Military and Police

Women in Combat – Part 1

By Matthew Wadler:

I am going to say something in a public forum that I have been saying for most of my career – men and women are not equal. Men and women are physiologically different to an extreme.

With that said, how is it possible that we can be equal? It would be like comparing green and red apples and saying they are equal. Although they may both be apples, they have different tastes. One is sweet, the other is tart and almost sour. Does this statement mean that I am sexist? Not even a little. I don’t believe in classifications based on insignificant categories such as race, sex, religion, etc. In fact, I believe that identifying others by classification is more sexist than stating, for instance, that the majority of men are physically stronger than women, or that girls tend to mature faster than boys.

So, if we are not equal, does that mean one sex is better than the other? No…yes…well, it really depends on the category. Because we are physiologically different, there are certain areas where the average woman/man will outperform their corresponding sex. I say “average” because there are very few things in life that are absolute, especially when dealing with biology. With life.

For example, a study by University of Western Ontario found that women handle job interview stress better than men. Much of this was attributed to a woman’s ability to identify and come up with coping mechanisms for stress related events (such as conducting mock interviews or other preparatory work to become comfortable in the situation), whereas men tended to ignore these events until they are sitting in the interview chair.

In another example, Robin Nixon wrote that “Females, on the other hand, tend to have more verbal fluency and greater memory for objects — that is, ‘they are better at remembering where things are,’ Halpern said during her talk. Women and females from other species are more likely to navigate by using landmarks than cardinal direction.” Additionally, women tend to have better immune systems than men do. Dr. Maya Saleh from McGill University determined that the estrogen a woman’s body produces leads to a much more powerful immune system when compared to the average male. Finally, studies have shown that women can tolerate pain better than that of most men.

Not one of these statements are sexist unless, of course, being able to objectively look at scientific data makes one a bigot. The research listed above simply shows how women within our species have biologically adapted to ensure our survival. None of these adaptations makes women better than men. All it means is that over the eons, the female of our species has needed to evolve and these traits needed to be more sensitive in the female sex. The same principle holds true for males.

Research has shown over and over again that the average man is physically stronger and faster than the females in our species. To prove this in a very real and fair test, simply look at the pinnacle of human physical prowess – Olympians. There is not a single Olympic record that is currently held by a female athlete. In fact, women across the board fall approximately 10% behind the men in overall scores.

I myself used a ploy to show this in college. I had to give a speech in one of my classes, and I did it on women in the military. For my 15-minute speech, I wore a rucksack while walking around the class speaking to them. At the end of my dialogue I dropped my ruck on the table and invited several students to come up and attempt to put it on and stand up with it. Unbeknownst to the class I had approximately 100lbs in the ruck. All of the males were able to put it on and stand up (albeit a few had difficulty with the task), but not a single of the female students could do so.

Here lies my problem and concern with women being allowed in combat arms under the current system. I believe that opening combat arms jobs to women served only a political purpose and was not done in an effort to truly equalize the role of women in the military. Women in the Army do not have the same physical standards expected of them. In order for an eighteen-year-old male to achieve the maximum score on his physical fitness test, he needs to complete 71 push-ups and run two miles in 13 minutes. Females in the same age range need to complete 42 push-ups and run the two miles in 15:36 (both sexes have the same expectation for sit-ups, as studies have shown no difference in abdominal strength). Is this just? It depends on your reasoning for changing the standards.

When a job isn’t based on physical standards, then it makes sense to have different expectations because it does not affect the ability of the person to successfully complete their job.  If a person enlists for a job as human resources, then clearly the expectations of that person are not going to be as physically demanding as that of an infantryman or artilleryman. So, in this example, it would appear that the system conforms to a fair standard, as women tend to have less muscle mass than that of the males.

This difference disappears when one takes a job in combat arms. Regardless of your sex, you need to be able to carry your weight, both literally and figuratively, in these jobs. Combat has nothing to do with perceived equality. It is about having the physical strength to march 54 miles in 33 hours while carrying over 80 pounds in equipment and upon arrival engage in direct combat with an enemy force that is attempting to kill you. This includes but is not limited to having to dig fox holes, sprint under fire to multiple positions, and enter into hand-to-hand combat where one would be required to beat the enemy to death with their rifles, knives, or bare hands (20-21 July 1943, 3d BN, 30th Infantry Regiment in its attack on San Stefano).

In this role, every single person is relying on every other person within that organization for their combined survival. The route does not change because one group has an easier fitness standard than the other. Combat has been said to be the universal equalizer. Politically correct safe space speech does not do anything to change the reality of battle.

I want to return now to the example above where we spoke of the physical standards for the human resource soldier. I believe that the Marines put it best and most simplistically when they say, “every Marine is a rifleman first.” I remember once receiving a briefing from a former human resources battalion commander where he was explaining how his Marines were tasked to conduct door to door house raids while in Iraq. In this instance his HR team was kicking in doors and at times engaging with the enemy without the support of the infantry. In this instance, once again, the politically correct decision to make the physical standard equitable for women puts their lives at risk, and not just the individual who is engaged with the enemy. We don’t leave our dead or wounded behind, so if one of our own falls, others put themselves at risk to retrieve them.

With all this being said, am I against women in combat, or the military for that matter? Not at all. Sergeant First Class (at the time) Hope was one of the toughest and most physically fit noncommissioned officers I have ever met in my life. In addition to being the closest thing to a genetically engineered super-Soldier I ever personally met, this NCO was also a female. She would conduct 4 mile runs with a 35 pound rucksack on and still beat almost all the males. She could easily score the maximum points on the Army physical fitness test for 18 year old males (and she was well into her 30s). Clearly she could hold her own physically against most male Soldiers. However, she was and is an anomaly.

The armed forces should not be about fairness, it should be about survival. This is not to say that there should not be rules to protect those who serve. What it does mean is that it should make sure that those rules are based in sound logic and not in what is politically expeditious. Should women be allowed to serve in combat arms? Absolutely! Women have just as much reason as men to want to protect those they love or defend their nation’s way of life and we should not tell them no simply because of their sex. However, we should also not lower the standards to allow them the honor of serving either. That is as sexist as not allowing them to serve.

The military exists for one purpose, to destroy the enemies of the United States. General Sherman understood the absolute simplicity of war, “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.” If this statement is understood then it should be easy to see that only the most capable should be able to serve, regardless of their sex.

Matthew Wadler is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army veteran.  Wadler served admirably for twenty years before retiring.  His service included time as a paratrooper and two deployments to Afghanistan.

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.