Women in Combat Arms: No!

Women in the Ground Combat Arms: No!
By Ron Kilmartin
Top Defense leaders, ages 61- 75, and senior women officers of likely ages 35 to 50, who are without any small unit combat arms experience, are willy-nilly setting up the 18-25 age cohort that actually performs small- unit combat for failure by introducing young women into the highly charged atmosphere of direct combat, melding the high-tension combat environment with the high-tension sexual attraction characteristic of that age cohort, for both men and women. This ruling is irresponsible and reflects a lack of thorough consideration, moral judgment and common sense.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, 75, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, 61, recently announced that from now on women may serve in the combat arms of the armed services including army infantry, armor, artillery branches. The SECDEF and the Chairman are political appointments by the president, so it may be assumed that as good yes men they are merely carrying out President Obama’s orders.
Neither of these DOD gentlemen have had any small unit combat experience, according to their DOD biographies (1,2). Panetta served as a peacetime intelligence officer for a few years. General Dempsey deployed in the 100-hour Desert Storm ground attack (1991) with the 3rd Armored Division, however his assignment is not described in the bibliography (2). In the Iraq war, Dempsey took command of the 1st Armored Division in Bagdad in 2003 for 14 months. As a general officer his combat experience was at a level well above that of small units. Combat contact with the enemy at the division level cannot be compared to combat contact at the infantry squad level – where for 24/7 it is kill or be killed. His small unit command experience was limited to peace-time assignments. President Obama of course has had no military experience whatsoever – or does the skeet range count? I find it offensive that they came up with this policy out of thin air, not knowing from real personal experience what they were advocating and its willy-nilly discriminatory placing of young women in extra-hazardous combat assignments.
Other champions of this ruling are relatively high ranking women career officers who perceive that a “glass ceiling” prevents them from rising to the top dog level (e.g., Army Chief of Staff) because they do not have combat arms experience. These folks are generally senior, in the age range 30-50, majors to brigadier general, of those I have casually observed who have been trotted out on television as supporters of the ruling. They included helicopter, transport and even some warthog pilots. While some ground-based women have been exposed to ground combat situations, and indeed there have been female casualties including killed in action in Desert Storm, Iraq, and Afghanistan, their combat participation was tangential to the mission of the supporting services, such as transportation, medical, quartermaster and military police. Most of their assignments appear to not have put them in potentially direct 24-hour daily contact with male counterparts in combat against enemy troops.
Additionally we have the Gloria Steinem’s of the world who see everything through rose-colored glass ceilings but who have no idea of the hellish stresses imposed on the combat arms at the small unit level. Gloria by the way clocks in at 78 and has no fear of ever being drafted for a combat unit.
Senator John McCain, 76, believes that women in combat units would be OK provided they are required to measure up to the same physical standards as males. McCain’s awesome heroics as a prisoner in the Hanoi Hilton are well known, however he is also proposing rules for very young people in combat situations that are simply not part of his personal experience as a Navy pilot or Hanoi Hilton prisoner-of-war. Senator McCain ignores the physiological and psychological aspects of throwing 18-25 year olds of both sexes together in close quarter combat situations on the battlefield where endurance, sleep deprivation and lack of sanitary facilities accompany the kill or be killed environment.
The 24/7 nature of small unit combat eliminates the opportunity for privacy for bathing or bodily functions. There is no privacy in the foxhole or its mechanized counterparts, and there is no time for chivalry. This is counter to the experience, combat or otherwise, of female pilots, nurses, doctors, or staff at the division or corps level or above or air base, where privacy and hot meals and rest time are usually maintained even in offensive operations. And sexual encounters at these higher commissioned levels are not as likely to get people killed.
We have to recognize that the Navy is in a different situation with women assigned to combat ships, all of which have privacy arrangements for females, hot meals, television, and other comforts not realized for the forward ground-based combat arms. Nevertheless Navy experience is Exhibit 1 for the effect of putting young people of both sexes in close quarters – pregnancy rates that are expectable when you throw young folks together for long cruises at sea.
And what if the country has to institute a draft again in the future? There are countries with massive ground armies that potentially could become our battlefield enemies, and the volunteer services would not be large enough, requiring institution of the draft. The PC boogyman would require that women be included in the draft as well as men. Draftees in the army ground services were formerly called cannon-fodder in the line charges of the 1800s and earlier. Or machine-gun fodder in WWI. While infantry training and equipment today are far superior to that of WWI or II or the Korean War, people with the Rifleman MOS (military occupational specialty number) or equivalent (e.g., medic or corpsman) continue to sustain higher casualty rates than any other MOS in the service. Many of their number have fallen and lie in military cemeteries throughout the world and here in the USA. And many come home to a long lonely life in Veteran’s hospitals with severe wounds that disable them for life. These wounded veterans bear a horrific lifetime burden for their country. Female recruits or draftees into the combat arms would be required to risk maiming and death due to enemy action, adverse weather, or possibly bear the hell of a lifetime with severed limbs or other bodily damage, and could also end up in Veteran hospitals for life. We abhor such a result for male veterans but it is unconscionable to think of young women following this same empty life path.
Jan Sherbin’s article “How will women fair in combat? Look to the Soviets for Answers” (3) acknowledges the important combat role that Soviet women played in WWII. Durbin noted that in the 1930s in the Soviet Union placed great emphasis on raising a generation of physically strong people -both male and female – who viewed themselves as defenders of the Motherland. However, that was a Communist all-powerful tyranny, and the youth had no choice except the gulag or be shot. That is impossible in America, a democratic republic subject to the will of the people. So our women as draftees or recruits would be of the average general health and strength of the entire female population. The standard U.S training for draftees would never be sufficient to produce the equivalent strength and endurance of the WWII Soviet woman.
Israel has had experience with women in combat. In Israel’s war of liberation (1948), one-eyed general Moshe Dayan is reported (4) to have said “we had a constant fear of what the Arabs would do to our women if they captured them; the {Israeli] men could not stand the psychological stress of watching women being killed and captured”, and he said that having women in combat units “knocked down the unit combat effectiveness”. Since then, women have not been allowed to serve in the Israeli combat arms.
Lt. General Jerry Boykin (retired) helped to start Special Forces and commanded numerous small unit operations between 1970 and 2000. His later assignments included Commanding General Special Forces, and Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. While admiring the record of women in combat support (including warthog pilots) in Iraq and Afghanistan, General Boykin points to the dilemma imposed on the small unit leaders in such arms as the infantry, Seals, Special forces, and others. “These ground units have the mission of closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and maneuver, direct assaults, raids, ambushes, and close combat. . . “Suffice it to say their personal hygiene regimen and normal bodily functions were humiliating enough among mates of the same sex. What would it have been like for a mixed-sex unit? . . . ”Leaders of these units must be focused like a laser on keeping their soldiers alive and defeating the enemy. It is unreasonable to encumber them with the additional burden of worrying about how they provide privacy for the few women under their command during stressful and very dangerous operations. It is not the same as being a combat pilot who returns to an operating bases or an aircraft carrier after the fight, where separate facilities are available” (5).
The writer was in the Korean war in 1952-53 as a heavy weapons platoon leader, 23rd Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division. This period of that war was somewhat like WWI  with trenches and bunkers in a semi-stationary main Iine of resistance (MLR), and with several roughly company-size forward outposts across typical division MLRs. Most of the action at that time was at the outpost level and in combat patrols. These actions often involved close-in combat with a fanatical enemy. The outposts were often contested territory with one side holding for a few weeks or months only to lose it as the other side again overwhelmed it. It is difficult to project female soldiers in small units with little in the way of facilities in that period of the Korean war, or in the earlier and tougher part of the Korean war in which rapid offensive action and hellish retreats were required under extreme adverse weather conditions and crazed Chinese Communist charges with fixed bayonets and bugles blaring. Aside from the enemy, cold weather can and did inflict extreme pain and death. Frostbite and gangrene can require surgical removal of limbs. If the winter clothing and equipment does not get through to the combat squads and platoons when needed, a not unusual happening in a rapidly moving situation, the entire unit could be destroyed by the combined winter and combat environment. They are still digging up Napoleon’s cannon-fodder infantry (War of 1814) from the frozen grounds of Russia. Such are the environments that a universal draft would place female draftees (or recruits for that matter) in the combat arms. And extreme heat such as encountered in Iraq with temperatures soaring to 125 ◦F or more stresses the body in other ways, such as dehydration, lack of sanitation, lack of shower and washing facilities. Urban search and destroy combat carrying 60 lb packs, ammo and weapons, with the enemy in civilian garb hiding his weapons, is not a job for young women. Every door you kick open may lead to a well-organized enemy close-range response. War is hell, regardless of the way it is fought.
So we have here a situation of top-level defense officials without any small unit combat experience issuing a DOD edict and high ranking women officers lobbying to become eligible to wear stars on their shoulders, if they are allowed to be assigned to the combat arms. But they are not and will not ever be in the direct combat arms at the squad or tank level where they would have to engage in kill-or-be-killed direct combat. Today’s senior women officers desiring removal of this “glass ceiling “ will never see the reality of small unit combat since they are already at an advanced rank, and they are moreover too old to perform direct physical combat at the small unit level. Future young female officers assigned to combat units under the DOD edict would start out as lieutenants at the combat platoon level and soon advance to higher, safer and more congenial levels with privacy and sanitation facilities, if they lived through the platoon level assignment. Or they could rise to a higher, safer, and more congenial level in peacetime with service in a small combat unit in peacetime (e.g., like General Dempsey). But that really does not account for small unit combat experience.
Are we to risk the lives of 18-25 year old women to satisfy the ego trips that these senior women officers want to pursue so they can be a general or chief of staff? Basically young enlisted women will have their lives and personal privacy put on the line so the glass ceiling lobby get a crack at general’s stars. This is a sickening outcome of allowing young women draftees or recruits to be assigned to the combat arms.
It would be better for women with advanced military career ambitions to follow that route through the Navy, where they could indeed command large ships and even become a joint chief. This probably also applies to an Air Force career for women, in which combat aircraft personnel are likely in the more mature age range 25-30 or older, because of the extensive training required. The relative maturity of this age cohort tends to less intensive psycho-physio stress than the younger cohort, and the facilities for privacy and other amenities at a combat-mission airbase are not adverse.
In a series of articles in the Washington Post since the DOD announcement, Kathleen Parker, syndicated staff writer for the Washington Post, explored the women in combat concept in detail. In one of them, Parker excoriated both political parties in Congress for their failure to debate this DOD edict: “Democrats may be merely falling in line with their commander but the Republicans seem to be suffering from Stockholm syndrome. They’ve been slapped around for so long they have become sympathetic to their captors. … ”That our Congress is accepting this change without any debate isn’t progress. It is a dereliction of duty, and one is tempted to say suggestive of cowardice.” (5). Parker is right. As a father of daughters and grandfather of granddaughters the writer cannot accept the concept of them ever being even remotely exposed to a draft that could place them in small unit search and destroy combat. The DOD edict authorizing women in the ground combat arms must be revoked. Congress, do your job!
(1) http://www.defense.gov/bios/biographydetail.aspx?biographyid=310

(2) http://www.jcs.mil/biography.aspx?ID=135
(3) Jan Sherbin “How will women fare in Combat? Look to the Soviets for Answers” Contra Costa Times, February 3, 2013.
(4) “Women in Combat: Why Rush to Judgment?” The Backgrounder, Heritage Foundation, No. 836, 6/14/1991, Appendix, General Andrew J. Gatsis USA (retired) testified before the House Committee on Armed services, November, 1979 as to a statement to him by General Moshe Dayan concerning women in the Israeli armed services. The base article and this appendix also lists related items of interest the last time this subject was broached in Congress (1991), e.g., relaxed requirements for female cadets at West Point.
(5) http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-02-01/opinions/36682605_1_combat-units-physical-standards-military-effectiveness.
Ron Kilmartin is a consulting engineer in Pleasant Hill, CA


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