- - Sunday, January 12, 2014

Pentagon civilians and military leaders keep claiming that when women serve in combat arms, all standards will be “gender-neutral.” Now comes reality, revealed in a new physical-fitness test with “gender-neutral” minimum requirements.

Owing to well-documented physiological differences, 55 percent of female Marine boot-camp trainees, compared to 1 percent of men, were unable to perform a new minimum test: three pullups to demonstrate upper-body strength. Plans for women in combat, still moving forward, just hit an iceberg that is bigger than boot camp.

Today’s female recruits are just as capable as women previously trained at Parris Island, S.C. The Marines announced the new test and practice training more than a year ago. What happened? The problem began when the Obama administration ordered the armed forces to prepare women for land-combat units, such as the infantry, by January 2016. These plans should be reassessed.

If it is too much to require female recruits to do three pullups in basic training, it is a thousand times worse to expect women to serve in direct ground combat units, meaning Army and Marine infantry, armor, artillery and Special Operations Forces. In these small “tip of the spear” fighting teams, which seek out and destroy the enemy with deliberate offensive action, survival and mission accomplishment often depend on physical strength and endurance.

At a Pentagon news conference last year, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said the Pentagon intends to assign “significant cadres” of women to achieve a “critical mass” in direct ground combat units, including Army and Marine infantry. Gen. Dempsey further noted that if a particular standard was found to be “so high that a woman couldn’t make it,” officials would ask the services, “Does it really have to be that high?”

Even if the honest answer is “yes,” compliant generals will continue passive acquiescence, following orders to achieve Pentagon-endorsed “gender-diversity metrics,” another name for “quotas.” Officials will “make it work” by weakening male-oriented training. Any program deemed female-unfriendly eventually will be eliminated, modified or rated with gender-normed standards that create illusions of “equality.”

Even in elite Ranger training, officials will question and eventually gender-norm or drop the toughest combat-related tests, all the while insisting that different scores for men and women are “gender-neutral.” They are not.

In a report to Congress last June, the Marine Corps stated that its plans for women in land combat would involve “gender-neutral” standards. The “catch” was in the fine print. Footnotes explained that in physical-fitness tests, obstacle courses and combat-fitness tests, “gender-normed” requirements and scores would be used “to account for physiological differences between genders.”

Under the physical-fitness test that the Marines just suspended, for example, minimum requirements are the same, but men still have to do 20 pullups to earn a perfect score, compared to eight for women. The Marines have yet to disclose their research on how differences such as this will work in grueling land combat missions that have not changed.

If Pentagon officials keep pretending that women can take the places of men in the infantry, female trainees will suffer more injuries and resentment they don’t deserve, and men will emerge from training less prepared for the burdens and violence of direct ground combat similar to that seen in the film “Lone Survivor.”

In a recent interview, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno bragged about the progress of what he called “social engineering” to move “low-ranking females” into “all-male organizations.” It is unseemly for generals to ignore results of the Marines’ boot-camp experiment. There is no evidence that the majority of military women, especially those in enlisted ranks, want to be ordered (rather than “allowed”) into combat arms. In that violent environment, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive — or to help fellow soldiers survive.

No one questions the courage of military women who have served in harm’s way, but the administration’s demands for “significant cadres” of women in the combat arms have made sensible training practices untenable. Gender-normed standards will not work in fighting teams that seek out and attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action. Generals who support military women should start applying logic.

The 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces considered all aspects of this issue. Members ultimately approved of gender-normed scores in basic, pre-commissioning and entry-level training, but the recommendation was contingent on women’s exemption from direct ground combat.

To solve the Marines’ dilemma, Congress should codify women’s exemption from direct ground combat, with the stipulation that the policy not be changed without an affirmative vote of Congress. That way, both men and women would receive the best training possible, without the consequences and dangers of pretending that they are interchangeable in all roles.

The military services should train women to the best of their abilities, while upholding high standards in the combat arms. Congress still has time to restore sound policy, drawing the line at the point of the bayonet.

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.

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