Even among those who disagree about the issue of opening ground combat arms jobs to women in the military, I have found that there is a general consensus on one key point: That physical standards should not be lowered in pursuit of gender integration. Weakening standards in the pursuit of social justice would endanger troops and render meaningless the accomplishment of those women who would potentially serve in ground combat units. In a way, this consensus is very American: Equality of opportunity and a fair shot for all. Keep the standards high, as they’ve always been, and let the chips fall where they may.
The Department of Defense disagrees.
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This may seem shocking, but consider the following Defense News interview with Juliet Beyler, director of officer and enlisted personnel management for the DOD and a retired Marine officer. Beyler is described as the "point person" of the Pentagon’s effort to open jobs to women and, in the middle of the interview, without any apparent shame or concern about what she is describing, details a systematic and elaborate effort to weaken standards in order to ensure that more women will be able to serve in ground combat arms jobs.
Of course, this is not the language that she uses. Her dialect—heartbreakingly, considering that she was a Marine for 23 years—is a dense bureaucratese that could not be improved upon by the villains of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. It is a mix of euphemism and circumlocution, with grace notes of outright dishonesty. According to Beyler, standards are not being lowered. Not at all! Instead, the services have been directed by the secretary of defense to "make sure that [standards] are correct and relevant." The services were told to "validate" their standards in order to "make sure that they're current" and "reflective of what we do today" and "operationally relevant."
In practice, this means lowering the standards. Indeed, Beyler goes as far as to joke that the traditional standard that an airborne infantryman needs to be able to carry a 45-pound pack has nothing to do with being a soldier, and agrees with her interviewer that it is a mere "historical quirk."
It is a tribute to how thick the bubble in the Obama administration's Pentagon is, that Beyler believes that her answer is anything other than a shocking and disturbing line of thought. The notion that the 45-pound pack is simply a historical anachronism to do with parachute technology is self-evident nonsense. If anything, 45 pounds is an alarmingly low standard for airborne infantrymen in training, inasmuch as the average infantryman in Afghanistan carried substantially more weight than that on a daily patrol, not to mention encountering emergency circumstances like having to rescue wounded comrades who, with gear, can weigh well in excess of 200 pounds (this in addition to what the rescuing soldier is already carrying—which must still be worn during the rescue!) Granted, not every graduate of the school goes into the infantry, but training such servicemen is the institution's primary task.
Virtually overnight, the political leadership of the military has gutted the basic premise of ground combat training from the time of the Roman legions on. Considering the cruel and unforgiving realities of the battlefield, combat units have designed their training according to the following principle: How tough can we make it, while still filling our ranks with the required numbers? Now this has been replaced by the current administration with a different principle: How weak can we make it, so as to achieve a goal of social inclusivity, while still standing a chance on the battlefield?
The Pentagon knows that if historical standards are maintained, then very few women will be able to meet them. Thus this review, which has nothing to do with producing the most effective military units possible, and everything to do with figuring out ways to shoehorn physically unqualified women into ground combat units.
But the DOD can’t say publicly that this is what they are doing. Hence the nonsense language about "validating" standards, as though there was a need for such a review absent the political demand to introduce women into these units. For those that protest that the review is fair, we should all be interested in hearing them describe which standards the study reveals are too low and ought to be raised. In response: Crickets.
Beyler graduates from euphemism to—depending on your level of generosity—total error or outright dishonesty when asked about the differences between dedicated ground combat units and support units that do, from time to time, find themselves in contact with the enemy. Women have been serving honorably in these support units for some time, as did Beyler—after service as a Korean linguist and intelligence analyst, she got a commission and became a combat engineer.
Beyler’s biography does not reveal whether or not she personally saw combat as a mid-grade engineering officer during her tours in Iraq, though she implies that she did by allowing her interviewer’s statement that she has "that experience" to stand. Regardless, she believes that the differences between support units—say, logistics convoys—and units like the infantry have largely disappeared.
That there are "no clear front and rear lines" is a rhetorical dodge of enormous proportions. It is true that in counterinsurgencies like Iraq and Afghanistan support units were more likely to find themselves in contact with the enemy than in a conventional campaign. But what does a (for example) supply convoy do when it—from time to time—gets attacked? It looks to break contact and continue with its mission. Killing the enemy is not its primary concern. Getting the supplies to their destination is. The mindset, and requirements, of that unit are entirely different from (for example) a light infantry platoon, which wakes up every morning, straps on up way more than 45 pounds per man, and goes—often on foot—in search of the enemy, to kill them by fire and, if necessary, close combat. Consider the following passage from Jim Webb’s classic Vietnam novel Fields of Fire about an infantry company setting out on a movement:
They poured in trickles from the tents until, in minutes, the road became a teeming teenage wasteland. They were fully burdened. Packs bulged on each back as if every man carried a fat, hidden papoose. Men were strapped with three and four bandoleers of ammunition, and counterstrapped with thin cylinders of LAAWs. One in four carried a heavy square bag containing a claymore mine. Machine-gun teams sported boxes upon boxes of ammo on long green straps. Mortarmen carried tubes and base plates and packboards laced with ominous, dull-green mortar rounds, looking like small, fin-tailed bombs.
I can report that, as of my last year in the infantry—2011—virtually nothing about the above had changed, right down to the claymores and the LAAW rockets (which have in many cases been replaced by a larger, heavier rocket called the AT-4). Moreover, the mindset of such units has not changed. They are heading into an inherently uncertain enterprise—trying to take the lives of other well-trained, well-armed, serious men who are working just as hard to kill them first. If they are to survive, their training needs to be physically and mentally crushing. It needs to be unfair, because the battlefield is unfair.
It is profoundly depressing that it needs to be said, as though there were a dispute, that their training must be designed with higher-than-necessary standards—not lower standards masquerading as "updated" norms—if these servicemen are going to win and stay alive.
The services owe their final recommendations to the secretary of defense on this issue by the end of 2015. Watch Beyler’s full interview below, and you will see that it is quite clear what they are expected to recommend. This is a matter of the utmost seriousness for anyone who cares about those who serve in the military. If they are allowed to lower standards, politically motivated bureaucrats like Beyler are quite literally going to get a lot of American servicemen killed.