By Chad Storlie
Too much has been made of the decision to allow women to enter the traditional “combat” branches of the US military. The American way of war, both in resourcing and in combat operations, has focused on a small core of multiple-time volunteers coupled with a willingness to engage in protracted counter-insurgency conflicts in remote parts of the world that offer no clear, easy, or immediate solution. The only reasonable solution to this, that the US military only arrived at haltingly, was to offer women roles that exposed them to direct ground combat and allowed them the opportunity, like men have had, to volunteer for training and evaluation in direct combat positions, from infantry and armor to special operations.
Several examples highlight the performance of women in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army and Marine Corps had “Lioness” Teams, Female Engagement Teams, and eventually Cultural Support Teams (CST) to have women help raid homes to support US ground combat operations. The US Marine Corps “Lioness” Teams began early in Iraq to go into homes to help calm women and family members during raids by Marine combat forces. The “Lioness” Team roles were to search, segregate, and help gather intelligence during raids while maintaining the cultural family-to-outsider norms and helping maintain the sanctity of the Muslim household.
This program was the foundation of the later Cultural Support Teams (CST) that were highlighted in the special operations component of the book Ashley’s War. In Iraq, Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester of the 617th Military Police Company was awarded the silver star for her brave and violent counterattack on insurgent forces that her company was escorting. Major Lisa Jaster, the 3rd US Army woman to graduate from US Army Ranger school, spent 180 days in ranger school, which is normally a little over two months. Major Jaster was 37 years old, recycled all three phases of ranger school, and refused to quit. The performance of Lioness Teams that evolved into Cultural Support Teams, the combat performance of women in “non-combat” roles, and the performance of women in Ranger school demonstrate that women have proven they can perform in combat roles.
The never-ending argument “for and against” women in combat distracts from what we should be doing for women and all soldiers in the US military—training them for asymmetric, prolonged, difficult-to-understand, non-linear military operations that range from humanitarian assistance and peace enforcement to full-scale combat operations. When we divide US Army soldiers into groups sorted by gender, sexual orientation, and background, we are fundamentally losing sight of what the US Army should be doing—preparing all soldiers to fight and win in combat. The US Army has always been a place that is separate and distinct from one’s civilian persona in regards to background, family wealth, and personal history.
The major point of action for the US Army is to create a comprehensive ground combat program focusing on basic combat training, convoy operations, live fire weapons training, realistic first aid, communications, and heavy physical fitness (weights and high-intensity cardio) to prepare every US Army soldier to fight and win on a complex battlefield. The battlefields of World War II and Korea will never exist again. No rational or irrational actor will choose to fight the United States in a set piece battle that allows the US military to use its keys of coordination, precision, firepower, mass, and technologically enabled destruction to win. Rather, as Iraq and Afghanistan abundantly represent, our enemies will fight us in close, as part of the population, and in a manner that does not allow our military advantages to be used. This ongoing asymmetric, long-lasting, and non-linear battlefield is why all soldiers must be trained as combat soldiers and must be allowed to become the best soldiers that they can be.
I went straight through Ranger school and I thought it sucked. Bad. Maj. Jaster has my untold respect for staying and graduating after 180 days. I consider her a fellow Ranger school graduate. During my time in the Army, I wanted to only stand next to the best and most qualified soldiers who consistently performed and demonstrated their proficiency to an established standard. Welcoming everyone who wants to strive to be more, do things that no one has done before, and be the best they can be in combat only makes me more proud of the US Army.
The leadership of the US Army needs to re-engage the focus on a constant readiness and exposure to ground combat. The more the Army trains, maintains, and improves high performance standards, allowing anyone to fill a combat role will help make the Army more prepared, not less, to meet the rigors of the ugly necessity of ground combat.
Chad Storlie is an OpsLens Contributor and retired Lieutenant Colonel with 20-plus years of Active and Reserve service in infantry, Special Forces, and joint headquarters units. He served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, and throughout the United States. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Special Forces Tab, and the Ranger Tab. Chad is author of two books: “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader” and “Battlefield to Business Success.” Both books teach how to translate and apply military skills to business. He has been published in The Harvard Business Review blog, Business Week Online, Christian Science Monitor, USA Today, and over 40 other publications. He has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @Combattocorp.
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