- - Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Now that voters have disposed of the phony “war on women,” can we talk about real women fighting future wars?

More than 92 percent of active-duty Army women said in a recent official survey that they do not want and would not take direct ground combat (infantry) assignments. Nevertheless, President Obama plans to order women into the combat arms by January 2016.

In 2012, the Marines dutifully began researching what it would take to gender-integrate infantry, armor, artillery and Special Operations Forces — fighting teams that attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action. Multiphased projects have included training experiments, “proxy” physical tests, and high-tech demonstrations with hundreds of male and female volunteers.

The Center for Military Readiness has independently obtained and analyzed major research findings so far, and published a 64-page interim report titled “Where’s the Case for Co-Ed Combat?” Respect for military women who have served with courage “in harm’s way” is greater than ever. However, nothing in research findings so far supports the theory that women should be considered interchangeable with men in direct ground combat.

Upper-body strength and endurance are not the only issues of concern, but both are essential for survival and mission accomplishment. In the most physically demanding environments imaginable, it matters that in timed proxy tests simulating ordnance-stowing with 95-pound artillery rounds, less than 1 percent of the men failed, compared with 28 percent of the women.

In another test with progressively heavier weights lifted over the head, 80 percent of men could lift 115 pounds, but less than 9 percent of the women could do the same.

In a timed tank-loading simulation with 55-pound weights lifted five times, less than 1 percent of the men failed, compared with 18.6 percent of the women. Researchers noted that failure rates would increase in a more confined space such as a tank.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel should know better than most how important individual strength and speed can be. In Vietnam, Mr. Hagel saved his own brother by pulling him unconscious from a burning armored personnel carrier just before it blew up. No one’s brother or son should die because of unrealistic theories about the equality of the sexes.

Some women score well in controlled tests, but survival and mission accomplishment also involve endurance over time. This lesson is being learned in tests of female volunteers on the Marines’ Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va.

Since fall 2012, 24 female officers have attempted the grueling infantry test. All deserve credit for trying, but only four survived the deliberately difficult first day. Of those, none endured through the entire 13-week course, which involves 20-mile marches and carrying loads of up to 120 pounds.

Some activists have criticized the infantry officer training, noting that more than 40 women have completed the less-demanding course for enlisted infantrymen. There are major differences, however, because infantry officers must be prepared to lead others into battle.

In 2013, the Marines tried to make three pull-ups mandatory for female basic trainees, but had to suspend the requirement when 55 percent could not meet it. Recent tests have found that on average, men could do almost 16 pull-ups — more than four times as many as the women.

Extra training can strengthen women, but physiology makes men even stronger. Experts know that unchanging androgenic characteristics in men account for greater muscle power and aerobic capabilities that are essential for endurance in land combat operations.

“Gender-neutral standards” are supposed to screen out individuals who cannot perform heavy tasks. The expectation is not realistic, however, in view of relentless Pentagon-endorsed demands for “gender diversity metrics,” another name for quotas. In January 2013, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey admitted that high standards beyond the abilities of women would be questioned. Training programs deemed inconsistent with “gender diversity” goals eventually will be eliminated, modified or scored differently in the process of “validating” standards that are “equal” but lower than before. This is the only way to achieve what Gen. Dempsey has called a “critical mass” of women in the combat arms.

In theory, 3 percent of women might meet male minimum standards, but going from the top of their fields to lower status in land combat units would set them up for career disadvantages and disproportionate, debilitating injuries. None of this is necessary, since women always have been promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.

In 2015, gender-integrated Marine task forces will conduct simulated combat with “collective” efforts that are likely to obscure individual shortcomings. Academic consultants, like-minded think tanks and Defense Department contractors have been hired to “validate” predetermined goals, leaving major issues unaddressed from an independent perspective.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff have the option to ask for exceptions to the administration’s mandate to integrate the combat arms. Sufficient research data justifying exceptions already exist, but members of Congress need to honor military women by conducting responsible oversight that takes this issue seriously. If officials intend to “go where the numbers take us,” the way ahead should be clear.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

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