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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Put the Bunny Back in the Box, Don't Put the Girls in Ranger School

The dust hasn’t even settled following the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” and the Pentagon is already warming up for another internal battle. They are now considering the possibility of opening up the prestigious and highly elite Ranger School to women.

The reasoning for this consideration is that the bar has just recently been lifted on women serving in the infantry, and since nine out of ten senior infantry officers are Ranger qualified, not allowing women to become Ranger qualified would reduce their likelihood of being promoted to senior officer positions.
What they are not talking about is the fact that every time the Army concedes jobs to women, they also make concessions in physical standards to accommodate them. They are also not talking about the reasons that women were barred from infantry jobs in the first place.

The concessions began as soon as women entered the Armed Forces. Some were trivial, such as the USMC regulation during World War II which determined that while eight male Marines could sit on the bench of a 2½ ton truck, that same bench would only accommodate seven women. The intent was to make the women more comfortable. This, of course, led to the perversion of the acronym BAM (originally “Beautiful American Marines”) to mean “Big Ass Marines.” And the concessions have continued until the present day.

I myself spent ten years in the Army and Army Reserve working as an Administrative Assistant (think Radar O’Reilly) and an X-ray/CT tech. To pass a PT test, I only had to do 17 push-ups. A male soldier my age, to get the same passing grade, had to do at least 39. He had to complete the two-mile run with a faster time as well.

However, I earned rank and pay at the same rate as male soldiers, even though I took six months off over three years due to the births of two of my children and the male soldiers hardly missed a sick day.

That’s not to say that I think women have no place in the military. I am grateful especially that I had the opportunity to serve. And it’s true that there are always going to be a few women who have the physical capabilities to meet the male standards. If that is the case, then perhaps exceptions should be made when individual cases warrant. But to change the standards so that the exceptions become the rule is to ask for more and more military standards to be lowered, for the United States Armed Forces to be weakened, and for what? So that women can feel better about themselves because now they can wear a Ranger Tab?

The other issue, the reason that female soldiers traditionally have not been allowed in forward units, is more psychological. Sure, some say that it’s all sexism and the Army is an old boys’ club that just doesn’t want to deal with the hassle of women and their monthly cycles in the field. And, let’s be fair, sometimes that cycle is a hassle even when you’re not under direct fire. But it’s really more about the visceral reaction that most men have when confronted with the sight or even the idea of a woman being hurt, killed, or captured. (Granted, the repeal of DADT has muddied this issue somewhat as well.) Since the beginning of time there have been wars, most fought primarily by men. What often drove those men to do what they did, beyond patriotism and duty, was the thought of someone at home. And whether it was a mother, a sister, a wife, girlfriend or daughter, there was almost always a woman in his heart. To see a woman hurt in combat, or perhaps captured by enemies who aren’t likely to treat her or her body with respect, deals a psychological blow that even the best training is hard pressed to overcome.

A good friend who also happens to be a former Navy Seal had this to say: “Operators have enough to worry about on a mission without adding the unnecessary pressure of concern about the female teammate who could be captured or killed as a result of their action or inaction.”

But perhaps the biggest concern is yet to come, and it may not be what anyone would suspect. The Law of Unintended Consequences is about as well known as Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”) in the Armed Forces. Just about every new initiative creates problems down the line that likely could have been prevented or at least lessened with a little more forethought.

So what is it that we wouldn’t expect? This whole thing could easily turn into a swinging back door for the recent birth control issues. It wouldn’t be an issue of access to birth control, as all active duty soldiers can get pretty much any type of birth control they ask for on the Army’s dime. Rather, it could become an issue of mandated birth control. I know it sounds a little out there, but go with me on this. Pregnancy in a combat unit would obviously be a major liability. There are three ways to fix this “problem.”

First, you can regulate the female soldiers, telling them that if they want to attend Ranger School and serve in combat, they will be required to use birth control. This is not likely to go over well, as enforced birth control could be perceived as a violation of individual rights.

Second, you can demand that the military make concessions for female soldiers who do get pregnant by allowing them access to abortion services. Currently it is illegal for an active duty soldier to get an abortion, something that many of the same people who want women in Ranger School would like to see changed.

Or third, you can avoid the problem altogether by…not allowing women into Ranger School, infantry units, or close combat areas. (Keep in mind that there are still some 200 other jobs within the Army alone that would still accept female soldiers.)

But most importantly, no one is considering the horrific effect a move like this could have on American pop culture. Take, for example, the movie Con Air. Can you imagine the Army Ranger character being played by a female instead of Nicolas Cage? Who wants to hear Reese Witherspoon drawl, “Now why couldn’t you put the bunny back in the box?” after beating some dirty convict to death in the cargo bay of a prison transport plane?

I shudder to think.

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