What Tempers the Steel of an Infantry Unit

September 9, 2015

It is artificial to constrain the debate about women in the infantry to physical capabilities. This doesn't address what holds an infantry unit together in the worst conditions humanity has to offer.

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“For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”  –Rudyard Kipling, The Law of the Jungle, The Jungle Book.


The current debate about women in the infantry takes place in an artificial context, because it nearly always self-limits the discussion to physical capabilities. Within these incomplete parameters, the argument is then set, and the preamble is that physical standards and performance are measurable and what is not measurable is subjective and probably unfair.

Once physical quantifications are set as the only requirement that matters, it then stands to reason that if you can define infantry requirements in terms of, for example, a number of pull-ups, a hike with 60 to 80 pounds of extra weight, or carrying a 180-pound simulated casualty to safety, then you can assess whether females are suited to infantry units.

Honest and informed observers will acknowledge that medical science indicates that, in the physical domain, the two genders are an unequal match. Even a very fit woman is not generally the equal of a fit man. The competition is no competition in aerobic capacity, load bearing, reach, body fat percentage, and other germane measures of combat fitness. But (the informed argument proceeds), even if it is only the top 5 percent of women who can replace the bottom 5 percent of men, why not allow the 5 percent to integrate and thereby improve the combat efficiency of the unit? For example, it has been argued Ronda Rousey — the accomplished and undoubtedly tough mixed martial artist — could be an excellent addition to an infantry unit.

The falsity of this debate is found in its restriction of analysis to its physical context (as most recently demonstrated in an article published yesterday at War on the Rocks). Why is the debate limited to physical capabilities? For two reasons. First, supporters of full integration will not accept what cannot be irrefutably proven (and sometimes not even then). Second, practitioners of infantry warfare have great difficulty describing the alchemy that produces an effective infantry unit, much as it is difficult for those of faith to explain their conviction to an atheist. Try that by quantitative analysis. But allow me a poor effort to explain what tempers the steel of an infantry unit and therefore serves as the basis of its combat power.

The public understands that individuals who have engaged in brutal combat seldom want to talk about their experiences, and it is broadly thought that this is because of the horrors evoked by these memories. More generally, though, this reticence is due to an inability for one side to convey, and the other to understand, not only horrors, but the context of the fight.   Saying that “It was hot” is a futile way to describe the 23rd consecutive day of temperatures over 100 degrees and flesh-soaking humidity, but the description does an even poorer job of conveying the exacerbating details — the burden of 30 to 80 pounds of personal equipment, mind-bending physical exertion, energy-sapping adrenaline highs, or the fact that the threadbare clothes you wore were unchanged for over three weeks and may have been “scented” by everything from food, to blood, dysentery, and whatever was in the dirt that constituted your bed. And don’t forget insects of legendary proportion and number. More importantly, a story thus told cannot explain that the fellow soldier or Marine who you tried desperately to put back together was the same one who shared the duties of clearing the urinals, the pleasures of a several nights of hilarious debauchery, and multiple near-death experiences — a comrade in arms who has heard more about your personal thoughts than your most intimate friends or family. So veterans of the true horrors of combat don’t talk about it. Please understand, then, that it is equally difficult to describe the ingredients of an efficient ground fighting machine, because the ingredients are intangible, decidedly not quantitative, and proudly subjective.

An infantryman’s lot is to endure what we think is unendurable, to participate in the inhumane, and to thrive in misery. Normal humans do not deliberately expose themselves to confront a machine gun that is firing at them over 10 rounds a second. “Smart” humans do not run toward the sound of gunfire. Logic does not tell you to lay down your life in the hope that you can recover an already dead comrade. And normal organizations do not strive, as their first priority, to evoke fear. For you see, the characteristics that produce uncommon valor as a common virtue are not physical at all, but are derived from the mysterious chemistry that forms in an infantry unit that revels in the most crude and profane existence so that they may be more effective killers than their foe. Members of such units deliberately reduce the individual and collective level of humanity and avoid all distractions so that its actions are fundamental, instinctive, and coldly efficient. Polite company, private hygiene, and weakness all step aside. These are the men who can confront the Islamic State, North Korean automatons, or Putin’s Spetsnaz and win every time. Believe me, you will need them, and we don’t get to choose when that will be.

In this direct ground combat environment, you do not fight for an ideal, a just cause, America, or Mom and apple pie. You endure the inhumanity and sacrifices of direct ground combat because, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” This selflessness is derived from bonding, and bonding from shared events and the unquestioning subordination of self for the good of the team. But what destroys this alchemy — and, therefore, combat effectiveness — are pettiness, rumor-mongering, suspicion, and jealousy. And when fighting spirit is lessoned, death is the outcome.   So “fairness” is an obscenity. Fairness is about individuals. It’s selfish. And selfishness can kill.

Nineteen-year-old males everywhere are from Mars. They, and their early twenty-something brethren, are overloaded with testosterone, supremely confident about their invincibility, and prone to illogical antics. This sometimes produces intemperate behavior in everyday America, but the same traits are, by the way, nearly ideal for direct ground combat.  The same youthful ingredients produce unacceptable behavior in the pristine and low pressure environments of boarding schools, academic institutions, and cubicle farms. Truth be told, in later stages of life these traits also lead to humiliating interactions on Capitol Hill or in the White House. Why, then, do we suppose that sexual dynamics — or mere perceptions thereof — among the most libido laden age cohort in humans, in the basest of environs, will not degrade the nearly spiritual glue that enables the infantry to achieve the illogical and endure the unendurable?

Two women just graduated from the Army’s very, very difficult Ranger School. The surprise of that is that it surprised anyone. There unquestionably are women who can pass any physical challenge the military may require. We should celebrate those who succeed and encourage others. They are worthy role models, and certainly not just to women. But the issue we’re now debating has to include a recognition of cohesion and the cost of sexual dynamics in a bare-knuckled brawl, amidst primeival mayhem, in which we expect the collective entity to persevere because it has a greater will and fighting spirit, and not because it is bigger, faster, or more agile. The championship team in virtually any professional sport may only coincidentally be the most physically talented, but it most assuredly will be the most cohesive. Why not appreciate the same ingredients in infantry units?

Finally, you may bet your future earnings that the current effort to integrate the infantry will not cease with a few extraordinary females, but will eventually accommodate a social engineering goal by changing standards. Think I am wrong? It’s already happening. Read the words and understand the goals of the current Secretary of the Navy (an arsonist in the fire department) and the Secretary of the Air Force, and examine what we now call “the Dempsey Rule.”

If I’m wrong, the cost may be denied opportunity to strong and impressive young women. If you’re wrong, our national security is shaken and there is a butcher’s bill to pay. Make your choice. The line forms on the left.


Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.) is a former infantryman, having commanded units from the platoon through the 1st Marine Division. His last assignment was as Director of Operations, the Joint Staff.

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106 thoughts on “What Tempers the Steel of an Infantry Unit

    1. Why is it that politicians who have never served in combat and Flag Grade military officers who are tunnel-visioned “careerists”, so politically-correct in ass-kissing, always seem to be the forcing function behind integrating women into military combat units? When I was a new 2nd Lt, the first thing I learned was to listen and learn from my SNCO’s. Why can’t the politicians and the career-climbing Flags listen and learn from the SNCO’s on these untried, unproven policies that could cause disastrous results. If their lives hung in the balance should this experiment prove a failure, I doubt they would be so vocal in their support. Semper Fi, Marines!

  1. Very well articulated. Unfortunately, I just don’t think rational arguments such as these resonate in an environment where only a small fraction of the population have served in uniform and even those who have use 15 years of counter-insurgency as their frame of reference for combat.
    I commend you for acknowledging the emperor’s lack of clothing.

  2. An additional factor is pregnancy. According to a study cited by the Huffington Post, there is a 10.5% of unplanned pregnancy in women in the military. So, odds are a significant percentage of women assigned to combat units would be pregnant, the odds of which might increase depending on various factors of deployment.

    What is that likely to do to unit cohesion, both as a result of removing team members due to physical condition and to psychological factors? Feminists would say that men should simply be told to get over it – to stop being men, Great fantasy but how likely is it to be realized in the field?

  3. Thank God for an eloquent and coherent response to this PC nonsense! The issue is not one of “fairness” or “equality” – It is strictly one of combat effectiveness on the field. Does this make our combat units fundamentally stronger or weaker? If it does not better our ability to win on the field of battle, then it should not be done, even in the face of the PC police. Well said General! Semper Fi!

    Colonel Davenport (USMC – Ret.)

  4. Please add to this mix the contentious climate that will occur when any said female grunt decides to become sexually involved with a male in the unit. Jealousy and interpersonal competition among Martian 19 year olds is legendary. She’s my woman and I will fight for her honor. A surefire recipe for disaster.

  5. Spot on Sir. To those who have not experienced combat, it all seems so egalitarian to include women in combat units. It would be a disaster. That’s not to say there should not be female combat units but to mix male and female in a single unit preposterous and would destroy the unit from within.

  6. Lt. General Newbold’s article stands above most commentaries on the subject because he addresses intangible factors that temper human steel at “the point of the bayonet.” Everyone knows that women have served with courage “in harm’s way,” but the direct ground combat experience that General Newbold describes involves seeking out and attacking the enemy with deliberate offensive action.

    Today’s Washington Post, quoting Marine Corps Times, reveals problems occurring during west-coast Marine Corps Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force (GCEITF) exercises conducted earlier this year. After months of cheery media reports, now we are reading about debilitating hip and back injuries, unequal treatment that broke down unit cohesion and fostered resentment, failures in simulated life-saving missions, and the impact of romantic relationships that distract and divide. One male corporal who initially supported the effort wrote a 13-page memo explaining why he had changed his mind: “The female variable in this social experiment has wrought a fundamental change in the way male NCOs think, act, and lead – a change that is sadly for the worse, not the better.”

    The two female soldiers who made it through Ranger training earned the respect of their colleagues, but their success does not make the case for ordering women into combat arms units such as the infantry on the same involuntary basis as men. Nor do their experiences allay concerns about disproportionate injuries among average-sized female soldiers and Marines, most of whom serve in enlisted ranks.

    The Center for Military Readiness has just released an eight page Policy Analysis that focuses on women’s health and high injury rates in recent military combat experiments. (Available at http://www.cmrlink.org) Despite claims that all went well in preliminary research, previously undisclosed U.S. Army data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) indicate that in recent “exception to policy” and basic combat training experiments, female soldiers suffered injuries averaging twice as high as men. Among other things, the U. S. Army Medical Command compared male/female injury rates in formerly all-male units such as field and air defense artillery, and found that female soldiers suffered injuries averaging double men’s rates in specific MOSs. For example, in the Field Artillery Surveyor Meteorological Crewmember MOS, injuries for women were approximately 112% higher than men’s. In the Bradley fighting vehicle system maintainer MOS, the rate was 133% higher. (Details are summarized in the CMR Policy Analysis, Appendix A.)

    Another document provided by the U.S. Army Institute of Public Health reported that in basic combat training, approximate average injury rates for women were 114% higher than men’s. In training for engineers and military police, they were 108% higher. (Details are in the CMR Policy Analysis, Appendix B.)

    A recent report from the British Ministry of Defence, which CMR analyzed in a two-part February Policy Analysis, quoted the British military’s grave concerns about two-fold higher risks of musculoskeletal (MSK) injury: “There will be some women, among the physical elite, who will achieve the entry tests for GCC [ground close combat] roles. But these women will be more susceptible to acute short term injury than men . . .”

    Furthermore, “Roles that require individuals to carry weight for prolonged period are likely to be the most damaging.” The British report also noted that “combat marksmanship degrades as a result of fatigue when the combat load increases in proportion to body weight and strength.”

    In 2013, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey admitted that standards too high for women would be questioned, and “significant cadres” of women would be used to achieve a “critical mass” in formerly all-male units. The “Dempsey Rule,” meaning if a standard is too hard for women it’s probably too hard – eventually will “validate” standards that are “gender-neutral” but lower than before.

    Ignoring all this and more, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert recently suggested that the two women’s success in Ranger school made the case for female Navy SEALs. If all issues truly are settled, why should we begin with Navy SEALs and Marine infantry? National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell should order gender-integration in all NFL teams. This would make more sense, since people don’t get killed on the gridiron and national security would not be put at risk.

    1. Elaine,
      Have you ever served your country? If you haven’t served in a uniform, please keep typing up notes of what everyone else who does thinks and keep your opinions in your kitchen. You are the type of woman who would have said 20 years ago that I shouldn’t fly in combat. Thank God no one listened.

      1. Chopperjockey,
        Have you been in the Infantry? If you haven’t been in the Infantry, please keep typing up notes of what everyone else who does thinks and keep your opinions in your kitchen.

        Seems like a pretty lame thing to say, right?

        1. I agree CCW. Lame and ridiculous. Just because the lady has not served in the military does not mean the findings she has give are any less relevant.

          D. J. Garidel Jr
          CWO4 USMC (ret)
          3dBn 23rd Marines 4th MarDiv
          Desert Storm/Iraqi Freedom

    2. Elaine, I wish you experienced what you were talking about. In ref to the two Ranger females, this was all about politics and nothing else. One failed her patrol and the next day a Brigadier General was out as the lane grader and miraculously passed. The other female was recycled due to an injury and is awaiting the next class so the same BG will pass her. A one-star as a lane grader? That has never happened in the history of the Ranger Training Brigade (RTB). A phone call was most likely made to the post CG to place a Ranger qualified staff officer to with orders to pass this woman so someone could make rank and so he could keep his command. This has been and will always be a sham as long as politics is so rampant in the ranks we are pushed to place females into positions that will place political correctness above national security. And, yes, I am a career infantry officer with battlefield experience.
      I have over 22 years in the service, both active and Army Reserve. The most trouble I ever had as a commander and staff officer is with women in the ranks. Most women serve with honor and distinction. The units I have served in, we, as the command group and officer’s, have had more trouble with women than with men.
      When the talk about integrating women into combat units was initially started, I didn’t know of a single person, whose opinion I trusted, thought it was a good idea, and it still isn’t. The Israeli’s tried to place women in combat MOS’s and soon killed the idea as the unit cohesiveness, men vs women interactions and other problems soon reared it’s ugly head.
      As you are in the President Center for Military Readiness, why don’t you call the Israeli’s and ask them to send you the data on why they don’t do this anymore? The Israeli’s are probably one of the finest military forces in the world and have been in constant combat since they were a nation in ’49. Their experiences are closer to ours than anyone else. Unless you are considering our women are more manly than theirs.

    3. “critical mass” will be gained through involuntary orders to serving female NCO’s, officers and “open contracts” being given to female enlistees (to feed to infantry training pipeline) during the recruiting process.

  7. I’ll never forget the first time I caught a ride on an air craft carrier. I went to the PX (or whatever squids call it), and saw several, nearly empty boxes that had once contained dozens of over-the-counter pregnancy tests. I thought about what that must be doing to the crew’s cohesion, and worse, what it must be doing to all those wives and husbands left back on shore. But rational arguments have no place in 21st century society, and certainly not in this administration.

    1. I worked in the Air Transportation Office on a carrier, and on one deployment (USS Kitty Hawk 1999) something on the order of 21 women were flown off the ship for getting pregnant while on deployment. That is 21 trained personnel that those around them had to pick up the slack for.
      Later on, in 2006, I saw a girl I supervised wait until the last working day before we flew out to our ship for deployment (Prowler squadron) to tell the commend she was knocked up. She was 3 months along when she told the commend. This was the 2nd time she had gotten pregnant to avoid deployment. She is still in, currently a 1st class.
      Women on ships has been a disaster, IME. Most bring nothing but drama. A small percentage can hack it, but they are not worth the drama the rest bring with them.

  8. Well articulated. As you write, it’s very hard to express. Adds enormously to the debate. Hopefully it will be read by senior officers who should understand perfectly. S/F

  9. Thirty-six years as a Grunt and I am completely baffled as to why we are even thinking of such an idiotic idea. Anyone, and I do mean anyone, who has fully and truthfully experienced the inhumanity of ground combat knows that physical abilities are but one ingredient to success in that environment. LtGen Newbold, with whom I served and greatly respected, has provided the best discussion on the subject that I have read or heard to-date. Thank you Greg, it’s inspiring to finally see a flag officer who has not sipped the Kool Aid. You’ve not changed one iota since we last served!

  10. It is a fact of life and cannot be changed by simply changing the rule. Death and failure will be the bill and the whimpering end of the greatest nation this world has ever produced. The world now reflects the lack of leadership that now pervades all of our government institutions. I am saddened at it’s demise. None like it will rise again.

  11. Excellent and well articulated. An additional point that I think often is overlooked… Beyond the physical issues, beyond the inter-unit sexual politics, beyond the effect on group cohesion – my concern is the impact that women will have on inherent aggression of the small units they are part of. I believe introducing women into any group of young men lessens its inherent aggression and willingness to take risks. The group becomes more “civilized”. In many societal contexts this is a good thing. I assume this has a generally positive impact on policing within our nation and some may argue that for the conflicts we have been involved since 9/11, a less aggressive infantry community is something we want. However I believe we have enough risk adverse leadership at the field grade and above level. In major combat operations, which thousands of years of human history tell us will happen again soon – do we really want LESS aggressive Infantry?

  12. What is it that motivates a young man to join the army infantry or the Marines? Patriotism is one reason for sure. But at a deeper level young men have, for tens of thousands of years, sought to prove their manhood and masculinity in the most severe test of courage and bravery; armed combat. The acceptance and trust of his peers in combat is the highest honor a man can receive. This acceptance and trust is earned by proving yourself in combat and that you and your brothers in arms would give your lives for one another. Nothing is more dishonorable than being seen as a coward. Fear of being seen as a coward is a greater motivator than the fear of death for many men. This is not a cultural phenomenon unique to our culture. This has been (and still is) true for all cultures. It is for this reason that the young men of Pickett’s charge, in the battle of Gettysburg, faced and charged into the withering musket and cannon fire of Union forces; many knowing that they would die. It is for this reason that the Zulu warriors (with only spears and cowhide shields) relentlessly attacked the British garrison in the battle of Isandlwana in 1879. It is for this reason that young men in World War I charged from their trenches to be slaughtered by withering machine gun fire, and it is for this reason that the 80 men (all volunteers) got into their B-25 bombers and took off from the aircraft carrier Hornet on what appeared to be a suicide mission to bomb Tokyo in 1942. Can one imagine a female army, instead of men, storming the beaches of Normandy or the sands of Iwo Jima? What motivates a woman to want to serve in combat? Like men, she may feel a patriotic duty to do so. Otherwise is she doing this to affirm her femininity or to validate her womanhood? No. War is decidedly unfeminine in its very nature. Surveys of female members of the Army and Marines show that more than 92% do not want to serve in ground combat positions. It are the feminists and others who have never served in the military who are pushing this agenda. The very small number of military women who do want these positions state that, other than patriotism, their primary motivating factors are career advancement or to challenge themselves physically and mentally. Is an overarching desire to advance one’s career (or to satisfy a physical challenge) a sufficient motivator to engage in a, potentially, suicidal act such as storming a machine gun nest? Are women exactly the same as men when it comes to this behavior? It stretches the bounds of credulity to believe that women would do this.
    It is possible that the Left’s ultimate goal IS to make our military weaker and less effective. More women (and higher percentages of them) in the military will most certainly erode the male warrior culture. To a certain extent, it already has. Men behave better and are more gentlemanly when among women; they are kinder and gentler. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it is when it is in the field and in a combat situation. Men compete and fight against each other in training. In Chris Kyle’s book, “American Sniper” he recounts how Navy SEAL recruits routinely fist fight each other and this is expected. Similar activity is common among the Recon Marines, another elite fighting force.
    “At night they fight constantly. They judo-flip each other headfirst into the plywood floor of the tent. They strong arm their buddies into headlocks and punch bruises into each others ribs. They lie in wait for one another in the shadows and leap out swinging Ka-Bar knives, flecking their buddies rib cages with little nicks from the knife tips or dragging their blades highly across a victim’s throat, playfully simulating a clean kill. The do it to keep each other in shape, they do it for fun, they do it to establish dominance.”1
    This entire warrior culture and ethos will change drastically if even one woman is introduced into this environment. This culture is one not conducive to women much like the culture of college or professional football is equally not conducive to the introduction of women. Would these men not change their “bad ass” culture and engage the women (or woman) in fist fights? Otherwise maintaining the current training environment (and treating women exactly the same as men) would end up brutalizing women. Good men do not want to brutalize women or treat them the same as men. It would have to be a kinder and gentler culture. We already know how society reacts to a man punching out a woman and it is a reaction of revulsion. There was a national outcry, from all quarters, when people saw the video of NFL player, Ray Rice, punching out his fiance in an elevator. Society does not know how our military warrior culture is being feminized, and this is a bad thing. When a male institution, like the military, is feminized more men will leave the military and more men will refuse to enter military service voluntarily.

  13. General Newbold is right on target. The issue has been clear for over forty years. Those who drove the discussion wanted a focus on sanitation and minimum physical standards, knowing full well that those issue were not the crux of the matter and would be simple to prove.
    Professionals had insisted all along that unit
    cohesion and synergy were the most important issue. “Special” relationships between members in infantry units destroy unit cohesion. Any sexual attractions begin the jealousies and conflict of interest that undermine the unit. It is for those reasons that women and homosexuals were a detriment in the most savage and stressful environments human beings could be in.
    Douglas Rape’. Colonel USMC Ret

    1. There have been situations when women have been put into combat conditions on the spot and have survived and thrived. However, assigning women full time into combat units like infantry, SEALS, Rangers, etc. WILL degrade the units performance just by the dyanmics of the situation. Some of our senior leaders, both civilian and military, do not seem to be able to seperate the real world from “Hollywood”. Several movies have been made about women in combat, all with some sort of positive outcome, with little to no sence of reality. If it works at the box office, it must work in combat, they muse. And then there are our political leaders who can’t wait for a chance to get more publicity for themselves.

  14. General. Great article. I only wish the main stream media would print it. Only those who have been to the gates of hell, can fully comprehend the madness of close combat. This social experiment will only lead to disasters on future battlefields. Fairness does not win battles. Theory is no substitute for the harsh reality of continuous close combat.

  15. Well written and true in every respect, as a veteran (’62 to ’67), I cringe at the thought of women in any combat role. You have covered the highlights which should preclude women from any combat role. I wish that more people would exert pressure to keep women out of a combat role. I doubt anybody of importance actually has ever been in a combat arena. Thanks for your efforts.

  16. On thing the General managed mention but did not elaborate was the blood lust that emerges when one of your brothers is killed in a horrorific fashion. And the love for one another for surviving a gruesome firefight that a 19 or 20 year old will not truly understand. Finally coping with the inhumanity that is required to not only survive but win. Killing innocents is not a choice but a survival tactic needed to protect and save your fellow Marine. You will enjoy killing that is your job, part of your humanity will die forever or you will die. Living together in a hole in the group will cause sexual comprises that will weaken your teams fighting capabilities it’s part of being human our strengths and weakness. Semper Fi

  17. I was a Navy Corpsman attached to Charley Co. 1-7 65-66 Viet Nam. I was not as highly trained and toughened as the Marines I served with. With great leadership and determination I became a functioning team member of one of the greatest combat units in history. As the team built the comradely developed to a Do or Die degree for your team’ your Company and your Mission. (Read our history). In my opinion the presence of a female in the team would have destroyed the team as it was and had a myriad of problems.
    That’s my opinion. I still love you Ladies but not as part of my combat team. (All Bull—- and political correctness aside, it’s a bad decission.)
    Doc Ingram

    1. We are in total agreement doc. I was a Navy sniper there with a navy recon team my last year. Before that I was on river boats running 9th ID in the delta. We got real tight with our army brothers. Worked with Marine advisers also. Semper Fi to all marines.
      Thank you all for your service brothers and welcome home.

  18. This reminds me of the story of the motorcyclist being caught on in a blizzard with a frozen fuel pump, a passing state trooper realized the problem that the rider was so bundled up with winter clothes was also helpless. The trooper zipped down his zipper and relieved himself on the frozen fuel pump and the motorcycle was able to get started and the rider waved as he rode off. Later the next week the state police received a letter starting with, my daughter would like to thank…
    Situations do have a connection …I hope you see it.

  19. I can name a small handful of Four-stars who are not thoroughly domesticated political house pets. Nearly all Three-stars are so categorized. So are the vast majority of Two-star.

    Some of these actually make policy. Many of these are the policy refiners and nearly all drive policy implementation.

    All of them know what is required to thrive in the perverted system.

    The truth is the system is rotten at the top and needs a severe and thorough pruning.

  20. The best exposition of why women should not be in infantry unit that I have read. As someone who commanded an infantry company at the battle of LZ X-ray as well as a Special Forces Detachment and who has written on why women shouldn’t be in infantry units I agree with General Newbold in Spades.. Infantry combat can be the most debasing experience that any of us will ever experience. None of the folks who want to bring women in the infantry had ever been in sustained infantry combat as far as I can .
    Today’s generals were too old to be company commanders or platoon leaders in the various Middle East wars. The civilians in DOD, the Congress and the White House don’t have a clue and don’t care. The efficacy of our infantry units has never been a consideration, only political advantage.

  21. Sir, thank you for your thoughts here-this is what our leaders need to hear.

    Everyone in Washington needs to understand that as SOF and Infantry unit leaders we do not deny the effectiveness of female troops, especially female troops in a direct support role. There have been many occasions on which a female soldier has been instrumental in the influence of a local population or the development of a key project. There is limitless potential for female troops to serve alongside combat units as civil affairs, logistics or intelligence personnel. Nor can we ignore the performance of female soldiers in combat when their logistics convoys are ambushed.

    What cannot be ignored is the difference between the requirement of these jobs in a combat zone, and the extreme physical and physiological demands of a direct action force during the conduct of a raid. Immediate actions in a near ambush while on a resupply are a far cry from days on end of sustained movement to contact. I have seen female soldiers perform brilliantly in combat zones, this does not equate to success in offensive combat.

    Let a thorough mission analysis be the determining factor in whether or not a woman should participate in a particular operation, not a social agenda.

  22. We don’t know until we try. All these arguments are so very similar to those made when the armed forces were integrated or when don’t ask don’t tell was done away with. It’s all about unit cohesion or camaraderie or whatever.

    Until it’s tried, and for more than a month or two, we just don’t know.

    1. Integration of the armed forces simply had to happen! The foundation upon which segregation was based was totally bogus! See my essay entitled “Recipe for Failure: Major General Edward M. Almond and the Preparation of the 92d Infantry Division (Negro) for Combat in WWII” (Journal of Military History, July 1992).

      As a Vietnam combat infantry vet and retired armor officer, I can personally vouch that the rationale spelled out by General Newbold in this article is sound.

      I pity all of our combat troops–both men and women–who are forced to attempt to prove this concept will work. . . .

    2. I agree that because of the stupidity of the officials that will make this desicion (for THEIR OWN benefit) we definitely will have to live with the consequences. We know the stove is hot. We know it is going to hurt us. Here’s an idea…let’s touch it!

  23. Just look at how severely the U.S. Naval Academy has changed since the Class of ’80, first class with women, was inducted in ’76.
    It is still a first class institution. Many of the women grads have been very successful.
    And although many male grads still ascend to USMC Infantry and Navy Special Warfare, the school itself can no longer claim to be a combat leader incubator to the extent it was for decades prior to 1976. The presence of women at USNA, and the “accommodations” made to ensure their success and integration, negatively changed the historic USNA warrior culture.
    There’s 40 years of data at USNA that SCREAMS don’t integrate infantry units.

  24. LtGen Newbold’s article does an exceptional job at highlighting both the physical and psychological dimensions of war perhaps not fully appreciated by those advocating that direct ground combat arms specialties be opened to women. There is an expectation from the individuals that seek patriotic service in defense of our nation that they will be employed within their capabilities when they put their lives in the hands of our government. Our service members “are” our national treasure and must be treated as such. Medical experts have provided irrefutable evidence to establish why this effort is not prudent. Instead, focus and energy should be directed at recruiting additional talent and retaining the current talent in order to leverage the intangible capabilities women bring to the services.

  25. Not giving a damn about either fairness or equality in any context, and agreeing as to unit cohesion whether under fire or otherwise, I agree. Mark me as defiantly rebellious incorrect and unapologetic, and fook what any or all others united feel think say or do.

  26. Very well said. I was a Field Radio Operator in the infantry in the 1st Gulf War. Then I was transferred to a Civil Affairs unit with females.

    All I can say is yes – the dynamic goes much deeper than women falling out of runs and marches. It completely changes the culture of a unit.

  27. Thank you, sir for weighing in on this issue. In general, it appears there are two camps on this issue: those who have never been in ground combat and favor women in the infantry; and those who have fought in ground combat and do not favor it. We need those who have experienced DIRECT AND SUSTAINED GROUND COMBAT To speak up. Only they know the truth.

  28. This outstanding Marine has spoken truth that each currently serving Senior Officer and Defense Department Official should read and weigh heavily before any decision on placing women in Infantry battalions is made. Life in an infantry battalion is like no other experience in peace time but add mortal combat to the equation and it is hell on earth. This is a matter of National Defense that will require moral courage of the highest order of the current military leaders. I hope they are up to the task.

  29. Apparently then, their female counterparts in the air force units, especially fighter units, and Navy ships do not wreck unit cohesion and are not subjected to the heat of battle.

    I therefore propose that females join Air Force units–especially fighters and strategic bombers and the Navy (not subs). They can then show their strength while the male infantry suffer.

  30. Sir,
    Probably the best article I have read of the subject. The manner in which you praise females and provide a clear understanding of what an infantry unit is are spot on. Sadly, unless a person has served and then was able to understand the war-fighting concept of an Infantry Unit your explanation will be lost. Unfortunately for us American’s this loss of understand will result in lost on the batter field and loss of our strength as a military. I wished there was a way to correlate this to what the average non- military person could understand! It is so very hard for non-military let alone non-infantry to understand.

    “the burden of 30 to 80 pounds of personal equipment, mind-bending physical exertion, energy-sapping adrenaline highs, or the fact that the threadbare clothes you wore were unchanged for over three weeks and may have been “scented” by everything from food, to blood, dysentery, and whatever was in the dirt that constituted your bed. And don’t forget insects of legendary proportion and number”


    “An infantryman’s lot is to endure what we think is unendurable, to participate in the inhumane, and to thrive in misery. Normal humans do not deliberately expose themselves to confront a machine gun that is firing at them over 10 rounds a second. “Smart” humans do not run toward the sound of gunfire. Logic does not tell you to lay down your life in the hope that you can recover an already dead comrade. And normal organizations do not strive, as their first priority, to evoke fear.”

    I could go on and on quoting but I think anyone that reads your article already feels the same as you.

    Sir, not sure how you are going to do it but please take on this uphill battle to ensure our beloved Marine Corps does not make a mistake that will take years to recover from.

    I had had the honor to serve under your leadership as an Lcpl when you were with 3/2.

  31. Unfortunately, the context of war in the media for the past 14 years has been one of vehicles, computers, and massive forward operating bases with all the comforts of home. To today’s leaders, the real primeval world which General Newbold describes is a relic of our past, unenlightened warfare. Indeed, our current leaders want to believe that information technology and all its accoutrements have changed the Nature of War. In that context, it is near impossible to convince them that women should not be at the forefront of today’s military.
    Truly, the only convincer will be another war that existentially threatens the US. All these articles by retired Generals, no matter how well-articulated, are useless given the premise upon which our current leaders are making the decision.

  32. May I recommend a Science Fiction book by an ex-Army guy.
    The Amazon Legion
    by Tom Kratman
    Any woman that reads it will think more than twice about a combat, military career. Tom’s personal experiences and observations in the Afterword are on target.

  33. I was a Marine Corps tanker in Vietnam. I’d like to see a female tank crewman deal with.the physical exertion necessary to change a broadwheel, break track and replace track links, or clean out the turret after an rpg penetrates the tank and decapitate a crewman. Or go for days without access to latrine, instead using an empty one pound coffee can for the purpose. It does happen, and none of those activities are at all pleasant. And the emotional makeup of the female will.eventually breakup the camaraderie of the tank crew. The same can be said for an infantry small unit.

  34. Despite the author’s experience, his argument still relies on hypotheticals. Why not look at real-life examples of women in infantry combat? The Kurdish YPJ seem to be operating effectively in very difficult combat as have women in the IDF.

    Have there not been any assessments of how these forces have faired and to what extent the presence of female infantywomen have helped or hindered the esprit de corps of the fighting force? What lessons might there be for the U.S. military from these real-world experiments?

    1. In 1989, the Soviet army’s chief of staff visited West Point with his retinue. A close friend from my department who spoke fluent Russian was assigned to accompany them on their tour of the academy. When he came back, he said the Russian general had evinced surprise at the number of women cadets.

      He said the general was aware of the numbers West Point claimed were enrolled, but believed they were part of an American disinformation campaign. He could not imagine that knowledgeable soldiers would permit such a circumstance to develop.

      My friend said the Soviet officer explained that while his army and air force had relied on women in front-line combat units in WWII (e.g., the “Night Witches” and women snipers), it had been done only as a last-gasp measure when their backs were to the wall. As soon as the battlefield conditions improved, the women were returned to more “traditional” duties. Why? Because having them involved in battle alongside male troopers created far too many problems to justify their continued presence.

      Look also, at the Israeli military. Their history bespeaks a very similar experience.

  35. Gen Newbold has found the words to very accurately describe the phenomenon of what it means to be an Infantryman. Our highest levels of military leadership have lost their minds playing politic. I fear for what lies ahead if they place women into the Infantry.

  36. A military can be successful with bad generals, and even bad junior officers if it has great NCO’s. Great NCO’s build great, cohesive small units.

    Without excellent small units, your military will fail, no matter how great your generals are.

    How about, just once, we focus on building great, winning small units instead of the PC crap??

    1. What makes military success is good civilian leadership, not squad leaders, and not generals. Don’t buy that? Ask all the outstanding German squad leaders who found themselves in Stalingrad.

      When the USA has had good civilian leadership (Lincoln and FDR) we’ve had good military outcomes. When we have lousy civilian leadership, LBJ, Bush 43 most notably, we’ve had poor outcomes.


  37. Ah, General Joe Dunford’s cutout is revealed!

    Newbold’s article, timed just before the release of the Corps’ data, is a classic Pentagon maneuver…so is Dunford’s timing on releasing his recommendation to the SecDef tomorrow, a Friday, the classic Pentagon PR move of dropping news late on a Friday with the hope that it is buried by weekend events.

    With respect to LtGen Newbold’s record, his argument is the same old tired claptrap that people wheel out when they don’t want change…combined with the hyperbole of “if you’re wrong, there’s a butcher’s bill…” The fact is that, with the exception of the Gulf War, America has lost (or drawn) every conflict since WWII. Clearly something isn’t working, and it ain’t the troops.

    The data the Corps released today only “proved” what they set out to find….disingenuous at best, and hardly scientific in their statistical analysis and sampling.

    This should be a discussion about standards. If a specific MOS has a set criteria, then anyone who can accomplish the criteria should be allowed to compete for the job. In this regard, the SEALs have it right – establish high standards and take all those who can meet them. The Corps needs to wake up and do a better job of recruiting and training women. To ask for an exception to policy is to forever close the door on 51% of the population. While the numbers of women today who can meet standards might be few, it is unjust to deny them the opportunity to compete.

    1. It’s not just the 1% that will be effected here. This decision will go far beyond those that can meet the standard. We’re talking about the 99% that will now go into the quota bin for open infantry contracts, not to mention if and when the next world war comes and those 17-21 year old girls will be drafted from Selective Service rosters. Wake up!

      1. That’s right. Anyone who thinks that just because two hyper-fit females got through Ranger School is a reason to put K(yle) Smith and K(atie) Smith in the same assignment pool — well, they don’t think that.

        They have some other agenda.


  38. The best article written about this ill advised social experiment. The General speaks of what he knows and has experienced, anyone who has never been in combat can NEVER understand. There are no more dedicated people to peace than one who has been thru the horrors of combat, but we also know that we must be prepared to fight in a heartbeat. The Generals words Hits the Nail on the Head.
    Bill Knoop USMC RVN 66-67

    1. Bill, curious to hear you say that “the General speaks of what he knows” – since a review of his biography and ribbon rack shows he’s a veteran of The Long Peace, not The Long War – he has no Combat Action Ribbon, no Purple Heart, no Bronze Star, no “V” for valor on any of his medals… Where exactly did LtGen Newbold gain his first-hand combat experience? Maybe you (or he) can educate us all on what his actual credentials are to wax philosophic on “tempering steel.”

      Semper Fi,
      Maj Edward H. Carpenter, USMC

  39. Females in Infantry tests recently conducted by Marines and Females graduating with a Ranger Tab have minimal relevance to the true effect of females in Infantry units.
    Ranger School is an individual leadership event-not an Infantry training program.
    Tests by either Army or Marines are irrelevant as the environment is controlled, supervised and managed-The only meaningful result is a physical analysis and thats of minor importance.

    The only real issue is biological-Joe and Jane in the squad will get together despite any amount of regs and admonitions and that will break/endanger the vital cohesion necessary for combat survival.

    This will not be understood though until a unit is placed in a difficult uncontrolled environment with mortal combat a distinct possibility. Only then will we graphically understand the costs associated with social experimentation imposed on an infinitesimally small but crucial portion of our population.

  40. Am I understanding this correct?
    1. Men can’t control their sexuality (the ol’ ‘can’t keep it in their pants’ argument) so the solution is keeping women out?
    2. National policies should be based on indescribable feelings between men?
    3. Nothing has changed in group dynamics or warfare in over a hundred years?
    I don’t buy it.
    see full critique here http://duckofminerva.com/2015/09/guts-god-and-mystery-how-the-women-and-combat-debate-is-all-about-emotion.html

    1. Megan MacKenzie – Slightly off topic, but I’ve read your article in Foreign Affairs. With respect to the unit cohesion argument, the critical point you miss is that there are different types of military motivation: enlistment, sustainment and combat. Whether or not members of a unit are dedicated to the mission is not really the question. The question is why do men in combat “fight?” which is a fundamentally different question. That seems to be a distinction which you do not address, despite centuries of literature devoted to it.

  41. “[We] need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps; not simply to have more women, but because a more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told an auditorium of midshipmen.

    –From one the links in the above article.

    If there were ever an Orwellian statement, that is it.


  42. The different physical capabilities of women and men are not unimportant elements in this discussion, but those differences are not really what this issue is about. The real issue, the 900-pound gorilla in the room, is mixing men and women in a situation that is certain to create inevitable male-female relationship issues ranging from natural attraction to the over-protection of females by males to various types of sexual misconduct. All the arguments about ensuring equal opportunity, etc. for women is a rhetorical smoke screen employed to advance a position that has nothing to do with team building and either the combat readiness of infantry units or combat readiness in general.

    Colonel, US Marine Corps (Ret) and Marine Rifle Squad Leader, Vietnam War

  43. This is very well said; better than most I have
    read. My husband served two years in Vietnam and retired from the USMC Reserves after having served 10 years active duty. It is only now that most can speak of what they saw at war. Again, well stated

  44. This is actually pretty weak.

    First, physical abilities are really the “anti-female” side’s best card. They are objectively quantifiable and printable. Further, there is a significant difference that’s hard to get around.

    Arguments relating to cohesion are subjective, and further history has proven that a lot of these arguments don’t wash (they used to say similar things about coloreds). Further, a cohesion argument is actually a slap in your own face because if you say a all-male team loses cohesion when women are incorporated you are confessing to some pretty horrible qualities among the males in the team.

    Finally, the last argument is common but it is wrong. The correct (in terms of maximum overall combat efficiency) solution may be gender-integrated teams, males-only, or males and females but segregated, just to name the three main choices.

    If we chose anything other than the correct solution, national defence will run at less than its full efficiency, and to that extent national security is imperiled. To portray one scenario as only hurting some individuals (and that really shows his lack of respect to the principles of America’s ideals) and the other as hurting national security is intellectually dishonest.

    1. Shimazaki-san, your anti-argument is very weak and actually promotes the defense of men only combat. Physical abilities are only part of the picture. We don’t leave our soldier’s on the battlefield. How can we bring them home if the female only has about 60% of the upper body strength to haul off a soldier? Facts are facts and combat is very, very physical. If you take a look at the guys in Ranger, SF, SEALS, (not just the Special Ops units) etc., they’re in pretty good shape. Most women can’t get there from here. Cohesion is subjective, but one of the most important that all of the Women in combat proponents ignore. Remember the Jessica Lynch story? She was killed in the Gulf War I and they made a F*ckin’ movie about it. But not one word about all of the males killed in the same unit. Why? Because the US does not like it’s females coming home in a body bag. It’s a tragedy and should remain as such. But when females are allowed into combat MOSs? There will be such an outcry two things will happen; 1) get us out of the war; or 2) get the women out of the combat units. To get out of a war (think the one against ISIS) is to act against the survival of a nation. Think VietNam. When the strategic mission is compromised, there is no good possible outcome.
      Your next argument goes back to the main argument of whether to integrate at all. It is a non-solution to this argument.
      In this situation, the only solution is to keep women out of ground combat units.

  45. These comments are hilarious! I can’t wait until the trannies come. You all are gonna lose your minds!! Bottom line is females are coming to your units. Deal with it. You fought off the blacks and gays. That failed. This will too and you’ll all have to adapt to change.

    1. Its not about “adapting to change”, its about being old and experienced enough to understand that our military must be treated are our nations life insurance policy and not as a social engineering experiment.

  46. It may be true that some women can do all a man can, but until my generation has passed it will be difficult. I know what I have seen and done in combat. And it’s against my belief system to subject women to such horrors.
    I know it’s old fashion. If I see a women being abused even by her husband I step in even after I have been spit upon by the wife for doing so.
    I know it will happen for women to be in combat, but I don’t have to like it. This is just my feelings and opinion. A Vietnam combat vet.

  47. Rules are being made by non military personnel…poll all people in the infantry and see what they think about women in combat…I think it would take concentration away and reduce efficiency…

  48. Sir,

    You raise some interesting points.

    First you seem to say the problem with integrating women in combat units is not about their physical capability. Some have met the criteria and more will meet them in the future. Therefore you indicate women could integrate combat unit on that basis. Agreed.

    So what are the objections to women joining combat units? A lack of access to clean clothes, stinking after days in the trenches, puking your guts out and sleeping in the dirt? The women POWs in Sumatra in Japanese camps, the women who survived concentration camps …. Didn’t these women survive that and more? They had the mental toughness required.

    Of course these women did not carry a gun and were not engaged in formal combat. So what about the Russian women in the Battalion of Death during WWI (Do read Purvis’ article for more examples – http://ciceromagazine.com/opinion/women-in-combat-can-versus-should/) or the American female soldiers who received the Silver Star, or the female Vietcong who fought the US army? Are what they went through to be dismissed and negated because they are women? Is it a lack of knowledge on your part, or just the usual dismissal of women’s experience throughout history?

    What makes you think that after enduring war and near death experience these female warriors did not get drunk and fuck their brains out? Because they were women? Do you think that female soldiers were and are not damaged by these experience?

    Or perhaps your problem is somewhere else: that women should be protected as they are powerless, essentially victims, they should stay in the rear and not be exposed to the atrocities of war, because it is not “nice”?

    Ultimately, my real problem with your piece is this: who are you to tell me, or any woman, that I could not aspire to become a warrior in the US armed forces, and most specifically part of the elite troops such as the Marines or the SEALs.

    Accepting women in your ranks, the same way you were forced to accept African Americans, would mean that women and men would truly be equal, that there is no weaker sex or second sex, that as a man, especially a white man, you have no extra rights. Does that scare you, Sir?

    Former Peacekeeper in Africa

    1. A comparsion of the unique, the relatively few VC combat soldiers, and the questionable historical documentation of a unit in WW1, does little to address the performance of the average female soldier. If females were recruited for regular infantry units as males are a large number would be found unfit. Yes, the top few percent of women perform well, the average female not so much. Remember the results you see, good (the officers that just finished Ranger school) and not so good (the enlisted female Marines training as Infantry) reflect the performance of the absolute best, most fit and motivated women. These tests do not predict general performance. In the close combat environment the average male will crush the average female. Nine weeks, a few months, in a training environment, is nothing like a 12-14 month deployment. Training is a sprint, an infantry deployment is a relentless marathon. Furthermore, the military’s recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan is not the only kind of combat we must face. FOB living, compared to historical experiences, is kind of cushy. Even the COP wasn’t so bad. Don’t think that’s the metric. As eloquently stated, this is going to cost us big time.

      1. Sadly, Redctacher, you dismiss women’s experiences without proper knowledge .. as so many men do. If you think women did not participate in conflict in Vietnam on the other side in large numbers, you have some research to do. The same can be said of Russian women in WWII [read about the Night Witches], and Eritrea.

    2. “…Accepting women in your ranks, the same way you were forced to accept African Americans, would mean that women and men would truly be equal, that there is no weaker sex or second sex, that as a man, especially a white man, you have no extra rights….”

      Well here we go again – falling back on the ‘race’ issue. First of all, I would point out that black Americans WERE in the US military going as far back as the Revolution. They were not in ‘integrated units’ e.g. the 20th Massachusetts in the War of the Rebellion or the Tuskegee airmen in WWII, in most cases but not all.

      In addition, the problem with this statement is the fact women will never be ‘truly’ equal to men in terms of physical ability. In a close assault combat situation, the woman will lose probably 90+% of the time. That is a simple fact the proponents continue to ignore time and time again.

      Is having women in infantry units so important you are willing to needlessly sacrifice most female lives in an infantry unit when faced with a real-life, honest-to-goodness, ‘Kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out’ war?? Because that is EXACTLY what will happen…

      D. J. Garidel Jr
      CWO4 USMC (ret)

    3. Juliette,

      Respectfully, I believe you view this issue through the wrong lens. You (and others) seem to consider this an issue of a woman’s individual Right. I submit this is an issue of combat effectiveness, of which physical strength and unit cohesion are critical factors. The goal should be “optimal” combat effectiveness, not simply “adequate” combat effectiveness.

      Further, the same rationale that excludes women from the infantry applies to 50 year old men, even though one or two can pass the physical fitness test. Accepting and evaluating every middle aged man that wanted to be in the infantry would be a waste of resources.

      I would ask that you reconsider this issue from the combat effectiveness and economic perspective.

  49. Well, imagine we’re back in the 1950’s. Could it not be argued by some that integrating black Americans into the military was also “disruptive” to unit cohesion? Was that the wrong choice back then as well?

  50. My experience being surrounded and outnumbered, having to leave behind our dead and excess equipment as we escaped, makes me applaud this blunt assessment. Given the times we live it, I suppose it will be ignored where it should be studied.

  51. The General is right on target with his evaluation. But, I’m not sure practicality and sensibility will win over political correctness in this day and age. Sorry to say!

  52. As Americans we are not ready CULTURALLY to have women in the Infantry. Being in the Infantry my self and having been deployed, I have seen male soldiers struggling with 4 duffel bags and no one will stop to help them. A female with just two bags will be helped across the FOB. Speaking from experience when a male soldier goes down in combat my brain tells me to keep moving forward, if this were to happen to a female my reaction would most likely negatively impact the mission. As a country we are not ready to see women amputees in greater numbers. Then there is the issue of sex WHICH WILL HAPPEN. The bond that forms between combat arms men while deployed and during training is in my opinion the strongest bond two humans can have, sharing this bond with a female will undoubtedly lead to sex. Last but not least there is the issue of personal hygiene. A man can go for three or more months without showering if a woman were to try this you would most likely have a negative outcome.

  53. If we are lucky, we all get to work at least once with or for that one professional that is the one above. For me that one person was Greg Newbold. I worked for him at the Pentagon in the mid 90’s. He was a Colonel and I a Major.
    I am not articulate enough to tell you what a great Marine he was on active duty. He is the greatest Marine I know. He went on to be a three star general and the J-3 (Joint Operations Officer). Bottom line, if Greg Newbold says it, it is true. I would go to war with him anywhere and sleep comfortably at night knowing that he was in charge. I trust this guy with my life.