How I Really Feel: This Lady Soldier’s Take on Women in Combat

One the biggest news stories from last week, at least in Terra-land, was the Pentagon announcement that the ban on women serving in combat roles was being lifted. It’s something I’ve written about before, about how other countries are doing it, about the excuses people use to rationalize the exclusion, and it’s something I have a lot of feelings about, being that I am a lady Soldier and have been for the past almost-decade.

What fascinates me the most when announcements like this come out is the response, the chorus of dissent and acceptance, the screechy voices lamenting the rise of feminism and the fists-in-the-air shouts of celebration and exhalations of “FINALLY.” I read a handful of news stories on it, read the work emails that came across about it and tried not to fall too deeply down the well of vile comments and, for the most part, I succeeded, but the excuses and lamentations still surprised me, no matter that I’ve heard them all before.

The thing is, we’ve done this all before. This integration thing isn’t new, but neither is the chorus of complaint that accompanies any major military policy shift. Every change we make, if you listen to the naysayers, will destroy us as the world’s premier military force. We all heard it last year, when our military made the decision to allow gays to serve honorably and openly in our armed forces. The comment threads on that topic assured me that half the nation’s servicemembers were ready to walk out on their military commitment, for fear of finding themselves in a foxhole with a “fag,” because surely, gays in the military would degrade our might and ruin us as a military force, never mind that they’ve been there all along, quietly serving a country they love in spite of its intolerance.

The awful things that were supposed to happen with that integration and that acceptance didn’t happen. Military members aren’t leaving in record numbers and our Armed Forces haven’t fallen to bits. Neither did we fall apart as a force when we integrated racially, and neither will we when we allow women to fill combat roles.

And the thing is, women are already in combat. This isn’t new. The reality of war is that women are already there. The war we fight today is not the same as the one we fought 40 or 50 or 70 years ago. It is different and there is no front line. Women have already been wounded and killed in combat, and while some like to argue that seeing America’s daughters coming home in body bags is more difficult for us as a nation to swallow than seeing America’s sons in those same bags, I’d like to counter that the death of any Soldier, male or female, is a difficult and painful thing, and arguing that the death of one over the other is “easier” is complete and utter bullshit.

Then there’s the argument that women in combat could be a distraction to our male Soldiers, that they will suddenly be unable to perform in combat situations, instead focusing their attention on protecting their female comrades, or that they’ll be so blinded by lust that they’ll be unable to accomplish the missions assigned to them. Personally, I have more faith in the male Soldiers I’ve served beside than to believe that their professionalism and acumen will be downgraded in a combat situation by the presence of my vagina on a battlefield.

It goes on. The rationalizations for the exclusion of women in combat arms fields range from arguments on the sacredness of tradition to the matter of hygiene in a field environment. People argue that women can’t handle it, that they’ll cause a lowering of standards, that their fertility may become a liability if they’re taken as prisoners of war, that they’re too pretty for combat, and on and on and on, a whole list of reasons to dig in our heels and avoid forward movement.

The reality of the world and our military today is that things are different and if we have any hope of maintaining our dominance as a military force, we have to be able to adapt to those differences and changes as they develop, we have to be able to step forward into the world that evolves around us. Women are more than mothers and daughters. We lead lives outside of the home, we balance careers and families and have a roster of successes in breaking barriers and glass ceilings. We are capable and competent. We can’t only when we’re barred from trying.

“I think it’s time we stop being surprised that America’s daughters are just as capable of defending this nation as her sons.” — Rep. Tammy Duckworth

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13 thoughts on “How I Really Feel: This Lady Soldier’s Take on Women in Combat

  1. You, my friend, are dead on and a great writer. I couldn’t agree with you more. Well said.

    And go Tammy. Way to represent Illinois! 🙂

    P.S. I like Terra-land.

  2. Beautifully written. Thanks for taking the time to write this; I admit when I heard the news I thought of you as I was sure you would have great insight written eloquently as per usual 🙂

  3. I have to admit I’m torn about this a bit. My take has always been: if you can meet the standards – on the guys’ level – and want to be in combat arms, more power to you.

    And then, I read this – from a female Iraq veteran, and she makes some legitimate points as well.

    I’m a female veteran. I deployed to Anbar Province, Iraq. When I was active duty, I was 5’6, 130 pounds, and scored nearly perfect on my PFTs. I naturally have a lot more upper body strength than the average woman: not only can I do pull-ups, I can meet the male standard. I would love to have been in the infantry. And I still think it will be an unmitigated disaster to incorporate women into combat roles. I am not interested in risking men’s lives so I can live my selfish dream.

    We’re not just talking about watering down the standards to include the politically correct number of women into the unit. This isn’t an issue of “if a woman can meet the male standard, she should be able to go into combat.” The number of women that can meet the male standard will be miniscule–I’d have a decent shot according to my PFTs, but dragging a 190-pound man in full gear for 100 yards would DESTROY me–and that miniscule number that can physically make the grade AND has the desire to go into combat will be facing an impossible situation that will ruin the combat effectiveness of the unit. First, the close quarters of combat units make for a complete lack of privacy and EVERYTHING is exposed, to include intimate details of bodily functions. Second, until we succeed in completely reprogramming every man in the military to treat women just like men, those men are going to protect a woman at the expense of the mission. Third, women have physical limitations that no amount of training or conditioning can overcome. Fourth, until the media in this country is ready to treat a captured/raped/tortured/mutilated female soldier just like a man, women will be targeted by the enemy without fail and without mercy.

    I saw the male combat units when I was in Iraq. They go outside the wire for days at a time. They eat, sleep, urinate and defecate in front of each other and often while on the move. There’s no potty break on the side of the road outside the wire. They urinate into bottles and defecate into MRE bags. I would like to hear a suggestion as to how a woman is going to urinate successfully into a bottle while cramped into a humvee wearing full body armor. And she gets to accomplish this feat with the male members of her combat unit twenty inches away. Volunteers to do that job? Do the men really want to see it? Should they be forced to?

    Everyone wants to point to the IDF as a model for gender integration in the military. No, the IDF does not put women on the front lines. They ran into the same wall the US is about to smack into: very few women can meet the standards required to serve there. The few integrated units in the IDF suffered three times the casualties of the all-male units because the Israeli men, just like almost every other group of men on the planet, try to protect the women even at the expense of the mission. Political correctness doesn’t trump thousands of years of evolution and societal norms. Do we really WANT to deprogram that instinct from men?

    Regarding physical limitations, not only will a tiny fraction of women be able to meet the male standard, the simple fact is that women tend to be shorter than men. I ran into situations when I was deployed where I simply could not reach something. I wasn’t tall enough. I had to ask a man to get it for me. I can’t train myself to be taller. Yes, there are small men…but not so nearly so many as small women. More, a military PFT doesn’t measure the ability to jump. Men, with more muscular legs and bones that carry more muscle mass than any woman can condition herself to carry, can jump higher and farther than women. That’s why we have a men’s standing jump and long jump event in the Olympics separate from women. When you’re going over a wall in Baghdad that’s ten feet high, you have to be able to be able to reach the top of it in full gear and haul yourself over. That’s not strength per se, that’s just height and the muscular explosive power to jump and reach the top. Having to get a boost from one of the men so you can get up and over could get that man killed.

    Without pharmaceutical help, women just do not carry the muscle mass men do. That muscle mass is also a shock absorber. Whether it’s the concussion of a grenade going off, an IED, or just a punch in the face, a woman is more likely to go down because she can’t absorb the concussion as well as a man can. And I don’t care how the PC forces try to slice it, in hand-to-hand combat the average man is going to destroy the average woman because the average woman is smaller, period. Muscle equals force in any kind of strike you care to perform. That’s why we don’t let female boxers face male boxers.

    Lastly, this country and our military are NOT prepared to see what the enemy will do to female POWs. The Taliban, AQ, insurgents, jihadis, whatever you want to call them, they don’t abide by the Geneva Conventions and treat women worse than livestock. Google Thomas Tucker and Kristian Menchaca if you want to see what they do to our men (and don’t google it unless you have a strong stomach) and then imagine a woman in their hands. How is our 24/7 news cycle going to cover a captured, raped, mutilated woman? After the first one, how are the men in the military going to treat their female comrades? ONE Thomasina Tucker is going to mean the men in the military will move heaven and earth to protect women, never mind what it does to the mission. I present you with Exhibit A: Jessica Lynch. Male lives will be lost trying to protect their female comrades. And the people of the US are NOT, based on the Jessica Lynch episode, prepared to treat a female POW the same way they do a man.

    I say again, I would have loved to be in the infantry. I think I could have done it physically, I could’ve met almost all the male standards (jumping aside), and I think I’m mentally tough enough to handle whatever came. But I would never do that to the men. I would never sacrifice the mission for my own desires. And I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if someone died because of me.

    – Sentry

    Curious about your thoughts on this.

  4. This brought tears to my eyes, for real. As you mentioned, this is long overdue. Also, I think it speaks highly of America’s gay and female soldiers that they are willing to abide by the intolerance and stay committed to what they believe in. I believe women can offer something to combat aside from inconvenient “potty breaks” (as referenced in the lengthy comment) and hygiene issues.

  5. I thought about you when the news came out. It’s a lot to think about and I’m sure the debates will continue. Obviously, I have no experience or knowledge of the military, but I do feel that most of the arguments for having women in combat zones (as with having gays in the military, period) are just people’s fear talking. Then it’s covered up with bullshit arguments of “tradition.”

    I do feel a tiny sliver of hope that one day, women will be treated equally under all laws. Next stop: truly fair pay! Lily Ledbetter Act aside, women are still paid less than men for equal work. I say a “tiny sliver of hope” because we’re still light-years away from being treated equally. I fear that we have so many more struggles ahead.

  6. <3 much more eloquent than i ever could have been 🙂 it's always so frustrating when the dissenters are louder than the supporters. i still have some hope that one day they will understand the beauty and reality of progress

  7. I love hearing your take on this – I mean, on anything in general, but especially stuff like this. You’re so insightful and well-spoken and I love how passionate you are about things.

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