We Need What Women Bring to the Fight

September 21, 2015

For special access to experts and other members of the national security community, check out the new War on the Rocks membership.

With his announcement that all combat jobs, including Marine Infantry, will be open to women, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has joined both the Army and the Air Force in lifting restrictions to combat arms Military Occupational Specialties (MOS).  With these definitive statements, one could assume the conversation is over.  However, the comment sections of articles announcing the expanded role of women show that while the political debate may be close to over, the cultural one is still raging.  With the arguments about physicality or capability debunked through these announcements, the case against full integration has turned to intangibles.

As highlighted in a recent War on the Rocks article by LtGen Gregory Newbold (USMC, ret), those arguing against the full integration of women tend to turn to the ideas of “unit cohesion” and “military effectiveness” to prove women have no place in combat units.  While the argument that women do not belong among those who “can confront the Islamic State, North Korean automatons, or Putin’s Spetsnaz and win every time” is convenient, it rests on two problematic points.  First, unit cohesion is unmeasurable.  However, Newbold believes that he holds the keys to explaining it, shutting down measured debate in the name of passion over evidence.  Second, he infers that military effectiveness is directly tied to a specific character trait seen in a limited definition of combat operations.  While combat success is a component of military effectiveness, his narrow characterization misses the strategic forest for the trees. In resorting to the comfortable “war is hell, and introducing a lady will make men unable to confront that hell” argument, he ignores the reality of the past 15 years of combat operations.  In both Iraq and Afghanistan, women have been an integral part of the success of our military’s most celebrated units.   Not only can women be part of the elite forces designed to combat our nations foes, the best strategic decision we can make now is to ensure that they do.

The root of the unit cohesion argument is that camaraderie and trust are uniquely forged in situations where individuals must reach beyond themselves in order to achieve a common goal.  Newbold speaks of the “nearly spiritual glue” that holds infantry units together.  This ethereal assumption – that there is something mystical about 19 to 22 year old males that holds them together – denies the research done on both the formation of unit cohesion and its impact on effectiveness.  Despite Newbold’s assertion to the contrary, unit cohesion can – and has – been successfully measured and studied.  As a crux in an argument that has such dire consequences for our nation, it deserves rigorous due diligence, not just comfortable assumptions.

Military sociologists and psychologists alike have found that successful unit cohesion is forged not due to the likeness of group members, but around the accomplishment of specific tasks and the quality of small-unit leadership.  In fact, groups comprised of too-similar individuals tend to deteriorate under stressful conditions due to an inability to solve problems creatively.  Similar studies have also found that the stresses of military training and deployment are just the sort of conditions to strengthen cohesive bonds between people and that create military units that are both efficient and effective at integrating new members.  This “task based” cohesion is magnified by the presence of positive small unit leadership, certainly something the Marine Corps prides itself on.

These findings on the formation and strengthening of unit cohesion through task-completion and effective leadership are not relegated to the pages of academic journals.  In the past 15 years, groups of young Marines of all races, religions, sexual orientations, and genders have been tested in Iraq and Afghanistan, often performing duties for which they were not specifically trained or equipped.  The blurring of the front lines of combat – from convoys coming under direct-fire during ambushes to military police being used as initial checkpoints and first-line defenses – have shown that mixed-gender units succeed in the harshest environments.  The shared experiences of these groups of individuals fostered cohesion and morale.  With a task-oriented purpose, the assumptions Newbold relies on to differentiate men and women fall by the wayside, and are instead replaced by a shared sense of purpose and dedication to mission accomplishment.

Have there been problems in unit cohesion?  Certainly.  But these problems are not unique to women.  Instances of poor cohesion and performance are a result of deficient training and sub-standard leadership.  There are plenty of instances of all-male units failing to coalesce into a perfect unit, resulting in some of the dire consequences Newbold cautions against.  However, no one blames their gender for their shortcomings.  Even in the mist of Bowe Berghdal being charged with desertion, no one has once questioned the suitability of males for combat.  Yet every time an individual woman fails, it is used as evidence that the entire gender is unfit to fight.  The assertion that it is women who are somehow responsible for failure is a convenient way of avoiding hard questions about how we are actually training and leading those individuals brave enough to willingly go into harm’s way.

Unit cohesion, it is argued, is of the upmost importance because it directly impacts military effectiveness.  The problem with the usual course of this argument is that it ignores the military’s purpose.  Military effectiveness is frequently used in arguments as a personal and unmeasurable quality of combat forces.  To this end, it is commonly interchanged with “close combat effectiveness,” and without directly saying it, nothing more than killing the enemy.  Is success in close combat a component of military effectiveness?  Of course, but as our experience in Vietnam shows, a high body count does not an effective military make.

The ambiguous swapping of “military” and “combat” effectiveness ignores the larger purpose of the military.  The military is a political actor, whose effectiveness is ultimately measured by its ability to shape the international arena to favor our larger strategic aims.  This requires the ability to adapt to new and ever changing environments.  In 2010, Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn stated that the “changing nature of warfare” requires a change in military training and tactics.  At the heart of this changing nature is the counterinsurgency fight.  The 2014 Department of Defense Joint Publication on Counterterrorism recognizes terrorism and insurgency as the top threats to U.S. security.  These new threats require new tactics.  The past several decades have witnessed a great change in the nature of international threat and require a change in tactics to successfully meet them.

An independent study commissioned by the Department of Defense’s Civil-Military Operations Staff Section (J-9) found that the common thread in successful counterinsurgency operations was a commitment to simultaneously resolving conflicts in political, economic, social, and security dimensions.  Those strategies that relied purely on overwhelming combat force not only proved more costly – both in terms of life and treasure – but resulted in unstable political environments when military forces left.   Success in this modern battlefield requires not only tactical skill with a rifle, but also cultural understanding and adaptation.

In looking to the past 15 years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hard to declare absolute victories in either case.  However, there are glimmers of success stories.  Special operations leaders had great foresight in thinking that “America would never kill its way out of the wars” and sought to leverage the best of their forces, including women, to fight insurgents on all fronts.  As a Marine Corps infantry captain who served in Iraq and Afghanistan stated, “You really have to have female counter-insurgents if you are expecting to have a successful counterinsurgency strategy.”  The cultural and political aspects of counterinsurgency are as critical as the tactical aspects of warfare.  The women involved in counterinsurgency combat operations, to include night-raids, proved to be mission critical.

That war is hell and a not an experience desired by “normal humans” is nothing of a surprise for myself and the thousands of other women who have served during the past decade and a half.  The women who chose to serve are not “normal,” and that is a fact to be celebrated and fully utilized, not ignored.  Full integration of women into all sectors of the military is not about the opportunities of one or two particularly outstanding young women.  It is about fully embracing the strengths of the total population in order to make the most effective military in the world.  Meeting the physical rigors of elite level training show that women can perform at demanding tactical standards while the successes of the past 15 years show that they should.  It is time we let go of hallowed ideas on the nature of the sexes and continue to let women succeed in ways we were not previously allowed.  Our strategic place in the world depends on it.


Kyleanne Hunter is a PhD Student at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.  She spent 10 years as a Marine Corps Officer, deploying as an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot in support of OIF and OEF, and serving as the Marines’ Liaison Officer to the House of Representatives. 

Image Credit: Cpl. David Hernandez, U.S. Marine Corps

We have retired our comments section, but if you want to talk to other members of the natsec community about War on the Rocks articles, the War Hall is the place for you. Check out our membership at warontherocks.com/subscribe!

19 thoughts on “We Need What Women Bring to the Fight

  1. If women can compete with men on a level playing field and there are no differences in strength, speed, stamina that make up infantry training, when then do the Olympics have competitions for males and females separate? Olympic women surely can compete with Olympic men in the 100 meter run, the marathon and weight lifting, correct? If this is such a good idea, why then hasn’t a single American professional sport integrated women into it, including golf? Women can con ships, fly planes and command installations, but the endurance and strength required on the ground against an enemy is much different. I watch good training for police and fire agencies become “gender neutral,” not job specific to accommodate more women into those fields as well. Maybe 1 in 50 or 100 could do the old training; once it moved away more job specific training to “gender neutral” that ratio of women passing went up of course, but it allowed marginally qualified women and men to become firefighters and police officers. Those women who have served with distinction in battle in Afghanistan or Iraq deserve every respect and honor received, but they were not infantry, but combat support and thrust into situations where they had to fight. This is a bad idea which will only proven on the field of battle, which is the worst place to find out if something works or not. I hope for the sake of the grunts that it does work, because if it doesn’t national security, not gender equality is at risk.

    1. Yes I completely agree. It seems much more rational (less risky) to perform this “test” first on the Olympic stage or the nations sports programs. Let women, in a fully integrated fashion compete with men in football, baseball, weightlifting, etc… If they truly are equals..let them prove it in these arenas first…

  2. So in Iraq and Afghanistan, our two most gender integrated conflicts in history, demonstrate “success”?

    Well, that is no more outlandish than the other arguments.

    Yet again I see the claim of equality with no desire to remove the current double standards of physical fitness. so men and women are equal, as long as there is no qualitative measurement.
    Shine on you crazy diamond!

  3. “With the arguments about physicality or capability debunked through these announcements, the case against full integration has turned to intangibles.”

    With all due respect to the author, it’s a matter of opinion whether the arguments about physicality or capability have been debunked. The study released (in part) by the Marine Corps a couple of weeks ago seems to provide quantifiable data reiterating the veracity of those arguments. Much has been made of the graduation of two female candidates from U.S. Army Ranger School, as if this is some sort of game-changer. While many have elected to write the naysayers off as misogynistic neandertals, few have been willing to admit that the Army’s record of obfuscation on controversial and politically expedient matters (the ACUPAT fiasco, the reliability of the M4 carbine, the death of Pat Tillman, the Beau Bergdahl controversy, et cetera), and the DoD’s unblemished record of relaxing standards to allow female candidates to serve, undermine the credibility of Army spokespeople when they claim that the two female candidates – whose accomplishments are noteworthy and commendable, regardless of whether any standards were relaxed or special treatment was granted – succeeded on an even playing field with their male counterparts. In fact, shortly before their graduation, I listened to an NPR segment featuring a female journalist who very openly supported the integration of women into combat roles, and she admitted – perhaps accidentally? – that because the two female candidates were unable to perform many of the physically demanding roles, they had found other ways to contribute to their respective teams’ successes.

    “In resorting to the comfortable ‘war is hell, and introducing a lady will make men unable to confront that hell’ argument, he ignores the reality of the past 15 years of combat operations. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, women have been an integral part of the success of our military’s most celebrated units. Not only can women be part of the elite forces designed to combat our nations foes, the best strategic decision we can make now is to ensure that they do.”

    This is a frustrating mischaracterization of the past fifteen years of combat operations, in part because it undermines what many would accept as a much more credible argument. Women have served in combat zones over the past decade and a half, but that is different than serving directly in units taking the fight to the enemy. As the author rightly notes, women “have been an integral part of the success of our military’s most celebrated units”, but they have not done so as line infantrymen as her phrasing suggests; rather, they have done so as augmentees. The best example of this is the Marine Corps Female Engagement Teams, which augmented line units, rather than serving as “trigger-pullers” themselves. The same can be said for the female soldiers who served in the Cultural Support Teams alongside the 75th Ranger Regiment. This is a distinction that many in the court of public opinion are unable to recognize. I acknowledge that many have read such stories and come to the conclusion that women can successfully integrate into the infantry and other elite units tasked with attacking the enemy, and I don’t begrudge them that conclusion. However, I come to the opposite conclusion: that while men are uniquely suited to infantry roles, women are uniquely suited to complementary roles that allow them to act as force-multipliers working in concert with infantry types, rather than as infantry types themselves. I suspect I’m not alone in reaching the conclusion that this is a more effective and equally equitable method of “fully embracing the strengths of the total population in order to make the most effective military in the world”.

    One final aside…

    “Meeting the physical rigors of elite level training show that women can perform at demanding tactical standards while the successes of the past 15 years show that they should… Our strategic place in the world depends on it.”

    Again, with due respect to the author, few would point to the past fifteen years as evidence of “success”. Afghanistan stands as America’s longest war, and while most American troops have been withdrawn, the Taliban remains intransigent and even the most basic measures of stability have yet to be met. Several thousand miles away, Iraq is an unmitigated disaster. While I, for one, openly acknowledge that the many reasons for this lack of success are, for the most part, wholly unrelated to the integration of women into the majority of military career fields, America’s military performance over the past decade and a half is probably not the rhetorical horse to which she should hitch her argument.

    1. Tom,
      Either they greatly lowered the standards for Ranger School Training sense I got out or they were greatly relaxed for the ladies that attended. Looking at their pictures during training I noticed something odd…they always looked well fed and rested. Everyone I knew that went to the school came out looking like one of the zombie cast from the TV show Walking Dead. They had lost between 20 – 30 lbs and were half asleep.

  4. Can’t understand why so many liberals are in a hurry to get our daughters killed and destroy our military. Woman definitely have a place in our military but combat arms is not one of them.

    But if the former captain is so sure females are up to the task then the militaries should form all female unites and support and task them the same as male units. Make them prove themselves in the forge of battle. That way there can be no claims of anti female bias. Female soldiers (and civilians) always want to be treated the same as males until they are treated the same.

  5. As with many others, the author neglects to discern the difference in types of motivation. Although related, enlistment motivation is different from sustaining motivation, which is different from combat motivation. The studies relied upon do not ask the question, “why do men FIGHT?” which is the fundamental question. The answer is “for each other.” This is documented in more personal accounts of combat than anyone can name. Any study of motivation that does not address this aspect cannot be valid.

    Moreover, how did we get a 19 year-old draftee who did not believe in the Vietnam war or understand the necessity to take the hill to still move forward? Did he believe in the mission? Threat of court-martial? That wasn’t much of a threat. Instead, he had to have bonded with his friends – small unit cohesion.

  6. If we are to truly ignore the differences between men and women for the grand leftist enlightenment and realignment of American culture, will infantrywomen (and females in other combat roles) be required to take birth control pills or forcibly accept sterilzation in the name of combat effectiveness?

    Oh, nevermind…military discpline will prevent pregnancies (ever hear of “the love boat” in the first gulf war) and female medical woes that could happen due to months without proper hygiene and supplies.

  7. https://youtu.be/mT_Auf_v9LQ

    Watch this. Particularly, while watching this, watch these segments:
    35:00 – 36:27
    42:15 – 43:50
    1:11:40 – 1:12:50
    1:15:00 – 1:15:36

    This is how infantrymen are. They build unbreakable, life-long bonds by how they talk, what they talk about, wrestling, fighting, and basically doing things that offend most. But this is without any doubt who they are and how they operate. Introducing women into this environment would break it down in so many ways. I cannot even imagine the number of sexual harassment and assault complaints that would result from introducing women into even the few small clips from the video above. I may be a neanderthal or characterized as some sort of misogynistic ass, but I have been there and done this and introducing women into it is a bad idea. It is the result of a social agenda and not on what makes us the best killers of the bad guys. No amount of data manipulation, argument, fairness, or “leaders” saying it is the right thing to do is going to make a 120 lb woman carrying 70 lbs worth of gear up the Carpathian Mountains in the Ukraine capable of doing anything but getting herself beaten to death in hand to hand combat by a Russian soldier. Never happen you say? Human history says otherwise.

  8. I’m not so much against women serving in Combat Arms MOS’s as I am against the double standards. My biggest gripe has been making all Physical Fitness standards equal BEFORE integration. On that note I now move to the whole “women have been serving in front line jobs for years”… Just because a few women have served on Logistical Resupply Convoys and r went on a CAB chase or photo op outside the wire in no way equates to the actual Patrol Teams that went actively hunting for those nightmares… Women have a lot to contribute to the combined arms team. The best pilot I ever had providing over watch during a dire time was a female. Dont sully the debate by pretending that men and women are equals, because there are some amazing things that women do better than men as well.

  9. First of all, women have been in ‘combat situations’ going back at least to Desert Storm. Some women were killed in doing so. The argument about women in ‘combat’, therefore, was settled long ago but we are not talking ‘combat’ – we are talking INFANTRY.

    In Iraq in ’03 our infantry battalion had a supporting US Army MP detachment led by a female lieutenant who was involved in firefights. I personally have met female Marines who stood guard and manned automatic weapons at an FOB in Afghanistan or Iraq. I have seen women working in a DASC in the field at 29 Palms during a CAX.

    I have no problem with the fact women may be killed in a ‘combat situation’ when manning a guard post, augmenting an infantry unit searching native females, or flying in a Cobra or F-18.

    NONE of this, however, is the same as being in an infantry unit.

    That is what bothers me the most about the article. She is comparing apples to oranges. She prejudices the argument by trying to blur the lines between a ‘combat situation’ and being in an infantry unit.

    I agree that augmenting a male infantry unit with a female detachment is necessary and appropriate under some situations. Equating that with having women in an infantry unit is, in my opinion, an irresponsible and ill conceived notion on her part.

    Putting women in an infantry unit in an real-world infantry unit close combat assault situation is akin to leading them to slaughter because women are not physically equal to men. The rigors of an infantry unit will break them both physically and mentally. Worse than that, though, is the fact it will ‘break’ the combat arms branches of the Army and Marine Corps.

    She should talk to the Israelis – they tried to integrate women into the infantry and finally gave it up as being futile.

  10. I generally do not comment on this subject matter as the announced proclivities of our current national command authority makes integration of females into infantry units almost certain. The author’s enumeration of learned research and combat experience of the last 14 years seems to buttress this conclusion. However, Ms. Hunter’s somewhat disdainful dismissal of the “military effectiveness” of the Vietnam effort requires riposte.

    I must admit to a somewhat personal interest in the comment as Vietnam is a place where I spent the better part of three years (68,69,70) as a rifle platoon leader, rifle company commander, and CO of 2 Combined Action Companies. I should like to point out some differences in the two experiences.

    In fourteen years of conflict in the Mideast the Marine Corps suffered 867 KIA and 8721 WIA. During the approximately six years of offensive ground combat operations in Vietnam the Marine Corps lost more killed and wounded (13,067 KIA – 88,633 WIA) than in any other conflict in it’s history, including WWII. This seems to indicate a slightly different combat environment in the two conflicts, and yet both have ended much the same, a heroic effort totally negated by the actions of the nation’s political leadership. Ms. Hunter’s experience centers on an extended low kinetic intensity, counter insurgency effort punctuated by several intense close combat experiences of varying length (i.e. Falluja, Ramadi), while mine centered around a couple of years of high intensity infantry combat in which units went into the field and stayed, only interrupted by one, perhaps two in-country R&Rs and one seven day R&R to either Hawaii or one of the flesh-pots of Southeast Asia. I know very little of the actual day to day operations of Ms. Hunter’s experience, but a short description of the ops of a line company in Vietnam might have a bearing on the subject in question.

    You move every day, between 6 and 10 kilometers, if you stay in one place too long you get hit, and hit hard. Everybody carries about a 60 lb., pack, rifle (or crew served weapon), about 200 rds. of ammo, three or four grenades, four canteens of water and food for four days. Add to that two mortar rds., a LAW and a can of MG ammo. When you stop you dig in, deep, your chances of being mortared are 20 to 30%. Every night you send out a patrol or an ambush per platoon, and 3 man LP’s 25 yards. out into every obvious avenue of approach. While you are on the move you hope for a stream so you can knock off the mud, there are no showers in the bush. During all this you encounter disease, leaches, mosquitos, and all kinds of intestinal parasites. You develop large sores all over your body. During my tours I came down with both kinds of malaria, dengue fever, jaundice, and multiple fevers of unknown origin. I won’t go into the problems with resupply.

    You hit a booby trap about once a week, and you make contact about once every two weeks, when you do you take casualties, almost every time. On a major operation the dynamic is much the same except you might have to assault a dug-in NVA battalion who really wants to fight – up close and personal, I won’t go into the rest of that here. On one “normal” 102 day patrol I took 10 KIA and 67 emergency medevacs, that was about a 45% casualty rate (about 180 men in the company) and that was considered a fairly low key affair. During my time there I went hand to hand three times and all were a very close run thing. I still get decidedly week in the bowels when it comes into my memory unbidden.

    I say all this to make one point – training has almost nothing to do with high intensity combat. It gives you some basics and hopefully enough physical conditioning to make it through the first four months. That’s about the time it takes for people to start trusting you. There is no way that any kind of training should be used as a barometer of one’s ability in combat.

    We will have women in the infantry, few, if any will last longer than four months, is it worth it?

  11. “Military sociologists and psychologists alike have found that successful unit cohesion is forged not due to the likeness of group members, but around the accomplishment of specific tasks . . . ”

    No, no, no. Kyleanne you are conflating two very different things. Task-oriented studies certainly do show that mixed-gender groups do well. But unit cohesion and group-focused analysis is a different thing. Put together a group of young, fit servicemembers–men, women, gay, straight–and give them a task in some type of field study and they will knock it out of the park. And then they will go home to clean sheets and hot showers in separate men’s and women’s barracks. Very different world from an infantry platoon operating in horrendous, dirty, vile conditions. This is common sense for most people.

    While I can’t express how much I appreciate the support you gave ground pounders like me from the air, that experience, too, is quite different from life on the ground. You returned to relatively clean quarters, with adequate facilities for women.

    In other words, the infantry unit has to live, eat, sleep, breathe in terrible conditions after the “task” at hand is completed. Ask any infantryman, especially one from a war like WWII or Korea, and he will tell you that much of the time was spent being simply miserable and then every few days or so there would be a bloody engagement.

    This is not an existence that lends itself to “task-oriented” focus group studies.

    There is no “need” to bring women into the fight. The net effect of using women in missions like “Female Engagement Teams” was virtually zero. In Afghanistan in particular, women are marginalized and powerless for the most part. FETs did not give us “fifty percent more intelligence” as some claim. With no substantial role in society, Afghan women had no substantial wealth of information/intelligence for us.

    The justifications for erasing ten thousand years of ground combat practice are based entirely on falsehoods, misunderstandings, and myths.

  12. If our strategic place in the world was won by men-only combat units (Before), then why does our place in the world depend on women in combat units? The US’ place in the world has been waning according to many pundits. We will not turn that around by anything other than rough patriarchy.

  13. As with your article in The New York Times, you over simplify and out right lie about things you have no grasp of.
    With your “war is hell and a not an experience desired by “normal humans” is nothing of a surprise for myself ” comment, I wonder how much time you spent patrolling in Ramadi up route Pacer or at PB Alcatraz in Sangin to understand the full spectrum of hell. Probably not a lot as a Cobra pilot, I would imagine.
    This is not about a bunch of old men putting up their noses at this insane idea. This is about the effectiveness of a killing entity. The fairness that you and your sisterhood desire will not be bourne on your back but on the backs of our Marine infantrymen and on my daughters that will have to suffer in the next war because of being drafted to be a grunt. BLUF: you have no idea what you advocate for and will never have to suffer the consequences of it.

  14. The first requirement, if one is to have an intelligent discussion, is to define the key terms. This discussion has been about women in Infantry combat. Not aviation combat , not quartermaster combat, not combat searching female village members. So to begin the author of the foregoing article is discussing with claimed erudition something she has never experienced and probably never will. Infantry combat takes place when an infantry unit is required to assault a defended enemy position and kill or capture the defenders. Infantry combat is NOT riding in a convoy when it gets ambushed, it is not supporting a Special Forces team by searching a village that has already been cleared. IT is not flying a helicopter into an LZ and then flying back to a base camp somewhere. If the author of the article thinks that any of those incidents qualify as combat, then all citizens of London during WWII were in combat because they all endured much worse. Infantry combat is spending three weeks in a fetid jungle engaging in two serious fire fights at close range while loosing several soldiers. Infantry combat is not being at a base camp because the job is to find , fix and destroy the enemy. Now, let me know how many women have done that.
    The problem with this whole debate is that none, 0, of the women who are pushing for having women in the infantry have ever been in close infantry combat. They have no frame of reference, and neither does the Secretary of the Navy. The Marine General is correct in his comments, the Marine helicopter pilot is wrong.

  15. Obama once said that, “Valor knows no gender” (McCormick). Despite the fact that this may be the case, the military still recognizes the gap that exists between male and female soldiers. Despite the fact that all combat jobs in the military are now open to women, the question which should be addressed is, how can we talk about women’s full integration when there is still a culture of gender inequality that exists within the military? Women have always had a role to play and it is time to start acknowledging this and removing the patriarchal foundations that are embedded within military culture.

    Cohesion is a critical component of an army’s combat power. Camaraderie and trust are uniquely forged in military situations where individuals must push themselves to achieve a common goal. The military belief of ‘Brothers in Arms’ should be altered to include sisters. From a shared experience of war, although the community of sisterhood is strengthened, so are the ties of mixed family bonds. Major General Bennet Sacolick of Special Operations Command recognizes the performances by the women who were deployed on a special operations mission in Afghanistan in 2012 and argues that, “They very well may provide a foundation for ultimate integration” (Lemmon).

    Double standards should no longer exist within the military, however, they are still present. There have been many situations when all male units have failed to fall into a perfect unit, for example, when Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was charged with desertion, no one brought up nor questioned the suitability of males (Lamothe). However, every occasion a female fails is used as evidence towards the case that their entire gender is unfit to serve. Secretary Mabus criticized a recent Marine Corps experiment that compared all male units to ones which included women. The results showed that all male units performed higher of 69% of tactical tasks, whereas female troops were injured twice as much as men (Kovach). Mabus explains how the study found that the average woman was slower or less equipped for the tasks at hand, however, the Marines should not be looking for average, they should be looking at the ability of individuals rather than a group. According to Mabus, “a more diverse force is a stronger force” (Kovach). Rather than gender success, we should focus on mission success, which is what national security relies on. Over the years, many women have shown levels of top physical abilities on the field of battle. For example, Major Kellie McCoy, an engineer platoon leader, earned the Browne Star with Valor when she ran through enemy fire twice to rescue wounded soldiers in Iraq (Haring). Society cannot expect women to immediately adapt to an environment that they have never dealt with, but if they meet the standards then they should be granted every equal opportunity to men.

    The military exerts a great influence on society today and the battle for women’s equality becomes increasingly significant. Women not only provide an important contribution to critical thinking in national security, but also out on the field. The US military needs to tap into this underutilized section of our population and take advantage of what women have to offer. Until the stigma of women’s inferiority within the military is extinguished, no real progress will be made. Education is key in informing people of this issue, however, until actual results occur, women will continue to be seen inferior in the eyes of men. Equality within the military is the first big step towards full gender equality in society today.

  16. Let me preface that I could not care less when and where women serve in the military. If an individual can cut it, whatever the physical “it” may be since everyone here seems to be losing their minds over all things physical, then more power to them.

    The point with which I take issue, however, is the insinuation you make that women will somehow help ‘turn the tide’ with regards to the “intangibles” that theoretically lead to successful counterinsurgency operations (here you indicate their “cultural and political aspects”).

    Besides citing one-off articles praising how effective FETs and CSTs are at the (doctrinal) tactical level (and they very well may be at times), you offer nothing to support your unstated conclusion: that women somehow naturally get culture and politics better than men (diplomats and anthropologists everywhere certainly stand aghast!). How, pray tell, can you possibly come to this conclusion with a straight face?

    I cannot decide if you are simply overly-hyped about counterinsurgency and still feel the need to justify further wheel-spinning in the likes of Afghanistan and elsewhere, or if you perhaps border on sexism yourself. Pointing to the success of select groups of individuals–comprised, by the way, of both women and men in the anecdotes you cite–hardly provides support for your broader claims.

    Counterinsurgents can be and, as recent history has shown, often prove entirely useless in practice, be they men or women. I am all for open doors, but do not sit there peddling something that logically is not there, even if you learned art quite well while in Washington.