Women in the Military - 2 Calls for Common Sense

August 8, 2000

Comment: #375

Discussion Thread:  #s 374 and referenced comments #s 312, 241, 239


[1] Elaine Donnelly, "Women In Combat -- Time For A Review," American Legion Magazine, July 2000 Pg. 12

[2] Carol Gilligan, "Make War, Not Nice!" New York Times Book Review, May 7, 2000 (a review of The Kinder, Gentler Military Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars? by Stephanie Gutmann.

3] William Finnegan, "A Million Enemies," New York Times Book Review, March 14, 1999 (Book review of Blackhawk Down (See also the original series in The Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Seasoned combat veterans insist that close quarters infantry combat is the most physically demanding, emotionally stressful, mentally challenging, and morally daunting task in war. If you think technology has changed this fundamental fact, read Mark Bowden's Blackhawk Down, the story of the firefight in Mogadishu [Ref 3 is an NYT book review of BHD].

In combat, physical effects, mental effects, and moral effects can reinforce or weaken each other, often in subtle ways, depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, these relationships are often forgotten by the courtiers in military - industrial - congressional complex (MICC). Inside the beltway, the so-called defense debate makes it clear that gadgets, half-baked theories of technical revolutions, and political correctness take precedence over the soldiers who will be sent into harm's way. Buried in the mists of history and long forgotten are the lessons documented in the "American Soldier," an official analysis of casualty data in WWII published in 1949, (sometimes known as the Stouffer Report). This seminal document concluded, inter alia, "Assigning a stupid man to the infantry is tantamount to condemning him to death."

The Stouffer report took aim at a deeply entrenched tradition in the American military: namely, its predilection to assign troops with high scorers in the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifications Test - an IQ test) to the technically demanding jobs in the support structure, while consigning the low scorers to the infantry. The Stouffer Report took exception to this policy but did not result in a correction, as became evident in the Korean War one year later as well as Vietnam. The firefight in Mogadishu reinforced the findings of the Stouffer report, because, as Max Bowden ably demonstrated, even the elite Ranger and Delta forces were ill-prepared for the moral, mental, and physical stresses of close quarters combat.

With the singular exception of the firefight in Mogadishu, American troops have not experienced the kind of intense fighting talked about in the Souffer Report since Vietnam, and the distance of time has, no doubt, further exacerbated the MICC's insensitivity to the mental and moral effects of close quarters combat. This insensitivity is especially pronounced when one examines the charged debate of whether women should be assigned to ground combat units.

So with this background in mind, I asked Colonel Carl Bernard USA (Ret) and Dean Wyman (a former enlisted Green Beret Medic) for their opinions on how physical, mental, and moral standards relate to the question of whether or not women should be integrated into ground combat units.

Their reasoned answers may surprise the absolutist thinking of anti-women hard hardheads as well as the unreconstructed feminists, but both men have experience that makes them worth paying attention to. Bernard won the Distinguished Service Cross (our nation's second highest decoration for valor) as a green lieutenant assigned to the infamous Task Force Smith in the opening days of the Korean War. He, therefore, knows a lot about the question of whether nor not it is a crime to send unprepared or unqualified troops and ill-trained officers into combat. Bernard also saw extensive combat in Vietnam. Wyman is a former enlisted man. He was thrice decorated for valor as a paramedic in life saving rescues, before joining the Green Berets as a medic. He served in Haiti as a senior medic on a "door kicking " team that served high risk warrants, conducted counter drug missions and participated in sensitive item recoveries, and then became an instructor at the JFK Special Warfare Center, until a serious injury forced him to leave the service.

We will start with Bernard and then examine Wyman's response to Bernard.

By way of introduction, Colonel Bernard addresses the question of women in combat from the perspective posed by the subtitle of Stephanie Gutmann's THE KINDER, GENTLER MILITARY. Gutmann, a controversial writer, argues that there are three major problems with integrating women into combat units (our focus here is on ground combat units, particularly infantry):

1. Women have less physical strength

2. Integration of young men and women weakens unit cohesion (We will not address cohesion in this comment because it is a red herring. Cohesion is extremely important because it is the glue that converts a group of soldiers into a combat UNIT, and it may be that integration of women would weaken cohesion. But using this as an excuse for segregation is disingenuous because our military continues to have a personnel system that breaks up unit cohesion as a matter of routine. The personnel system is based on the principle of individual replacement rather than unit replacement. It is absurd to argue that considerations of cohesion should prevent women from joining combat units when one refuses to change the assignment policies of the personnel system that prevent cohesion from forming in the first place.)

3. Integration of women has led to gender norming taking the form of relativistic (i.e., downgraded) standards

Col Bernard's Answer & Proposal--

The author's subtitle ("Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars?") poses a critical question: "Can America's gender-neutral fighting forces still win wars?" The question was initially forced by the Vietnam War. President Nixon tried to reduce the nation's disgust and anger over our folly in Vietnam by precipitously dropping the military draft. The Services compensated for ensuing personnel shortages by recruiting women.

Gutmann's concern, and that of many others, including the male soldiers they work with, is that women are not physically strong enough to do the work of front line soldiers. If this is true, "gender-neutral" forces, with women integrated in every unit, would be ineffective in war. For the past several years, Gutmann researched this question by visiting American military units scattered about the world. Her interviews with persons of every rank, sex, background, and inclination provides perspectives that are persuasive for her conclusion: filling our Armed Services' ranks with women seriously disables our forces, and this horrifying situation will not go away.

The case Ms. Gutmann makes cannot easily be denied. I will not try to do this, however the quote following is an effort to put her conclusions in perspective.

"Mortar warfare caused particular problems. A continual duel took place between [Viet Cong] Front mortar teams and American infantry and counterbattery artillery. One particularly deadly mortar team regularly attacked Bao Trai with great accuracy. In early 1969, the team was captured. To the astonishment of all concerned, it was made up of women." The Dynamics of Defeat: The Vietnam War in Hau Nghia Province" by Eric M. Bergerud.

Hau Nghia Province's security was rated 44th in the U.S. controlled Hamlet Evaluation System (HES) of the 44 in country. Its capital, Bao Trai, was approximately 30 miles from Saigon. The U.S. Division Commander located there used to howl about these grim security ratings. "Show me a village that is VC controlled, and I'll put a battalion there!" The problem was he only had eight battalions and the VC had 65 villages under their control. Women were not a negligible factor in the People's War that we lost there. An apology for using this term for that war is in order. Our chronic failure to understand the difference between the war we were in, and the very different one we knew how to fight, assured we would lose. Those who knew the war they were in, won. We did not.

The Viet Cong's use of women in many aspects of the war, particularly in acquiring intelligence was only one factor, but it helped tilt the balance.

Gutmann's grim assessment of our fatally crippled battle units provides an opportunity to share my old concern about our military, and to propose a particular use for women to help remedy problems I see.

The Army's most serious problem is that its infantry is at best mediocre, being manned with the very personnel least qualified to do the work.

This pejorative language is even kinder than it could be.

The American Soldier, a four volume series published in 1949 by Stouffer and others pointed to a critical fault in military assignments. Based on an enormous accumulation of data during the second world war, the theme of this work was: "Assigning a stupid man to the infantry is tantamount to condemning him to death."

This is clearly what we did during that war, and what we have done ever since! It has not been done deliberately, but is an inevitable result of an unconscious and unconscionable effort to fill demanding rear area positions with persons well qualified for them.

A more rational (and humane) placement of personnel would require assignment of the most intelligent people to the units furthermost forward.

Simply put, Stouffer's data made it unmistakable that the question for men in a combat infantry squad is not: are you going to be hit? You are. Rather, the questions are when, and how bad.

The rationale for our most intelligent men being in forward rifle squads is also based on World War II findings. The Category I man, doing the same work as a Category V man gets hit once, while the Category V man (far less intelligent) gets hit six (!) times. (More statistics of the era: one of three wounds then, was fatal. Our ability to evacuate our wounded almost immediately by helicopter has made an enormous difference.)

However, Category I men are posted everywhere that jobs are merely difficult and much too seldom where they are most needed, i.e., well forward in the infantry.

Thus my proposed solution for Ms. Gutmann's dilemma: we can improve our forces remarkably by posting our most intelligent women in the rear areas to replace the top males -- who should always be assigned to forward rifle squads.

Another account from the Vietnamese war: 400 men from the 7th Cu Chi Main Force Battalion neutralized half, i.e., 10,000 men of a U.S. Infantry Division. How could this have happened?

Simply enough, these standout Vietnamese fighters were the most intelligent persons in their geographical area. They operated under mission orders that each of them understood because they had helped formulate them through their auto-critique discussion process.

Just as important, they had not been arbitrarily transferred around before they thoroughly knew both their jobs, and the persons within their much more cohesive units. [i.e., no individual replacement]

How did we handle this situation? First we denied it. Despite the situation becoming too obvious to ignore, we populated our structurally ineffective forward units with the pitiful products of McNamara's distressfully ill-conceived Project 100,000, and then depended on senior officers up general's rank flying overhead (often too far too high overhead) in helicopters to direct fire fights. Elites enlisted in the Navy to chip paint and the Air Force to wash airplanes, in order to stay out of the rifle carrying units, where almost all casualties take place.

Our Army's chronic problem, the constant transferring of the inadequate soldiers in its fighting echelons, can be mitigated in part by using the right women in the demanding jobs held by Cat I and II men in the rear echelons. This would allow these men to be posted to and remain in forward combat units. The inability of women to do as many push-ups as men is not relevant. It is just one of the few things we know how to measure.

The major point of this narrow recollection of our ignored past is to insist that the disabling faults of our military forces were firmly in place well before we had very many women on board.

Their presence may be forcing some unwanted changes. However, women are NOT the reason we lost the sort of wars we fought in Korea, Vietnam, or Somalia, and will lose again in like circumstances. We must learn to use all our resources, including the physically weaker and more intelligent, in the most effective manner suited to their capabilities. And our military leaders must learn to learn from the experiences of their predecessors.

Technophiles will argue that soon-to-be-developed superior weapons and as yet unimagined-thaumaturgical-laboratory wonders will obviate the need for our bright boys to be put in dangerous places.

Can improved weapons systems solve our chronic problem of the wrong people in our rifle squads?

My negative response is not just the attitude of an unreconstructed Luddite. Our Viet Cong opponents in Cu Chi had no tanks, helicopters, aircraft, nor artillery. Their tools were rifles, machine guns, talent, motivation, organization and knowing the elements of the Peoples War they were fighting--and they won.

The superb U.S. brigade commander who was temporarily responsible for this area had a solution for its Bo Loi Woods area. Stay out. His helicopter was shot down three times in one day in its vicinity. The disabling wound that finally got him evacuated was from one of our dud155mm shells the VC had booby-trapped in the Bo Loi. Five of the eight wounds (one fatal) suffered in six months by the Province Chief, his senior advisor, and their two deputies were in the Cu Chi District. That, despite the U.S. Division's headquarters being lodged there just 20 miles west of Saigon and 12 miles from the end of the Bien Hoa runway.

A current work that is somewhat of an extension to, and cited by Gutmann is Bowden's Blackhawk Down. We need to understand Bowden's explanation of how our reliance on very advanced technology and superbly trained pilots supporting our elite groups of rangers and Delta Force, led us to believe small numbers repeating the same tactic could prevail over a large number of people with less modern weapons.

The least of the lessons learned from this should be that sending helicopters to Colombia to control drug exports is at best tendentious.

Another lesson: don't fight in cities!

And another: anticipate how the American public and its political leadership will react to CNN photographing more dead soldiers being drug through streets.

The major and most credible use for military women today is posting the most intelligent ones available in place of every Cat I and II male soldier in the rear echelons (by this definition, artillerymen are in the rear).

Send the top male files to forward rifle squads.

Gutmann's work is useful and speaks of a social problem of some prominence. But it is not related to the reason that our infantry has never been as effective as it could be, and in the future, must become.

Carl Bernard, Col USA (Ret)

Dean Wyman's Response to Colonel Bernard--

Colonel Bernard has framed an interesting argument.

Moreover, given the reality that the senior command will not end gender norming, Bernard's solution seems more reasonable than sending legions of unprepared youth off to catch bullets in their teeth.

Nevertheless, innovative as they are, I do not believe Colonel Bernard's ideas stand a snowball's chance in Hell for two reasons:

First, and perhaps most important, Bernard's personnel proposal would require the service chiefs to acknowledge a lack of female physical preparedness. Heretofore, they have claimed this wasn't true.

Second, if these men are smart enough to avoid the combat arms, they will be smart enough to continue avoiding the combat arms.

But Bernard is correct: a true mission-dictated standard for the combat arms would require the strongest, smartest, fastest and most aggressive people we have. I don't think this requirement necessarily excludes women, although it would probably exclude most women as a practical matter. But remember, if you utilize a mission-dictated standard, it would also exclude most of today's men as well!!

As the congressional staffer noted in re: comment # 374, size doesn't always mean the best. Yes, those malnourished survivors of the depression did accomplish great feats of bravery. But remember, they were not allowed to make excuses for themselves. They had no choice; they had to hack it. They were going to the front lines and nobody gave a rat's ass if they felt discriminated against by the "big guys." If they felt life wasn't being fair, the only option they could exercise was to go forward and lay down superior, devastatingly accurate and timely firepower. When victory was secured, they could go home and swear never to be around those big meanies ever again. (Note: my Dad served in WWII and hated every minute of it. When I volunteered to join, he just shook his head and told me to be careful what I asked for because I just might get it. But he never whined about the tough situations he was forced to endure, and he was a wimpy high school teacher.)

It might be prudent to consider eliminating gender norming, and to start realizing that someone's desire to serve in a combat position does not guarantee his or her ability to serve in a combat position, regardless of the National Organization of Women or the Rainbow Coalition.

Often times, Special Forces and Rangers get a bad rap about "eliteness," but we understand that war is not a Nintendo game where you hit reset if you lose. (Just ask Gordon and Shugart, but you're going to have to yell because Heaven is a long way off. God bless their souls, Amen.)

While I was in the Special Forces Qualification Course, I thought that course was mostly horse poop instigated by "Defenders of the Tab." The first time I led a combat patrol with indigenous troops and ran into trouble my opinion changed. I understood that the training hadn't been nearly demanding enough. (This attitude change caused much discomfort to my future students.)

I came to realize if my patrol ran into a firefight and my M-60 gunner needed ammo, I wouldn't care if little girl boobies or little boy tally-wackers carried the ammo forward. AS LONG AS THE DAMN AMMO GOT FORWARD! If, in the middle of that firefight, some under trained and overly pampered female started whining about being tired, or, lacking upper body strength was only able to carry half the ammo forward, I would strangle her myself. But this is not anti-female-in-combat prejudice, I would also strangle some fat P.O.S. male that started wimping out.

This type of honesty doesn't go over well with the general populace or, for that matter, the Pentagon. Face it, Mommy and Daddy would never sign the enlistment forms if they knew some wild man was going to be in charge of lil' Jane or Joe. But this scenario need not come to fruition.

It is easy to avoid this type of situation:


Second, military leaders should be vocal about not tolerating compromises in mission performance dictated by lowered standards brought about by well intentioned but inexperienced individuals that come from an instant gratification society.

Third, let the women who want to serve in the combat roles earn those jobs in a fair competition, with no gender norming to in order to meet a fantasy-based quota.

Quotas that lower standards endanger every combat soldier, sailor and marine.

Quotas also cheapen the efforts and accomplishments of those women who do have the desire as well as the ability to serve in combat roles. If successfully trained and tested to THE standard, these motivated women will then serve as examples to other women. The word of their success will circulate and set an example for others to emulate. "You want the job, then you'll have to hack THE standard." Soon pride will out distance gender and the military will be filled with many legitimately tough, competent women. (God help the V.A. then)

But that time will never come if our uniformed military leaders continue to tolerate downward adjustments in physical standards in an effort meet quotas designed to satisfy the politics of political correctness. This kind of thinking is more at home in Hollywood, where Rambo is the real deal, and M-9 pistols fire 30 or 40 rounds before you need to change magazines.

Dean Wyman
Former Special Forces Medic

Closing Remarks:

Careful reading of the above shows that these two experienced men are more in agreement than in disagreement. Now look at References 1 and 2. In #1, Elaine Donnelly makes the case against gender norming. In #2, Carol Gilligan makes the case for women in combat (I think) by critiquing Gutmann's book. Note, however, that while Gillman says in her first paragraph that "Gutmann's issue is not women per se but the compromise of standards."

Unfortunately, by not analyzing the merits of Gutmann's point in her critique of that point of view, Ms. Gillman adds one more irrational voice to an irrational debate.

Maybe it is time for a little common sense.

Chuck Spinney

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