The only Navy SEAL in Congress says that the Obama administration’s push to put women into the infantry imperils the effectiveness of the military.
Rep. Ryan Zinke (R., Mont.), a retired Navy commander, had harsh words for the White House’s plan to integrate women into combat roles, saying that it ignored empirical evidence provided by the Marine Corps, which spent millions on the most extensive experiment of female infantry. The results of that experiment prompted Marine leaders to ask for an exemption for infantry units, while opening up artillery roles to women. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus rejected that request.
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"The Marine’s study did the best of the services and it was thrown out to satisfy Ray Mabus' agenda," Zinke said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon. "Mabus went out there and talked equal opportunity—OK, valid. He never said anything about mission effectiveness."
The Marine study found that women were more than twice as likely to suffer injuries than their male counterparts and all-male units outperformed co-ed ones on nearly every metric. Zinke said the Pentagon should prioritize effectiveness above all else when evaluating such a vast cultural shift.
"I'm a mission-first guy. You have to have the right team, and everyone has a role to play," he said. "You need the right people in the right roles. Victory should be the top priority."
Zinke was a member of SEAL Team 6, America’s elite counterterrorism unit, and commanded more than 3,500 special operations personnel in the War on Terror. He received two bronze stars over the course of a career that spanned more than 20 years. Zinke, whose daughter is a Navy diver, said that women are capable of excelling in nearly every job in the military.
Zinke draws the line at the infantry, saying it is a different area that is unforgiving of even slight disadvantages. An overwhelming majority of special operations forces opposed the idea of integrating women into their teams, though they have long worked with women through cultural support teams, which accompany special operators on missions to gather intelligence and work with Afghan women on the ground.
"They do great work and are very professional, but that doesn’t mean they should be the ones kicking in doors or clearing a room," Zinke said. "Not everyone is going to be a lineman and that’s alright. You need wide receivers, too."
The role of women in the military has become an issue on the campaign trail in recent days. Zinke and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.), a Marine veteran, introduced legislation to force women to register for selective service. That bill was designed to be a "poison pill"—legislation meant to fail—to point out the unpopularity of the concept.
ABC News moderator Martha Raddatz asked the GOP field if they would support including women in a future draft at Saturday’s debate. Presidential hopefuls Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) endorsed the idea. Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) criticized the idea of drafting women as "nuts" at a New Hampshire event on Sunday.
Zinke is not worried that a draft will occur in the near future, but opposes the political push to require young women to register for the draft. Still, he is confident that any Republican president would staff the Pentagon with military and civilian leaders concerned with effectiveness rather than identity politics and pet causes like forcing a co-ed infantry upon the Marines.
"I don’t think you’ll have to worry about anyone ignoring the advice of their generals. We’re concerned about the mission and giving our team what they need to win," Zinke said.