On Thursday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the U.S. military would lift its long-standing ban on women in combat. The national media, as can be expected, is popping the champagne corks in celebration.
But is it a good thing? As a woman and a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I’m not so sure. To those who have been agitating for this step, I say this: be careful what you wish for.
At this point, we only know the broad outlines of the new policy. The service branches have until 2016 to implement the new policy and to determine if some positions should remain closed to women.
Many women will find out in the long haul that combat entails unprecedented physical stress. As it is now, many women have greater duress on their bodies than men with the physical requirements and are discharged at higher rates from the duress on knees, hips, ankles, and joints. That reality will only be exacerbated in combat. Will physical performance standards be adjusted (that is, made less stringent) to accommodate women?
And then there’s the emotional duress that troops in combat endure. I’ve seen many women in the Marines who chose not to reenlist due to the extreme emotional hardships of service. It isn't an easy culture to handle.
It goes beyond physical limitations—the object of military culture is to defeat the enemy and kill anything that is a threat. There is a constant mode of aggression; I’ve seen too many women who enlisted and completed training, but soon learned they simply couldn’t face that dark reality on a daily basis.
Moreover, the military cannot ensure women’s safety as it is. A recent documentary, "The Invisible War,” notes that over 15,000 women were sexually assaulted in 2011 alone. The odds of being sexually assaulted by a fellow service member are higher than being killed by the enemy. It seems unlikely that the proponents of this policy, in their zeal for “equality” at all costs, have considered these realities.
There are additional practical concerns. A must-read article in Thursday’sWall Street Journal by a Marine veteran of Iraq questions the new policy, noting how “societal norms” like modesty and personal hygiene break down in the field:
Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation's military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?
Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex.
How will troop readiness and morale be affected when every battlefield unit has to focus on equal opportunity employment regulations, rather than fighting? Perhaps they can request that enemy insurgents hold their fire while our troops complete their anti-sexual harassment seminars.
I'm speaking from the perspective of first-hand field operations and experience: Once women decide to be like men, they will find out that they won't like how they are being treated.
As with so many of the Obama administration’s plans, this is a grandiose and poorly thought out gesture aimed at securing hosannas from the New York Times editorial board, regardless of its actual effects. It’s hard to believe this action will improve our combat readiness or battlefield performance. The likely effect will be just the opposite.
Gunnery Sergeant Jessie Jane Duff served 20 years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and is on the advisory committee for Concerned Veterans for America.