(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In other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the argument that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant.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“in other words, some physical standards would be lowered for men and women on the arrangement that certain tasks are outdated or irrelevant?”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!
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:
“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.