I received some strong reactions to my column last week about opening Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course to women. We certainly aren’t short on opinions, are we, comrades? Among these are two emails from good friends whom I served with. I didn’t want to bury their responses in the comments section, so they’re recounted here for God, Country and Corps so we can continue this interesting dialogue.
The original point of my column was this: I would have no problem serving with a woman in the infantry if she could pull her own weight and exhibit leadership, moral and physical courage, and other soldierly attributes – the same as I would with any male Marine infantryman. The caveat is that everyone be able to meet the same standard, which can be brutal at the proving ground of IOC, which we used to call Man School. The first women will likely start IOC in the fall.
The first rebuttal to my column comes from my buddy Matt, whose professional military experience aligned with mine until a few years ago – when he put on a different colored “tree suit” and returned to the fight. Despite being a Yankees fan, he’s among the best, smartest and toughest guys I know.
His reply follows (comments in bold from here out are mine):
Your IOC post was extremely informative, and I especially liked all the links. I do however respectfully disagree with your final assessment. I might go so far as to say no woman can make it through IOC – unharmed, without the standard being dropped or help from her classmates. I was in the first OCS PLC (Officer Candidate School Platoon Leaders Course) “integrated” company. Every one of those females was on light duty for multiple days, many were on bed rest and many were medically broken each week. Many were great runners, could do pullups, pushups, Crossfit-type stuff but they could not physically handle the sustained rucking and o-courses (obstacle courses). I agree many men can’t either but this is no excuse – those men shouldn’t make it either.
I’m also glad the issue was mentioned in the Israeli wikipedia link about men’s reaction to women in danger, but there is no real discussion talk about another powerful instinct we all have – sexual, especially during the time of life when we are called to serve in the line. As you know the discipline needed for living and working in tight, stressful quarters is different from an office setting and now there will be one more extremely difficult human dynamic for our young leaders to try to deal with. Also, this is not discussed, but what is the impact on the female psyche when they go against their natural instinct to nurture and do the horrible stuff that is required in combat? Has this been studied or even thought about or is it just simply old fashion to even think that and there is no reason to even consider it? Have we looked at the rates of PTSD of men and women over the past 10 years and seen if there are any trends there?
Men and women being POWs is almost a push we will all get tortured – males physically and females sexually. But think about the extra leverage our captors will have over the men in the facility when they can threaten to do harm to women.
I agree we need the talents and special access to some elements of society that women bring to our organization, but it needs to be done in a way where we aren’t degrading our combat readiness or inflicting long term physical and psychological damage on these women. Even if the rate of injury to females is simply statistically higher – this equates to more money our government must spend to care for soldiers/Marines.
My opinion, this is a decision being made for political and ideological reasons, not with our national security in mind. Doesn’t surprise me, though. We have a failure in leadership from the top down – evidenced by the high suicide rates, numbers of quality people leaving active duty, drug/alcohol abuse and general low moral in our combat forces. It is easy to blame it on the war or the generation but this guy would tell you that it is a failure of management/leadership: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W._Edwards_Deming#Key_principles
In a second email, Matt provided some additional thoughts …
Women definitely have a role in COIN (counterinsurgency) – on raids in support or in cordon and searches or just gathering intell/atmospherics on a “presence patrol” or whatever we call these movement to IED patrols that big Army units do. Put women in HUMINT (human intelligence) or other jobs that are used as combat support and employ them in accordance with their natural abilities. But women in traditional combat roles that should be training on and might be called on to do traditional combat – movement to contact, defense, attacks, infiltration, hand to hand combat in a trench??? No way.
And finally, Matt’s final point is a great one, countering a popular line of thought about our largely motorized stability operations over much of the past decade …
Problem is we picture infantry these days as driving around in an MRAP, not walking miles on end with a heavy ruck. Anyway, the rest can be discussed over beers.
The second strong rebuttal comes from Tommy Voelkel, who remains one of my best and most trusted sergeants through three combat deployments and 10 years in this Gun Club.
I am a former Marine Infantryman and until recently a government contractor, who conducted all of the weapons and tactics training for ALL of the female engagement teams the Marine Corps deployed from the east coast over the past 3 years and I am hear to tell you their training was a dog and pony show, a farce, merely a propoganda tool. All training evolutions such as forced marches, patrols, close-quarters battle/military operations in urbanized terrain (CQB/MOUT), Counter-IED, sensitive site exploitation (SSE), Counter-Sniper, Convoy Ops and land navigation courses were “gender normed” to make them easier, because it was too hot, too far or just “too hard.” It was an uphill battle just to get it ok’d for them to actually wear their helmets and body armor to BZO their weapons before the conduct of combat marksmanship program (CMP) live-fire because it was a little hot out.
Though not all of them were turds you’d find littering the farm…
Now … were there some female Marines in those teams that I believe could cut it in a rifle company? Absolutely, but I can only think of only three out of the aproximatley 220 FETs that my team and I trained. Then add the problems we had with certain members having emotional, medical, and marital “issues” so they couldn’t deploy, and you have a real circus that has no place in an Infantry Battalion.
Let’s take a breath here. The emotional, medical and marital issues are the same ones that afflict male grunts. Every grunt is a moody asshole because he’s been moving nonstop and can’t quite get his rucksack to fit on his shoulders right. And it seemed like every other Marine on deployment has a marital issue of some sort.
Most valid are the medical issues. A grunt might simply grit his teeth and keep moving through an injury that might stop an average woman in her tracks. Tommy, who trained the FETs, continues…
To follow up on this incredible mess, after-action reports coming back to us for these teams from the battallions they were attached to reveiled that patrols had to remove checkpoints from patrols, essentially shorting them, because of how easily the “Lionesses” became fatigued, they were literally a proverbial boat anchor for those squads to drag around on patrol and the micro-management of their training stateside led to a number of problems once they were expected to preform in a tactical role. If the Corps learns anything from the Joke that is the FET, it should be: Women in the infantry – Hell fuck No.
When the first woman officer runs through IOC, the powers that be will trumpet a one-standard policy that promises to punish women and men alike. I guess the real question is, will they hold the line and maintain the identical punishing standard that has produced thousands of infantry lieutenants since the ’90s, or will there be a “new” standard – “gender-normed” is the term of art – that dilutes training and diminishes the ultimate endstate: a leader worthy of his (or her) infantrymen.
Chairman’s postscript: Make sure you scroll to the bottom of this Marine Corps Times story, which recounts some experimental new physical standards for the infantry. Among the events they tested in June:
• A replica 40mm Mark-19 machine-gun lift, in which a Marine lifts a 72-pound weapon over his or her head while wearing a 71-pound combat load.
• A casualty evacuation, in which a Marine drags a 165-pound mannequin wearing a 43-pound combat load while wearing a 43-pound load of his own.
• A “march under load,” in which Marines carry a 71-pound combat load 20 kilometers in less than five hours.
I wonder how they did.