Question: Will Combat Roles for Women Downgrade Military Readiness?

By Donnelly, Elaine; Pfluke, Lillian A. | Insight on the News, May 8, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Question: Will Combat Roles for Women Downgrade Military Readiness?


Donnelly, Elaine, Pfluke, Lillian A., Insight on the News


Yes: Morale,

cohesion and

deployability

will suffer.

Some of the finest and most professional women in the workforce are serving in the armed forces. But would their assignment to combat or near-combat roles improve America's military readiness?

Retired Army Lt. Col. William J. Gregor, who testified before the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, said he didn't think so. For that to be true, said Gregor, the population of women would have to be substantially the same as the population of men in terms of physical potential or performance; it would have to be possible to train women to the same standard and in the same manner as men; and the introduction of women into small, male fighting units would have to have no adverse effect on training or combat performance.

Citing a series of tests with ROTC cadets at the University of Michigan, Gregor testified that only a small percentage of high-achieving women are capable of physical achievement comparable to low-achieving men. He also noted that male underachievers usually have the muscle mass and aerobic capacity to improve their scores, but women at the same level already have reached a maximum level beyond which they cannot improve. Other experts in physiology presented the commission with abundant evidence that although there is some overlap in physical capabilities, males on average have 40 to 50 percent more upper-body muscular strength and 25 to 30 percent more of the aerobic capacity needed for endurance.

Readiness and unit strength still depend on the ability to carry heavy survival gear, weapons and provisions over rough terrain in all weather conditions. These qualities remain extremely relevant in or near front-line units where women do not have an equal opportunity to survive or to help fellow soldiers survive.

Rational discussion of the issue should focus not on any one element but on the cumulative weight of negative factors affecting unit strength, deployability, morale, cohesion and overall readiness, all of which were identified by the 1992 commission.

Unfortunately, the commission's recorded testimony and findings have been ignored by the Clinton administration, which has pushed hard for women in combat, as well as inclusion of avowed homosexuals in the military. Those who thought the campaign for women in combat roles would end with a few aircraft or ships must recognize that incremental change won't stop there. Once "equal opportunity" becomes the primary consideration in the formulation of military personnel policies, the needs of the armed forces become secondary.

Combat, as traditionally defined by the various services, is more than the experience of being shot at or being in danger: It involves physical proximity with hostile forces, an inherent risk of capture and engaging the enemy with fire, maneuver or shock effect in contested territory, waters or airspace. Desert Storm, which differed from most wars in American history, created the false impression that modern warfare, especially from the air, is relatively easy and risk-free. Army Lt. Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III, who replaced Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf as commander of the U.S. Central Command, warns that despite technological advances, combat is no more refined, no less barbaric and no less physically demanding than it has been throughout history.

Unfortunately, the concerns of seasoned combat veterans and active-duty personnel have been overruled. The Clinton administration has pushed ahead with a two-pronged strategy to repeal most Defense Department policies exempting women from service in or near previously closed land-combat units. On Jan. 13, 1994, then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin announced a contrived and sanitized redefinition of "direct ground combat" and repealed the Department of Defense Risk Rule, which was established in 1988 to exempt noncombatant women from assignments too near the front line.

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