Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced today that the ban on women in combat jobs was going to be lifted. As a ten year Army veteran, I was left dismayed and a little bit puzzled. What practical purpose does it serve? Do we really think that having women on the front lines will give us an edge that we did not have before? It seems to me that allowing women into combat jobs does not offer any benefit outside of the realm of politics, and the risks and unknowns with which it may hamper mission success far outweigh any political gains.
It is my personal opinion that if Secretary Panetta truly felt that having women in combat would benefit our Armed Forces in any way, he would have lifted he ban near the start of his tenure. Instead, he does it on his way out the door - which suggests rather that it is a political parting gift to a President whose ultimate goal seems to be a weaker military. (A goal that is directly reinforced by the nomination of former Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary Panetta's replacement.)
And let's take just a second to be realistic: men who are captured will be tortured and/or killed. What do you think is likely to happen to women? What about the rescue teams who know they're going in after a woman? What stupid actions might otherwise professional soldiers take if they see a female being captured and know what will likely happen to her? What if that woman is "involved" with one of the men who sees her get taken?
I could go on citing statistics and studies that discuss gender differences - both physical and psychological - in high stress situations, but I don't think they really address the heart of the issue. The fact is that there are women who CAN handle the stress and rigors of combat. And just as true is the opposite: there are men who CANNOT. But the real issue is this: do we want a military that is first and foremost a formidable fighting force or one that is first and foremost dedicated to enforced equality? We can't have both.
The military is strong in part because it is the most discriminatory workplace in the nation. You can be kept out, fired, or barred from promotion simply for being too tall, too short, too thin, too fat, too sick, too injured,too stupid, and the list goes on. Every move it has made in the direction of political correctness has been a move away from strength.
From the very first day that women were allowed to serve in the military, they have been held to a lower standard than the men who held the same positions. Even as far back as WWII, by regulation the bench seats in standard transport trucks were designated to hold eight men. The same regulation stated that only seven women would fit on the same bench seat, in an effort to ensure that female Marines were given enough space to remain comfortable during transport. Today's Army physical training tests require much higher standards of men than of women - men are required to run faster and do more push ups than women who have the same MOS (military operational specialty).
Every time a job is opened to women in the military, instead of demanding that the women meet the same standards set by the men, they create a new (nearly always lower) standard for the women. As more and more women qualify for jobs based on these lowered standards, the efficiency and overall performance of the unit as a whole is decreased. To add close combat jobs to that list is asking for an Army that cannot help but be weakened as the standards for such jobs are lowered in the name of "equality."
That's not to say there is no place for women in the military. I am a woman and I spent ten years in the Army, most of that as an x-ray/CT tech. And most of the best medics and nurses I met and worked with were women.
To most, my position on this issue may seem sexist. And maybe it is. But the necessarily lowered standards that would allow women into combat jobs remind me a bit of General Shinseki's uniform changes back in 2001. He ordered that starting on June 14, 2001, all soldiers would wear the black beret with their duty uniforms instead of the standard PC (patrol cap). Sure the black beret looked a little bit dressier, but served absolutely no practical purpose. Those of us who had to wear it constantly complained that it didn't block sun, rain, or wind from the face. It didn't stay on very well, especially if it was windy. And it was harder to keep in presentable condition once it had been exposed to the elements. But the people who truly deserved to complain were the ones who had been through hell in Army Ranger training to earn that same black beret.
Just as the accomplishments of the Rangers who had sacrificed blood, sweat and tears to earn those black berets were marginalized by an Army of unqualified soldiers being handed them simply for existing, the accomplishments of the men who meet the more strenuous "male" requirements for any job in the military are minimized and mocked by the women who can do in some cases half the work and then demand not only the same job, but equal pay and an equal chance at promotion and recognition.