When an Army recruit lands in the all-male infantry school at Fort Benning, Ga., he hits the ground running — literally. And lifting, toting, marching and training in how to survive and succeed amid the chaos of combat.
A drill sergeant puts new soldiers under tremendous physical and mental stress during those first few weeks. Recruits eventually must complete a 12-mile march with equipment-laden rucksacks within five hours and a 5-mile run at a 9-minutes-per-mile pace.
The aim is to assess whether the rookies can meet the demands of gritty, continual warfare in insurgent-plagued Afghanistan or in a great armored land battle on the Korean Peninsula.
The vast majority make it. Of the nearly 4,000 soldiers attending the infantry school at any given time, only 11 percent fail.
Soon, women will join them. The question traditionalists are asking is: Will the standards stay be eased to help females graduate?
The infantry’s standards and those of other direct combat jobs are being reviewed to accommodate women, now that Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has repealed the ban on women in combat. The armed forces are to report by May on how they plan to introduce women into what has been, for decades, a man’s world.
With Republicans lacking the votes to reinstitute the ban as federal law, conservatives are focusing on how to make sure the Pentagon does not lower the standards — and with them, combat readiness — to ensure that female service members graduate.
ArmyGen. Martin E. Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs chairman, signaled to commanders at a news conference that if women cannot meet certain standards to become combat warriors, then the services had better have a good reason why that bar should not be lowered.
He already is getting resistance.
“We’ve had women in combat for as long as we’ve had a nation,” Douglas Sterner, curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor and a Vietnam combat veteran, told The Washington Times. “Women have demonstrated they are capable of rising to the same level of achievement and accomplishment that men can, so I don’t think we need to change any standards. And I don’t think most women want to see the standards changed. They want to stand on their own merit.”
“I’d ask the civilian leadership, if you’re are on the third floor of a burning building and aren’t ambulatory, do you want to look out the window to see Bruno or Mindy coming up the ladder to carry you down?” he said. “I have personally witnessed women in the military in riot situations where rocks are being thrown at them. They put their hands to their faces because they didn’t want scars. The men in the same riot got hit in the face and got mad.”
‘That was the standard’
At a news conference last month, Gen. Dempsey said: “If we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary: Why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?”
He also said the goal is to have a significant number of women, not just a few, qualify as land combatants.