Recently, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, along with the Obama administration made it possible for female Soldiers to serve in direct combat roles such as front-line Infantry. This action has sparked some serious debates from both sides of the political spectrum and amongst male and female Soldiers and military leaders alike. While I refrain from articulating my own personal convictions with regards to the issue, I do believe that seeing things from other people’s point of view is important. The purpose of this post is to present the opinions and views from our Part-Time Commander subscribers to gain some perspective and generate discussion.
To begin, I would like to state some of the more common arguments for and against the new precedence set by the Army. But before I get started I think that it is important to remember that women have essentially been serving in some aspects direct combat role for quite some time. The cultural complexities we faced during the Iraq war forced female Soldiers outside the wire as they patrolled with combat maneuver elements in support. Oftentimes, these women manned gunner’s hatches, were in direct contact and humped a few clicks alongside their male counterparts. Despite these facts, there is still a lot of speculation on whether females can really cut it in roles that have been dominated by men since the dawn of time. So, let’s take a look at the debate:
Here are some of the points of view I have heard from those opposing the female integration:
- Physical Ability. While the majority of jobs in the armed forces are open equally to men and women, there are some to which women are just not physically suited.
- Efficiency. While integration of women into combat is possible for those qualified, the small number versus the additional logistical, regulatory and disciplinary costs associated with integration do not make it a worthwhile move.
- Morale & Cohesion. Having women serving in direct combat will hamper mission effectiveness by hurting unit morale and cohesion.
- Military readiness. Pregnancy can affect the deployability of a unit when the unit has a disproportionate number of women or is understaffed.
- Tradition. Men, especially those likely to enlist, maintain traditional gender roles. In some situations, men are may act foolishly to protect women in their combat units. Harassment and resentment of the presence of women in a hyper masculine military subculture would likely become a problem.
- Abuse by Enemy. Both male and female prisoners are at risk of torture and rape, but misogynistic societies may be more willing to abuse woman prisoners.
Here are some of the opinions and views of those who support lifting the ban:
- Ability vs Gender. As long as an applicant is qualified for a position, one’s gender is arbitrary. It is easy to recruit and deploy women who are in better shape than many men sent into combat. In modern high technology battlefield technical expertise and decision-making skills are increasingly more valuable than simple brute strength.
- Military Readiness. Allowing a mixed gender force keeps the military strong. The all-volunteer forces are severely troubled by falling retention and recruitment rates. Widening the applicant pool for all jobs guarantees more willing recruits.
- Effectiveness. The blanket restriction for women limits the ability of commanders in theater to pick the most capable person for the job.
- Modern warfare and public support. In the modern world of combat (Afghanistan, Iraq), all women serving in the military are exposed to “front-line risks”. Support for women serving in the armed forces has not wavered as warfare has changed, a clear sign that the necessity of women serving in combat is recognized.
- Cultural Differences & Demographics. Women are more effective in some circumstances than men. Allowing women to serve doubles the talent pool for delicate and sensitive jobs that require interpersonal skills not every soldier has. Having a wider personnel base allows militaries to have the best and most diplomatic soldiers working to end conflict quickly.
- Career advancement. As combat duty is usually regarded as necessary for promotion to senior officer positions, denying female personnel this experience ensures that very few will ever reach the highest reaches of the military and so further entrenches sexism.
I would love to generate some debate from our site visitors and contributors to see what you all think. Regardless of our opinions, I think that we can all agree that in lifting a ban on women serving in combat roles in the U.S. military, the Obama administration has made a monumental move toward gender rights that could ultimately change the way our current and future wars look.
Former Army Major (resigned)
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