dead.

      That being said, I have serious qualms about seeing young American women dead on the field of battle. Of course, I also have the same qualms as to seeing young American MEN dead on the field of battle. If someone wants to do a particular job and they are both mentally and physically qualified under the EXISTING standards, more power to them. Of course, the lady grunts, cannon cockers and tankers will have to do the same PT as their male counterparts. Otherwise...

      As to your last comment Pogue, history has shown again and again, that morons will always be morons. They can't help themselves.

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    2. Ha when I posted on facebook that I though women did not belong on the front lines as ground troops unless they met the same requirements as men and that I had concerns for the women caught and captured. Let's face it most of the torture is just that. What are we going to do when women are captured and raped? Do we really think that they are going to be getting contraceptives from their captors or be allowed to have abortions (not in favor of those but the left is)? I was called a chauvinist by a male no less and I work in a pretty male dominated field (I am a surgeon). no one lessened the standards for me academically or physically and I made it through a very grueling training process. Not to mention all the sexual harassment idiocy that is going rear it;s ugly head.

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    3. American women have been captured AND were abused by their captors in Iraq. It's also true that male POWs have been abused by their captors as well, probably in all of our wars. Part of the problem is that we don't really fight wars anymore. We need to go in, hit hard and make the enemy terrified of us. They also need to understand that if they abuse our POWS they will be killed, without mercy. We don't play that way, so the nasty buggers in the world don't really take us seriously.

      We cannot ever lower the standards. Women CAN make the grade as you've shown in your male-dominated field jib. Just as my daughters have shown. But we all know that the standards will be lowered if the PC crowd has their way.

      Another thing to remember with the Progressive Elements in Washington, it's not about equal rights for women in the military, it's about destroying the military. Any way they can.

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    4. That would be the problem. We don't fight to win and some of it is just button pushing. I would not be surprised if the men were abused as well but they don't get pregnant from the abuse. Not that it is any less traumatic for them. Brady weighs in on women in combat

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    5. I had not considered the pregnancy angle. I have mixed feelings about General Brady's opinions on this topic.

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  3. I had the rare privilege (HSWHTPFIHC) of standing a number of mid watches in CIC on a Gearing class destroyer in the early sixties.
    Anyone who has ever stood a mid watch (midnight until relieved) in those days knows there is only action if some training exercise has been scheduled.
    We used to pass a lot of time doing our very best to keep one another alert by telling stories.
    Had there been sailors of the female persuasion, chivalry and political correctness would have limited the stories told.

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    1. You know Skip I completely understand that and have been in similar situations. But that doesn't apply to ALL women.

      My youngest, upon joining her first operational squadron, was standing around with her squadron mates when one of them let loose with some comments using, shall we say, less than politically correct language. Turning to my daughter, he blushed and apologized. She just looked at him and said something along the lines of "Sh!t, you talk like my Dad." She was accepted from that day forth as "one of the guys", so to speak. Another lady in the same squadron was more PC. She played the female card all the time. Thing is, she wasn't very good at her job so no one wanted to fly with her. She mentioned to my daughter that she felt the guys hated both of them "because we're women". My daughter just looked at her and said, "First of all they don't hate me, they like me, and second of all they certainly don't hate you because you're a woman. They won't fly with you because you suck at your job."

      My oldest daughter's first department head told me that my daughter's vocabulary never failed to impress the sailors. Even the chiefs. I like to tell people that she learned from a Master (Sergeant, of course). Heh. My wife does not find that even remotely funny.

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  4. Well said and there's a lot to like about both the post and the comments. I don't have much, if anything, to add. It's the standards thing with me, first and foremost, and the thought of young women being taken prisoner on the battlefield.

    I had much the same experience with women in the service as you did -- the good ones were good, the bad ones weren't. Just like the men.

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    1. Thanks Buck. I've had this post on the back burner for a while. I wanted, no needed to say something. Especially considering my daughters. You and I see things the same here.

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  5. Sarge, a couple op/ed pieces from our local paper I thought you might like to read: http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/jan/23/women-combat-military/
    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2013/feb/14/tp-sending-our-daughters-to-war/?page=2#article-copy
    Both were written by women, and both were very senior officers.

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    1. Both are interesting reads Tuna. Captain Kelly's article is, IMHO, more well-reasoned and much better thought out than Admiral Froman's. It reads like the good captain actually put some thought into the topic.

      On the other hand, Admiral Froman's article reads like the typical shrill femnist nonsense I've seen in other places. Not sure what her complete Navy resume looks like but from what little is given in Wikipedia I'm not sure how she is qualified to judge whether or not your standard issue female can be in the infantry.

      She states: "Women have served in every conflict since the Revolutionary War and that fact needs to be recognized." Indeed they have. Some have even served in the infantry. But those were damned few in number. As a matter of fact, the number of women in American military history who have served in the infantry (by disguising themselves as men) are statistically insignificant.

      In general, I felt Admiral Froman's arguments were politically correct nonsense. She is obfuscating the point of the current "women in combat" debate. Women have been and will be in combat for the foreseeable future regardless of Panetta's decree. The debate is, and should be, about whether or not women should be in the INFANTRY.

      So Admiral Froman's histrionics aside, my answer remains a qualified "Yes", IF THEY CAN MEET THE CURRENT STANDARDS. Full stop. No "revisiting the standards" as one military politician mentioned. If you meet the current standards, welcome aboard. If you don't, stay at home or find a different way to serve. A way in which you ARE qualified. My "yes" is qualified for the same reason Captain Kelly states: "If war is hell, combat conditions such as these must be hell’s ninth circle. Do we really want to put our wives, sisters, daughters and granddaughters through it? I don’t."

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)