« America Looks Gross N… | Home | Ice Road Truckers, Af… »

Guest Post: “Validate” vs. “Retain” – A response to the Washington Times

(Today's guest post is by Don Gomez of the blog Carrying the Gun. He is an old enlisted infantryman and a new infantry officer. He tweets @dongomezjr. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines.

Quick note: The views of guest writers are not necessarily the view of Michael C or Eric C. For our take, please check out the comments below.)

Although I have written extensively and passionately on the subject of the infantry in regards to gender integration, I’ve stayed away from getting sucked into tit-for-tat exchanges with so-and-so over the arguments for and against the whole thing. I’ve found that the main arguments have been, for the most part, exhausted. I’ve met no one who has argued that training standards should be lowered in order to allow women to serve in combat arms.

And then yesterday I saw this article by Rowan Scarborough pop up with fiery rage on social media and beyond: “Double Standard: Pentagon hints at changes to allow more women in ground combat.”

Whoa, I said to myself, what happened?

And then I read the article and realized nothing happened. The article is a lay-analysis of comments from key military leaders on the topic and interviews with folks who hold the strong belief that women do not belong in combat arms.

The article suggests that something has been discovered or something has changed. Nothing has changed. And I intend to show that right here.

A review of news conferences and congressional testimony shows that the top brass repeatedly use the word “validate” — not necessarily “retain” — when talking about ongoing studies of tasks to qualify for infantry, armored and special operations jobs.

In other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the argument that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant.

Who did this review? And okay, the word ‘validate’ is used instead of ‘retain.’ So what? How does that necessarily lead to the conclusion that “in other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the arrangement that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant?”

Standards need to be validated precisely because they have never been validated before because there was never a reason to validate them in the first place. How long does it take an average squad of infantrymen to fill 100 sandbags? We don’t know, because we never really had to test it. Men signed up for the infantry, learned some skills, passed some gates, drank the grog, and earned their crossed rifles.

Senior officers for the first time also are stressing the mental aspect of ground combat, not just physical strength and endurance. Analysts say that is another sign that the military is looking at different ways to ensure that women qualify.

For the first time? That’s wrong. When the services released their plans for integrating women into combat arms almost two months ago, they stated directly in their publicly released memos what they would be looking for. The Army, for example, writes:

1. TRADOC Analysis Center (TRAC) is conducting a study of institutional and cultural factors associated with integration of women into previously closed Military Occupational Specialties and units. The gender integration study draws upon literature reviews, surveys, focus groups, interviews, and process mapping to identify potential factors affecting integration. TRAC is also engaging Soldiers and leaders throughout the Army to ensure that their perspectives are evaluated. This study was initiated in January 2013 and is projected to close by January 2015.

The article then goes on to quote Robert Maginnis, a former artillery officer who is fervently against women in combat units. He just wrote a book titled “Deadly Consequences: How Cowards Are Pushing Women Into Combat.” He says:

“It will begin as an ‘experiment,’ and meanwhile there will be a whittling away of standards — gender-norming — regarding what is required to graduate from certain schools, such as Army Rangers,” Mr. Maginnis said. “The administration and its ideological radical feminist soul mates are willing to accept less effectiveness at the point of the spear in order to put women into every last military occupational specialty.”

Nice. Mr. Maginnis states the future eroding of standards as fact. It is to be because he has predicted it. There is no use in arguing with someone with that kind of an opinion because it is absolutist. He has a firm belief and he has staked himself on it.

Scarborough then goes on to quote some key leaders and ends with what has now become an infamous quote from GEN Dempsey. Scarborough punches up the quote by making it seem like General Dempsey was slamming his fist on the table to the service branches, writing that they “had better have a good argument for keeping it [the standard.]“

Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in January that if a standard keeps women out of a combat job, the military branch had better have a good argument for keeping it.

“If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, ‘Why is it that high?’” Gen. Dempsey said. “Does it really have to be that high? With the direct combat exclusion provision in place, we never had to have that conversation.”

Folks jumped on that line the moment it left the General’s lips. A few days later, aware of the negative backlash it was generating, General Dempsey penned a blog post clarifying what he meant:

I want to address some misperceptions about the decision to rescind the direct combat rule for women. Some fear that this decision will lower standards in our military. That is simply not the case. The services will carefully examine current standards to ensure we have them right, taking into consideration lessons learned from a decade of war and changes in equipment, tactics and technology. We will study each closed occupational field or unit to determine where women are able to serve.

Let me be clear: The standards will be gender-neutral — the same for men and women. This assessment will take time, and the Joint Chiefs and I are committed to making sure that this is done correctly.

Of course, opponents of women in combat arms would argue that the whole idea of “carefully examining current standards” is code for lowering standards to allow women in. And if that’s what you believe, there is nothing I can do for you. If you can’t take the CJCS at his word, than you are far beyond the wall.

This quote is perhaps my favorite in the article.

Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, predicts the military will lower some standards for both sexes to please political leaders.

“Despite denials today, the Marines will retain a number of less-qualified men just to please Congress by assigning a few women to direct ground combat units,” Ms. Donnelly said. “They will also drop tough training standards deemed to be ‘unfair’ to women. The practice will employ ‘equal’ standards that are lower than they are now.”

Essentially, what Elaine Donnelly is saying is that the services will ‘retain’ lower quality infantrymen – who, by the way, have already been ‘validated’ through whatever infantry course they attended and graduated from – in order to allow a handful of women in the ranks. Am I the only one that sees the hypocrisy in that? I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

Going on:

Use of the word “validate” by the top brass to describe studies underway, she said, means that “since the goal is to increase ‘diversity,’ the only standards that will be rated ‘valid’ are those that promote gender diversity.

A false assumption, because the goal is not to increase 'diversity,' but "to ensure that the mission is met with the best-qualified and most capable people, regardless of gender."

The military also is considering different training techniques to get women to the point where they can meet all combat qualification standards.

Rep. Niki Tsongas, Massachusetts Democrat, quoted a woman now involved in setting combat standards: “Her comment was that, ‘Yes, you want the standards to be gender-neutral. But you may need to train to these standards in different ways in order for women to have success.’”

Different training methods for different standards? Is that really that controversial? In preparation to attend IBOLC, I did a lot of foot marching, precisely because I knew I would be tested on my ability to carry heavy rucks quickly over increasingly long distances. Anyone who has an ounce of sense in them would tailor their training to the goal they were trying to achieve. Hidden in these words is the idea that women shouldn’t need special training to pass these courses – they should “just be able to do it.”

That, of course, is nonsense.

Back to Mr. Maginnis:

Mr. Maginnis, an artillery officer by training, said that, in the end, the commanders are looking for killers.

“Smart people, male and female, don’t necessarily make good killers,” he said. “Bottom line, we need people willing to kill in very tough places, and men have many natural advantages.”

A nice thought, but in reality, the willingness to kill is not something we have ever ‘validated’ in training. Imagine what that live-fire exercise might be like!

As I said, I don’t like to go tit-for-tat like this, but I am bothered by the fact that nothing happened today to warrant this article. Nothing changed. This is a weaving together of narratives to influence a particular outcome and is now being heralded – through the misleading headline that the Pentagon is now ‘hinting’ at lowering standards when in fact, the Pentagon has said unequivocally that the standards that are indeed ‘validated’ will be in lockstep with the requirements of the military so that it may continue to carry out its mission as it has for over 200 years.

That is, after all, its job.

24 comments

What I really like about Don’s rebuttal here—and what I touched on in the comments of his blog—is that this issue needs more study. We can’t just say, “Men are stronger than women…and therefore better soldiers.” We need to test and validate what parts of those attributes that each gender brings to the table.

Moreover, I have given up on letting Generals use their “experience” to make proclamations on the issues without using data. General’s “experience” said that repealing DADT would destroy unit cohesion, morale etc. (The Center for Military Readiness above was created to fight for DADT after all.) So I want data that shows why the infantry (or the airborne infantry) should exclude women. Ironically, this could tighten regulations on letting men in the infantry…because after all there are plenty of E7s,8s and 9s still in the infantry who young women could smoke in a PT test.


Great Blog Don. When I initially read Gen (ret) Maginnis’ article in the Washington Times, I had a tough time getting through it w/out throwing my computer out the window. My favorite part is his assertion that it is only the “radical feminists in the Obama Administration” pushing this change. I wanted to scream: “I know about 20 young female officers and Cadets that are pretty damn interested in branching combat arms. Army Strong


A few things:

- In general, I don’t like the “Washington Times”. It is just a very biased newspaper.

- I don’t get the title for Mr. Maginnis’ book. “Deadly Consequences: How Cowards Are Pushing Women Into Combat.” Why include the word cowards in the title?

- Finally, Ms. Donnelly really whiffed when she predicted that repealing DOMA would destroy the infantry…I have trouble trusting her judgement on this similar issue.


Mr. Maginnis, an artillery officer by training, said that, in the end, the commanders are looking for killers.

“Smart people, male and female, don’t necessarily make good killers,” he said. “Bottom line, we need people willing to kill in very tough places, and men have many natural advantages.”

Even assuming that is true, it does not mean that there are not plenty of females willing to kill in tough places. “History has provided examples.(Lyudmila Pavlichenko | Wikipedia)”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyudmila_Pa..


Since this discussion is almost entirely based on anecdotal experience and supposition, let me throw in a couple of anecdotal and completely un-statistically validated thoughts from north of the border.

1. Canada opened the combat arms to women in 1989. In the intervening 24 years some women have entered the combat arms, but not many – in spite of some serious recruiting efforts. In fact (un-statistical statement #1), I would hazard a guess that there are more gay men in the combat arms (most of whom keep it to themselves) than there are women. We’ve had a woman command a combat engineer battalion, and within the next decade or so we’ll likely see the first women commanding infantry and armour units, and there are some sharp female NCOs who might make it to Regimental Sergeant Major, but it’s a slow process. No one’s world is going to turn upside down overnight.

2. Just as allowing gay men (and women) to serve in the Forces has failed to have catastrophic effects on cohesion and effectiveness, so too have women failed to cause the combat arms to implode. Yes, there have been some disciplinary and administrative issues with women and fraternization, but because units have strict personnel limitations, every woman in uniform is one less male in uniform which means (un-statistical statement #2), a female soldier getting in trouble is displacing a male soldier who would be doing drugs, drinking and driving or sleeping with the wrong wife. There is no net increase in disciplinary or administrative issues (this could probably be confirmed but would require a few Access To Information requests). And just as there are generally more good male soldiers than there are male problem soldiers, so too are there more good female soldiers than there are female problem soldiers.

3. In fact, many female soldiers have proved to be exceptionally good at their jobs. Their very presence has improved unit performance and cohesion. And when some were killed in Afghanistan their units reacted the exact same way as when male soldiers were killed, and then carried on fighting so, (un-statistical statement #3) women in the combat arms has not had any adverse impact on units or effectiveness.

4. Physical Fitness tests and standards change. We’re going through such a change right now. After years of either doing a variety of calisthenics (which don’t reflect how well one can perform actual military tasks) or weight-load marching 13km (which exclusively measures the ability to walk with a ruck), the Forces figured out the most commonly performed tasks and replicated them in a new PT test (http://tinyurl.com/lxg6h66). There is, of course, much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair because we’re no longer assessing the number of pushups we can do, and there are always allegations that “the standard is lower,” but in reality we’ve created a test that actually predicts performance conducting military tasks, as opposed to predicting performance for a Cross-Fit competition. And there’s a single standard, regardless of age or gender – just like our shooting and gunnery standards, along with the rest of our individual and collective battle task standards. Curiously, no one ever proposed changing those to accommodate women, and women have managed them just as well as their male counterparts. Those tests are also better predictors of performance (and competence) than pushups or situps, so it looks to me like we might just be training smarter. Perhaps the US can use this current situation (women in the infantry) to revisit its methods and train smarter too. Not all change is bad.


F- Really good points. I think I have asked you before, but if you would like to guest post, we would love to host your thoughts.

Has anyone seen the article on Audie Murphy and Infantry standards on AFJ? http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/women-a.. A fascinating thought, particularly with the Vietnam example.


I’ve seen the Audie Murphy article floating around but haven’t dug into yet. But after reading the headline, and guessing what the argument will be, I’m face palming for not thinking of it myself.


@ Michael C – thanks for the offer. I might take you up on that when I have time to try to distill an idea down to 1000 words!


Mr. Gomez makes a classic statement in his article.

“If you can’t take the CJCS at his word, than you are far beyond the wall.”

I don’t know quite what to say to that, except maybe if you always take the CJCS at his word, then you are far beyond the wall. It has been my forever a civilian observation over the past decade and more, that one of our primary problems, perhaps the primary problem, is the evident lack of moral character in the general officer corps, especially the multi-stars.

With that in mind it is little wonder that people are cynical about how this will play out in a bureaucratic sense. In other words they will make it appear to work no matter much they have to lie, distort and obsfuscate.

F. makes good points but Canada has not done any major fighting since 1989. None. Neither have we or any western nation for that matter. That being the case, there are no lessons to be learned because there has been no experience had. It doesn’t matter if nothing much has resulted from the change made in 1989, the sample is too little.

The only people who have had useful experience are the Russians in WWII. Perhaps. We don’t know and won’t until they fully open their archives. (I read somewhere or other they have only been half opened.) Until that happens we only know what they want us to know, Wiki references about intrepid Soviet women fighting the Nazis notwithstanding.

Ray Braybrook was an English aviation writer in the old days. He said something wise about this whole subject. He said that if you look at auto racing, it is men. There is no physical reason for that. Men or women are physically equal to the task but it is men in the game (spare reminding me about Danica Patrick). He figured it was because men just like that kind of action, danger thing better. He figured further that it was reasonable to extend that to soldiering, men just are better adapted to it in a personality characteristic sense.

We will find out how this is going to work out in big time combat though regardless of what the ground services do. The Navy already has mixed sex crews. As I never tire of pointing out, this has never been done in the history of the world, probably for good reasons lost in antiquity. But we are doing it. Things won’t go well for a maritime power if it doesn’t work out well.


The only people who have had useful experience are the Russians in WWII. Perhaps. We don’t know and won’t until they fully open their archives. (I read somewhere or other they have only been half opened.) Until that happens we only know what they want us to know, Wiki references about intrepid Soviet women fighting the Nazis notwithstanding.

There were also the female SS concentration camp guards. I suppose one could exclude them as historical precedents because they were not combatants. There were females in the “combat arms” of the Viet Cong, Sandinistas, and Tamil Tigers. It seems harder to exclude them as historical precedents, though I suppose some people would say they were “only” la guerrila.

Females are admitted to the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, though admittedly, as far as we know, not to preform paramilitary duties. Females are said to perform paramilitary duties for the Mossad, though that is admittedly unconfirmed. However you slice it, there is plenty of evidence outside of service in standing armies and navies that not being male does not mean an individual is unable to be effectively aggressive, violent, and ruthless when need be.


Mateo:

Aggressive, ruthless and violent are a big part of being a criminal but only, from what I’ve read, a small part of soldiering, or at least of soldiering in our sense of the word. It may be different in some of the ‘armies’ I’ve read about.

The service of females in the VC, Sandinistas and Tamil Tigers is, to my knowledge, on the same order as that of the Soviets in WWII, in the sense that what we have are press releases. We don’t know what the experience was unless the archives are opened. So I don’t think there is much evidence to judge from in the historical record.

I can’t believe you are citing female SS death camp guards as a bit of supporting evidence. You can withdraw that one you know. It ain’t writ in stone yet.


Aggressive, ruthless and violent are a big part of being a criminal but only, from what I’ve read, a small part of soldiering, or at least of soldiering in our sense of the word. It may be different in some of the ‘armies’ I’ve read about.

Yes, soldiering also requires knowledge, resilience, organization, loyalty, and discipline. If women lack those things our society needs to seriously rethink the heavy lifting they do as parents and teachers.

I can’t believe you are citing female SS death camp guards as a bit of supporting evidence. You can withdraw that one you know. It ain’t writ in stone yet.

The Internet is written in pen, not pencil. I knew that when I posted.


Raising children in a family and teaching children in a school differ a bit from wading into the beach after the boat gets hung up on the reef or pressing on to the target after the low squadron has just disappeared. My own personal opinion is that kind of thing depends a lot on the social dynamics of men in groups in combat, something we know a lot about. We don’t know a lot about the social dynamics mixed sex groups in combat. Which gets us back to my point, the available historical record is a bit thin on this.

Well if you don’t want to try and ‘walk back’ sorta equating death camp guarding with soldiering, it’s your call.

(An interesting note that is neither here nor there, but interesting, is that families headed by the sainted ‘single mom’ don’t do so hot. Fathers seem to be very helpful.)


My own personal opinion is that kind of thing depends a lot on the social dynamics of men in groups in combat, something we know a lot about. We don’t know a lot about the social dynamics mixed sex groups in combat. Which gets us back to my point, the available historical record is a bit thin on this.

I don’t disagree that we don’t know a lot about the social dynamics of mixed sex groups in combat. We didn’t know a lot about the social dynamics of mixed racial groups in combat not that long ago, either, and a lot of the same arguments are being made about allowing women into the combat arms today.

(An interesting note that is neither here nor there, but interesting, is that families headed by the sainted ‘single mom’ don’t do so hot. Fathers seem to be very helpful.)

So that the comments won’t wander farther off topic I will let it rest after this… Of course families with more than one caregiver present fare better, all other things being equal! Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has spent her career researching and writing about the fact: http://bit.ly/11ntYjs


Mateo:

Ah, the old ‘it’s the same as desegregating’ argument. I have a question for you about that. Do think the differences between men and women, in degree and kind, equate to differences in skin color, eye shape or whatever else is used to differentiate between race?

I think there may be rather more evidence in the historical record of mixed race units than you may think. We have the record of black units with white officers in our army. I think, I haven’t checked it today to confirm, but I think the US Navy wasn’t too picky about the racial composition of the crews in the early days. And finally, I suspect, again I haven’t checked today, that armies of old weren’t so picky either. For example, the Muslim armies that swept North Africa and other places. But again I haven’t checked.


Do think the differences between men and women, in degree and kind, equate to differences in skin color, eye shape or whatever else is used to differentiate between race?

I won’t dispute that there are some undoubted physical differences between males and females, and that those should be taken into account here. Do those differences mean most women wouldn’t be able to make it through Ranger School? (Note that most men wouldn’t be able to make it through Ranger School, either.) Maybe, as women tend to be not as muscularly strong as men do. On the other hand, women tend to carry more body fat than men do, and that would be an advantage over two months of food deprivation.

And finally, I suspect, again I haven’t checked today, that armies of old weren’t so picky either. For example, the Muslim armies that swept North Africa and other places.

I won’t dispute that, and it is analogous to my point that guerrilla armies are only so picky about gender composition. Which you do dispute.


Mateo:

Ok. You say that physical differences should be taken into account. How?

Another question. Do you believe there are differences between men and women that extend beyond the physical?

No, I think it is not analogous to that. First, my view is the differences between men of different races are the most superficial of things, so they weren’t so picky about the race of men in the force. The differences between men and women are profound. Second, we don’t know, as in know vs. what was in press releases, what the experience of those forces you spoke of was.

You agree we don’t know much about the social dynamics of mixed sex groups in combat. We must agree then that what we are doing is an experiment. The result can only be determined in war. I think it unwise to conduct an experiment in warring on so profound a level. If the experimental result is not as predicted, it may result in defeat. Defeat is a very bad thing.


Ok. You say that physical differences should be taken into account. How?

The shortest answer I can give is that I am in agreement with Don’s original post.

Another question. Do you believe there are differences between men and women that extend beyond the physical?

I believe there are many differences between individuals. Some of them may well be present at birth, many of them are certainly due to socialization. Does that many that many if not most women are not cut out for the infantry? Yes, and the same holds true for many if not most men. Does that mean that 99.9% of women are not cut out for the infantry? I seriously doubt it. Does that mean that all women are not cut out for the infantry? I don’t believe that at all.


Mateo:

I am not interested in the shortest answer or what somebody else thinks. What do you think? How?

My other question still stands, despite an 8 sentence evasion. Do you believe there are differences between men and women, not individuals, between men and women that extend beyond the physical.


My other question still stands, despite an 8 sentence evasion. Do you believe there are differences between men and women, not individuals, between men and women that extend beyond the physical.

If you want a binary answer I am the wrong person to ask. I have been too many places and seen too much variety to believe men and women are any one way or that I can make categorical statements about them as groups.


Whether females in the combat arms is going to work for the U.S. Military has to do with society and ideology, not biology. Most Americans want to believe that mothers would die for their children but would rather not think about whether they would kill for them. And Americans don’t like the thought of sending young women off in uniform to get mangled, raped, and killed. The reason I buy that women had more than a PR role on the Eastern Front, and in Vietnam, Nicaragua, and Sri Lanka is that the people there were not hung up on that because they had seen plenty of young (and old) women who were not in uniform get mangled, raped, and killed.


Mateo:

You post of 12:05 is an evasion. You have an opinion but won’t give an answer. Or maybe not. The answer was given. If you believe that a categorical answer cannot be given, then you believe there are no differences.

Your post of 12:36 reinforces your answer. So I take it you believe what differences in behavior, attitudes, aptitudes etc are not due to intrinsic differences between the sexes. If that is what you believe, there is no real room for discussion in our positions. We can’t come to compromise position on something like that.

I would suggest that you might want to consider the consequences of your being wrong. If a society that believes as you do mans its fighting forces in accordance with that belief, and gets it wrong, the consequences will be lethal.

There has rarely been a society in history that has not seen women not in uniform mangled, raped and killed during a war. It has been the rare society in history that has not seen everybody mangled, raped and killed, to include the dogs, cats, cattle and canaries. Potential victimhood has not been a criterion for being in the fighting forces up to now. I think it unwise to make it one.

You may buy the PR but I am skeptical. Tell me, as a % of fighting forces, how many women do you think were in the VC, fighting forces now mind you?

One last question not meant to be fair or unfair (well maybe just a little), do you have any children? I ask because my brother once firmly believed it was nurture, not nature, then he had two boys.


One last question not meant to be fair or unfair (well maybe just a little), do you have any children?

No, I do not. Helping see to the growth and well-being of a young human is a wonderful experience and one of which anyone should be proud. I myself believe have probably had as much of the experience as I want via helping raise my seven years younger than me brother beginning when my mother left his good-for-nothing father when I was in fifth grade. But never say never.

I ask because my brother once firmly believed it was nurture, not nature, then he had two boys.

Well, my mother had me when she was a junior in high school and my father and his family thought it was fine for him to skip town in the meantime. Then she made another crap choice in men with my brother’s father, but she managed to see to both of our needs despite that. That’s probably why I have always firmly believed that women can do pretty much anything men can do.

BTW, it’s just the Internet. You don’t need to get so personal!


Mateo:

Your mother sounds like a magnificent woman. I can understand how her example influenced you so powerfully.

Just curious is all. Feel free to give me a curt ‘none of your business’ which I may deserve more often than I care to admit.