Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter directed that women be integrate into every job in the military. With only one exception, every service secretary, every service chief and the U.S. Special Operations Command commander were on board with the decision. Therefore, they should also be held accountable for future degraded combat effectiveness that will result from this policy.
For the most part, this decision makes sense. But it is irresponsible to integrate women into infantry and selected special operations units. The accepted narrative is that the policy will make the military stronger by drawing on a wider pool of talent. But there is significant empirical evidence that women and men are not equal to the demands of combat. The three women who recently graduated from the Army’s Ranger school do not change this reality. Advocates say that it advances equality like racial integration did a generation ago. Those who were against racial integration were never able to see that a man is a man regardless of the color of his skin. The error today is that many people see a woman as a man. Both types of blindness are wrong. The fact that women have been killed as a result of unintended actions in Afghanistan and Iraq is also not a justification for the policy.
The inconvenient empirical data about the very real physical differences between the sexes that impact combat effectiveness is gripping. Combat is an extremely physical activity requiring exceptional muscular strength and endurance. Infantry and Special Operations Forces routinely carry 80 pounds of equipment for extended periods. Physical fitness is essential for combat effectiveness. The average female weighs 20 percent less, has 10 percent more body fat, 30 percent less muscle mass and has 30 percent less skeletal mass than the average male. On average, females have 20 percent lower aerobic capacity, 40 percent lower muscle strength and 47 percent lower lifting strength than the average male. This means that women cannot carry the same loads as men nor move as fast as men for extended periods. While the exceptional woman may be able to keep up, she will work harder carrying the same load and will be more fatigued, decreasing the team’s survival potential when shots are fired. There is no evidence that suggests that women can overcome these physical disadvantages. The services acknowledge these physical differences with a dual standard for fitness tests. Neither combat nor the enemy recognizes a dual standard.
Women are also unavailable for duty more often than men. One study found that women’s injury rates were four times those of men while performing similar tasks. Non-battle injuries and disease casualties requiring medical evacuation for women were three times those of men. Half of the women evacuated suffered musculoskeletal injuries and almost three-quarters were evacuated for pregnancy. Injured women who were not evacuated were unable to perform normal duties for up to four times longer than their male counterparts.
This evidence alone should be more than sufficient to conclude that women in front-line combat units will degrade combat effectiveness. Women are physically weaker, more prone to injury and disease, and much more likely to be evacuated or unavailable for duty than men. The decrease in combat effectiveness is directly proportional to the number of females who will populate these units.
Perhaps the more important argument against full integration involves the less tangible concept of unit cohesion. Unit cohesion is simply how well a military unit sticks together and functions under the most extreme circumstances. This magical ingredient can make the difference between winning and losing. Studies show that the introduction of women into formerly all-male organizations has a deleterious effect on cohesion. When young men and women are thrown into an austere, dangerous environment, romantic relationships are inevitable. Military regulations will never get in the way of the fact that heterosexual men and women are attracted to one another. The competition by a lot of men for a few women in a front-line unit will lead to jealousy, reduced morale and a breakdown in unit cohesion.
One last point about unit cohesion: Lt. Gen. Gregory S. Newbold (U.S. Marine Corps, retired) recently addressed the question about “what tempers the steel of an infantry unit.” The spiritual glue for cohesion comes from testosterone-laden antics that are often crude and illogical, the hilarious debauchery of barracks life, the sharing of intimate secrets between men who may die together at any moment. This, more than anything else, produces uncommon valor. And the “goodness” that this magical chemistry produces will almost certainly be lost under a social engineering goal of full integration.
The nation’s civilian and military leaders are compromising combat effectiveness for gender equality. Our leaders talk about equality and opportunity because they must avoid the compelling evidence against full integration. They then try to assure us that standards will not change in an attempt to make us believe that combat readiness is foremost. But the new policy reveals that the evidence doesn’t really matter. The outcome was predetermined. Therefore, the standards for entry into front-line units will not stand in the way of what has already been determined. If leaders half-heartedly supported full integration because they felt that the standard would ultimately determine who serves in these units, their naivete or political correctness ultimately sanctioned something very harmful. They must be held accountable.
• Hy Rothstein is a retired Special Forces colonel. He holds a doctorate in international relations and is a faculty member at the Naval Postgraduate School. The views expressed are his own.
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