Women in Uniform

Tim Dunlop posts on No Women please, we’re Americans I wonder exactly what experience base he is using. In the US, a a House subcommittee approved a measure yesterday that would ban women from serving in certain support units in a bid to keep them out of “direct ground combat.” Tim quotes an American retired Army Officer at A Silent Cacophony who has a firm opinion about women in uniform who, amongst other things says,
Moreover, in the unit over which I was given command, four of the five senior sergeants were females, and for the remainder of my career in uniform, those four women would rank among the finest, most loyal and capable soldiers with whom I would ever be privileged to serve So, I learned early on, first hand, that limiting the positions to which women could be assigned in the Army was just plain wrong, and served no logical organizational purpose.
I’m with the man on the first part of the extract but disagree with him on the second. To say he found the women under his command in the given circumstances of that time, place, and nature of unit … among the finest, most loyal and capable soldiers with whom I would ever be privileged to serve does not mean that limiting the positions to which women could be assigned in the Army was just plain wrong. The point is, the good retired officer doesn’t draw the line between combat and support units and suggests we should let women serve where they will. Well, I’m a retired Army Officer with considerable experience commanding troops in war and peace and I would like to point out the problem isn’t a simple as some would believe. The arguement within military circle debates the appointment of women to combat units and for non-military trained readers, I mean Infantry, Engineers and Armour fighting units. No-one argues that women shoudn’t serve in the military. They have served with distinction since Hannibal was an Officer Cadet but there is a huge difference between supporting roles and combat duty. In infantry there is a basic requirement to be a ‘Load Carrier” as in, carry a hundred pound pack all day and still be fit enough to mount sentry during the night and then do it again next day..and the next..and the next. The weight only dimishing by what you eat, drink or fire off at the bad guys but replentished within days anyway, and then back to a hundred pounds. My wife couldn’t pick my pack up six inches, let alone carry it. We, that is men and women, are simply designed differently. So, the first problem you have when governments, giving into feminists, say women can go combat is, the first woman rejected for Infantry because of her height/weight/upper torso muscular strength will go to the Equal Opportunities Board and scream ‘foul’ resulting in the Army having to take all women of all sizes in all corps. An instant compromise resulting in other members of the patrol having to compensate and likely share the load. Beside the physical difficulty of women carrying combat loads we have a problem with men’s perception of what women are all about. There are plenty of men in society who believe that the protection of women and the children they carry is one of the basic reasons men have fought each other. To have those mothers of our society placed in the very danger that we are protecting them from, flies in the face of hard-wired male thinking. I have another problem with women in combat units. At night, when manning picquet posts, when the lives of the others in the unit depend on the sentries paying attention to the enemy, I suspect enough young men and women would be distracted from this most serious of duties by a sometimes more pressing urge to procreate. I’m sure that if the NCO commanding a young Private Kev, years ago, told me to mount duty with Private Alice down in the front pits, for two hours, in the dark, I would have been beside myself with anticipated pleasures. The hunt would have instantly taken on a different hue. OK, I’m old fashioned, but I like to think of men as protectors and women as nuturers. Nurturing can be interpreted as providing support for combat troops but not putting themselves on the line. Some quotes. Charen, Mona. Why Does the United States Put Its Mothers Into Combat? Insight on the News 19:50 April 29-May 12 2003.
How did we get here? Under current regulations, women are not permitted in direct combat units. But they’re allowed to get very close. Until 1994, women were forbidden even in units that were “at risk” for contact with the enemy or capture. Under pressure from feminists who seek to erase all sexual discrimination from the military, president Bill Clinton’s secretary of defense, Les Aspin, eliminated “inherent risk of capture” from the risk assessments of noncombat units.
Mitchell, Brian. Women In the Military: Flirting With Disaster. Washington, Regnery, 1998. 390.
Today only one-third of uniformed women believe that the military’s primary purpose is to fight wars. Nowhere in the military do women meet the same physical standards as men – not in the military academies, not in basic training, and certainly not in the field. Applying common sense, the history of men under arms, and a quarter-century’s worth of research on women in the military, Brian Mitchell reveals how “equal opportunity” has been allowed to trump military readiness and national security.
The Center for Military Readiness reports;
■ Women are shorter, have less muscle mass and weigh less than men, placing them at a distinct disadvantage when performing tasks requiring a high level of muscular strength and aerobic capacity, like ground combat. Female dynamic upper torso muscular strength is approximately 50-60 percent that of males. (CF 2.1.1, 2.1.2) ■ Female aerobic capacity is approximately 70-75 percent that of males. In terms of military significance, at the same marching velocity and carrying the same load, the average woman works at a higher percentage of her aerobic capacity. This means that women cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue. (CF 2.1.3) ■ In a 1988 study of Army recruits, woman were found to be more vulnerable to exercise-induced injuries than men, with 2.13 times greater risk for lower extremity injuries, and 4.71 times greater risk for stress fractures. Men sustained 99 days of limited duty due to injury, while women incurred 481 days of limited duty. (CF 2.1.5) ■ The experience of other countries shows little evidence that women are suited for ground combat. For example, of 103 women recruited for infantry training after Canada repealed its combat rules in 1989, only one woman succeeded in meeting the physical requirements necessary to complete the training. (CF 2.5.4B, 1.79; International Trip Report, 16-25 September
It’s a long debated issue and some women reading this will take umbrage but rest assured I take my stand against women in combat units not because I think women are inferior, far from it. I take the stand because they are physically different. I take the stand because I believe I am a protector of women, home and hearth and in assessing that task would not want them anywhere near the places I have been.


  • I have to agree, in my time in the Army I saw women put in a huge and gutsy effort in the field, yet physically fall far short of their male counterparts.

    It is about dealing with the reality, not the dogma.

  • Ralph Buttigieg


    This issue came up on the news last year in Australia. They had a fellow from the Australian Defence Association say something like “we don’t have women play for the Wallabies for the same reason we don’t have them in Army combat positions”.

    Women are allowed to serve on all our ships, including subs, something the USN don’t allow as well as fly combat planes. I think the only navy position they are not allowed is Navy Clearance Divers, again for physical strenght reasons.

    Having said that, I wouldn’t mind seeing if any women could complete the
    SAS endurance tests. The idea of a brigade of Amazons commandos attacking a bunch of Islamist is an interesting one.



  • I had two of the first women on the flightline many years ago. One was the best mechanic I had, although she lacked the strength to do many of the tasks required of everyone else. The other was a total waste, and had become a mechanic simply because she wanted to be different. She didn’t last long.

    Unfortunately, many of the women I’ve seen working on aircraft fit that second’s reason. Once they find out how tough the work can be, they end up driving an expediter truck or working in an office environment in the maintenance complex.

    If a woman really wants to do the job, she can probably make it through the training. If not, tough training will wash her out. Problem solved.

  • I had the opportunity to observe and record an experiment in the last years of OCS Portsea.

    A roughly equal number of men and women were selected to complete OCS’ year long training and schooling together, doing the same PT, drill, weapon handling, field work and academic subjects.

    I observed that most of the men were able to complete all the physical tasks to some degree whilst only a few women were able to complete many of the physical tasks at even the lowest acceptable standard.

    One women was a great middle distance runner and often ran the legs of her male class mates during `road runs’ in PT kit, however she was completely outclassed at Canungra with only an SLR to carry.

    No M60 or `84′, no mines or wire, no mortar baseplate or rounds in a sandbag, no radio and spare batteries, no 8 water bottles and a bladder (as I often carried), no body armour and helmet – just a rifle and a couple of bullet boxes filled with black plastic blanks.

    Sure the majority of the women did extremely well in the classroom and problem solving in general, but the aim of the course was to qualify arms’ corps platoon commanders.

    I can also remember a group of civilian `aerobics’ champions’ claiming they were as fit and strong as your average SAS selectee – put to the test they all failed the first morning’s run in PT gear!

    Didn’t like the “over the pipe” – “under the pipe” bit at all …

  • Some questions: hasn’t Iraq shown that all units are potentially combat units, that Napoleonic warfare is dead and there is no longer any clear and discernible front line to which women should or shouldn’t be posted? In such circumstances, shouldn’t women (and all units) receive (serious) combat training–after all they are more likely to be involved in combat in the course of their normal duties, and not lugging a 100-pound pack or marching 40km to a fight. For example, see http://www.blackfive.net/main/2005/03/after_action_re.html. Given recruitment and retrenchment problems, shouldn’t those women who can meet standards–and there will be statistical outliers; the reports provided above state averages–be allowed the opportunity to train and fight with combat units (as per last comment)? As well, as the women in the forces increase inevitably in seniority, you want/want to give them wider, and if possible, field experience, to increase the prospects of good, informed, planning and command decisions and advice when situations arise. There will remain the need for specialist combat units, and units such as the SAS, but my reading is that there is less and less of a line between combat and non-combat forces, just as there is between ‘battlefield’ and reconstruction roles. Perhaps divvying ‘old’ roles based on the male/female divide–and not on capability and need–is as out of date as Napoleonic warfare. Some thoughts.

  • “hasn’t Iraq shown that all units are potentially combat units, that Napoleonic warfare is dead and there is no longer any clear and discernible front line to which women should or shouldn’t be posted?”

    True many times in their day to day activities in Iraq units which contain women can often find themselves in a fight through ambush etc.

    These units have to either ecape the action, hold for reinforcement or if possible quickly attack and overwhelm their attackers.

    These sort of actions are over quickly and do not often require sustained (day after day) fighting.

    What’s more these units are often not primarily conducting `war fighting’ activities when attacked, but re-supply, mail runs, refueling, escort duty or reconstruction etc.

    However, the Marine units currently assaulting along the axis of the Euphrates River in Western Iraq are `combat’ units with infantry soldiers carrying heavy loads dashing from cover to cover, in and out of houses and over obstacles conducting sustained firefights against an often entrenched well armed enemy at close quarters.

    In this action as with many in Iraq there is a `front line’ – or more accurately perhaps, a `forward edge of battle area’ where troops are facing their front and attacking with combined arms support.

    Not Napoleonic at all – and certainly not the space in which you want to be if you are a physically challenged man let alone a demonstrably physically less capable women.

  • granuality.

    Your thoughts are valid but problems still exist with the concept of women in combat units. The story at Backfive is fine and I hope the valour of the women is recognized but my point is that the situation would’ve been different if they had been obliged to carry a combat load. The situation where soldiers are obliged to carry these loads still exists and will for the forseeable future.

    Out-of-date Napoleonic war does not win your case as a reading of history will tell us the load of an Infantryman has not decreased markedly with the advent of technology. Boer War soldiers carried 80 pounds in 1899 and I carried 100 pound in 1970. I have seen films of soldiers in 2005 and if they are tasked to patrol, as they were in, for example, Afghanistan, then they have to carry their house on their back.

    When watching MSM feeds on the Iraq war, keep in mind that this type of patrolling still exists. You don’t see it because, maybe, the journalists don’t want to go there with the troops.

    So the women in the Backfive story did a great job. No question. The characteristics involved in that incident are not gender restricted but could they do all the jobs associated with keeping a Humvee mobile. Change the tyres as quickly as the bigger male for example? In a panic situation, can they pickup a .50 cal and move it to another site? Can they carry their wounded comrade a 100 metres in the fireman’s carry as men are required to do? Obviously some can but on the average they can’t and Arnies work on averages.

    Our bodies are designed differently for different purposes . I have personal experience of young women coming to grief with back and hip problems while being obliged to do the same PT as the guys. A large percentage were impaired for lengthy periods after the PT element of Recruit training. Something to do with carrying weights high or low.

    You see, physical capability will always be questioned.

  • First, let me say something I meant to earlier: that I do enjoy Kev’s blog, and check in here reasonably frequently.
    . the infantry will remain the core of the army: I’m not saying it will be usurped; nor am I saying that women should have an ‘equal right’ to those roles. Nor should any man; there are levels of capability to be achieved, though yes, men more likely to achieve those levels than women. On average.
    . even in van Crevald’s notion of war-as-the-Gaza-Strip, well-trained, cohesive, capable and high mobility, high fire-power infantry units have a necessary role, from Matador and Fallujah-type operations, in suppressing insurgency in the Sunni triangle and beyond. It’s less a front line than a centre of intensity.
    . as such it does not exclude combat being experienced elsewhere, and by a number of ostensibly non-combat units.
    . therefore, it makes sense to ensure all such units are combat capable, not least as it would diminish their attractiveness as targets, while reducing the load on the fully-trained and purposed combat units.

    Physical capability will always be questioned. True, as will adaptability, the ability to think quickly, coolness under fire. In every unit there will be a range of capability. It’s relative, not absolute. For example, I suspect–Kev would be better able to comment–that the Viet Cong were probably smaller in stature to the Australians and Americans they fought.

  • granuality
    Admin is Kev…Kev is admin – haven’t sorted out log-in yet.
    You and I agree and yes, the VC/NVA were, on the average smaller. They also carried very little weight. Livedoff the land…small bag of rice supplement with bamboo shoots and fish. Small piece of plastic for rain shelter and the rest was ammo.

  • I’ll take them seriously when physical standards testing is the same. Until then, they can shut up.

  • Kev

    thanks. Thought Admin=Kev, but wasn’t about to presume. Like your work.

  • as already stated, there are always statistical outliers. So say a women can keep up with the men in infantry. Is it still justified to keep her out of the infantry?
    Wouldn’t it be more logical to rather than outrightly banning all women, maintain that specific strength requirements must be met, and make no allowances based on gender?

  • In Vietnam as a joke I lifted up 2 cans of water slung on each end of a pole. I could barely stagger a few metres with it. An ancient, tiny old lady then picked it up and easily galloped off with it to much laughter from the villagers.

    But even the VC did not use women as combat infantry soldiers.

    On our Battalion open day back in Australia I was watching some robust, sturdy and healthy young Aussie girls try to pick up their infantry boyfriends gear. They could barely lift it off the ground much less put it on and trudge on all day in the tropical heat.

    But even if they could it would still be wrong.

    Combat is a violent and vicious killing business and what seems to be overlooked is that infantry soldiers are aggressive, they really want to kill the enemy, it is the requirement of their job..”The role of the nfantry is to close with and kill the enemy.” The end result actually is satisfying, for men, although few will accept this statement.

    For masses of women within our community to have that emotional intent of eagerly killing someone face to face simply means the end of civilisation as we wish it to be.