A Woman's Place Is Not In Combat

By J. David Galland

Defense Watch, 29 May 2002

Military author J. David GallandThe British Ministry of Defence recently completed a two-year study on women in the military, and last week its findings led Defence Secretary Geoffrey W. Hoon to continue the prohibition of female soldiers from serving in infantry and armor units.

The study concluded that the presence of women in combat units could undermine unit cohesion and would create a risk for the individual soldiers as well. The findings further stated that women should not be allowed to serve on the front line because military commanders believe it might stop soldiers from following orders in the heat of battle.

Noting the small size of ground combat units and the unrelenting mental and physical pressure faced by soldiers that can continue for weeks at a time, the British study honestly recognized this unique role that stands apart from other military positions. In ground combat units soldiers are, and must be, subjected to intense discipline designed to make them ready to follow any order - immediately and without question - even if it means the likelihood of death.

The Ministry of Defence study concluded that it could not predict with certainty the impact on infantry and armor units from introducing women into their ranks. Secretary Hoon affirmed on May 22 that he was not prepared to risk the effectiveness of front-line infantry and armored combat teams in the absence of any hard evidence that allowing women to serve in such units would increase their capabilities. Women in the British military will be allowed to serve in 70 percent of all army roles, but they will be kept out of units that must "close with the enemy."

Adm. Sir Michael Boyce, Chief of the British Defence Staff, echoed his superior, saying that allowing women into front-line combat roles would be an "irresponsible experiment."

What a novel concept! The British military has demonstrated its insistence that top priority must go for combat readiness - the ability of its units, to deploy, maneuver, seize and hold terrain, and kill the adversary. Unit effectiveness, mission accomplishment and force sustainment take priority over political correctness and a contemporary social ideology that may be fine in the corporate world but can severely impair a military operation.

The British decision comes in sharp contrast to the U.S. military, which remains hobbled by equal-opportunity regulations and programs for women that undercut both morale and combat effectiveness.

Naturally the Liberal Democrats and the British Equal Opportunities Commission have challenged Adm. Boyce, Secretary Mr. Hoon, and anyone else so bold as to differ with their beliefs that equality for women should be the top priority, even with the British Army currently fighting the war against international terrorism.

Meanwhile, American forces continue to be coerced, threatened, and forced by liberal watchdog groups to open up all jobs to women. Even the current U.S. ban against women serving in infantry, armor and special forces units is being continually challenged by women's equality advocates through political pressure asserting that any career field that still excludes women is discriminatory and biased.

The findings of the British study offered significant factual evidence to support continuing the ban. Most women performed significantly worse than men in key physical tests. Women were also found to also have a considerably reduced capacity for aggression, although the study team thought this could possibly be altered "given sufficient social license and provocation."

The British study findings prompt an urgent question: Will this encourage other countries to re-examine the current roles of women in their armies?

Perhaps so, but in the United States, a powerful, firmly entrenched feminist political movement retains the ability to exert political pressure on the Defense Department. Within the U.S. military itself, anyone who advocates re-examining or possibly restricting female roles in opposition to the snowballing momentum of gender equality, has signed his or her own career death warrant.

It seems likely that the U.S. military - particularly the U.S. Army - will continue with its "equality at any price" philosophy, even at the cost of declining recruitment, retention, reenlistments and quality of the force. This is a troubling situation that appears to be getting worse by the day. The U.S. Army today is as shorthanded as I have ever seen it. Recruitment goals are not being reached as anticipated. The expected upsurge of those hustling to enlist after 9-11 never happened.

Sen. Max Cleland, D-GA, a U.S. Army veteran who suffered severe combat injuries in Vietnam, has called for an expansion of the active force by more aggressive recruiting approaches and incentives. Cleland is preparing to submit his third try at changing the federal law that capped the total number of Americans who may serve in uniform. It's a noble effort but misses the key issue.

I have spoken with numerous Army recruiters and what I am hearing is not encouraging. One senior noncommissioned officer, whom I have known for almost twenty years, told me that the "female-friendly" Army is becoming less attractive to young men. He explained that in his experience, young men who seek to define and project their masculinity, and work in a macho-type environment, have lost the main incentive to ascribe to a military lifestyle.

My friend's concern was underscored recently by Gunnery Sgt. Jack Harrington, a Marine Corps recruiter in Orange County, California. Harrington and I struck up a conversation at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport a few weeks ago. The seasoned Marine told me that he has a steady stream of eager young men coming into his office. Gunnery Sgt. Harrington said he is convinced that it is the Marines' traditional, "macho" way of doing things that attracts most of the young men he has recruited.

There is a very important lesson for the top Pentagon leadership contained in both the British study of combat effectiveness, and in the growing concerns voiced by seasoned U.S. military NCOs everywhere: With our nation in a wartime fight for its survival, we can no longer afford to use the armed forces as a laboratory for social engineering.

J. David Galland (the author's pen name) is a combat veteran of twenty-seven months service in Vietnam, and conflicts in Grenada, and Panama. He served over the years as an Intelligence Analyst, Case Officer, and Area Intelligence Technician. He is retired from thirty years active Army service. He is currently a civilian employee in the intelligence field, and Deputy Editor of Defense Watch, a publication of Soldiers For The Truth.