- - Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In a recent editorial cartoon, President Obama is portrayed as a football coach telling a suited-up female player, “Good news! We want you on the front lines.” Don’t laugh. “Coach Obama” really does intend to send unwilling women into ground combat infantry teams, which face far more violence than pro football.

Under Defense Department mandates, the armed forces are implementing incremental plans to order (not “allow”) women into Army and Marine infantry and special operations forces that attack the enemy. Acquiescent generals insist that training standards will be “the same” for men and women, but the fine-print “catch” is hidden in plain sight.

Footnotes in a June Marine Corps report to Congress stated that physical fitness and combat fitness Test standards would be “gender-neutral” with “gender-normed” scores that “account for physiological differences between the genders.” In the Marines’ new physical fitness test — recently postponed owing to “potential risks” — women will have to complete three pull-ups. Five more will earn 100 points, but men will have to do 20 to get the same score.

An NFL team could achieve “gender diversity” in the same way — training energetic, football-savvy female cheerleaders on linebackers’ training-facility machines that are adjusted for “physiological differences between genders.” Cheerleaders would succeed in the gender-normed gym, but on the gridiron “battlefield,” none would last beyond the referee’s first whistle.

Ten spirited female volunteers have attempted the grueling Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va., since 2012. Nine women (and some men) washed out on the first day. A few women reportedly will succeed in a similar experiment at the less-demanding enlisted Marine Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Geiger, N.C., but an information brief stated that gender-normed physical fitness and combat fitness tests would be part of the “baseline” research.

In January, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey admitted that high standards beyond the abilities of women will be questioned and modified to achieve a “critical mass” of women in the combat arms. Servicewomen historically have been promoted at rates equal to or faster than men, but this hasn’t dissuaded feminists from attacking high, male-oriented standards as “barriers” to women’s careers.

The military can justify gender-specific allowances to improve fitness in basic and entry-level exercises, but not in training for infantry combat, where lives and missions depend on individual strength, endurance, team cohesion and trust for survival. The same elements are needed in Navy riverine units, which engage in land combat from small boats. Navy officials are “validating” coed riverine training with physical readiness tests that are gender- and age-normed with a “sliding scale” of easier requirements. Media-conscious instructors effusively praise female trainees, but women are being set up for debilitating injuries both in training and violent combat.

In 2011, a Marine official admitted that on average, women have 47 percent less lifting strength, 40 percent less muscle strength, and 20 percent less endurance capacity. Female attrition, injury and discharge rates are twice those of men. Generals who ignore these facts are dissembling shamelessly.

Enter Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, who wants women in elite Ranger training, field artillery and armor units by July 2014, and infantry positions by July 2015. To achieve “gender-neutral standards” and “gender diversity metrics” (quotas), a few exceptional women might be retained in the combat arms along with marginal men. This is a surefire way to drive resentment up and tough standards down.

Courageous military women have served in contingent combat, coming under fire “in harm’s way.” However, requirements are different in “tip of the spear” infantry fighting teams that seek out and attack the enemy. Thirty years of studies have confirmed that in this environment, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers and Marines survive.

When unsuitable assignments increase female injuries, necessary career changes will drain morale and shrinking military funds. Exceptions are unlikely, since Mr. Obama soon will appoint new leaders who will enforce the quotas. Promoting group rights over individual merit will not improve military combat effectiveness.

Congress, unfortunately, is AWOL on oversight. The pending defense authorization bill contains two-dozen measures focused on sexual harassment and assault, but nothing to prevent extension of those problems into the combat arms. No one noticed a recent Defense Department study finding that women who were exposed to combat reported twice as many sexual assaults.

To truly honor and respect military women, Congress should codify women’s exemptions from direct ground combat, stipulating that the policy may not change without an affirmative vote of Congress. If military standards are degraded for political reasons, national security will be endangered, and there will be no going back.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness and a former member of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.