Monday, January 26, 2015

Women in the Military: Then and Now

“And there are problems that one mustn't talk about. Menstruation, for example. Women often are in pain, they want light duty, and become erratic. Having men of low social class in authority over young women inevitably results in rape or behavior close to it, usually by black men. Women don't like to squat and pee around men, which can lead to absurd behavior--see below. Thirteen men in a squad will work together as a team; add a woman and they will all compete to get into her pants. Sex erodes command authority: Once Admiral Jones gets involved with Seaman Sally, it stops being, ‘Yessir, Admiral,’ and becomes ‘But Bob....’ Would women use sex to get what they want? No, never. Perish the thought.”

 If you have read the above quote and can’t quite get a grasp of where this guy is coming from, read his entire post. Apparently, women can’t be in combat because they menstruate. Or to use Fred’s words: A few* with truculence sometimes amplified by misspelling, have demanded supporting data.” The facts support the fact that men are generally physically stronger than women. Who knew?

* Presumably women who disagree with Fred’s unsupported statements.

The response below is from a female Army vet who washed out of OCS (with stress fractures) at the age of 35, and then spent three tours in Afghanistan as a civilian advisor stationed with a British unit in Helmand Afghanistan in 2011-12, followed by a year as a civilian conducting studies under DOD contract in Kabul. Let's call her The Menstruator

Holy fuck balls! With all due respect to those in the military in 1967, do let them know it is now 2015. I'm not trying to be cheeky - his understanding of integration and women problems is seriously out of date.

Twenty-nine out of 29 failed. I am sorry to read that. I can go find you 100 men who would also wash out. 100% of women have failed, but we all [should] know that's a small sample size. He won't get an NSF grant with those sorts of stats. It's just not compelling yet. It's also flat wrong to argue that women aren't capable of the 'guy stuff' that men are. Not only am I a female who menstruates, grew up playing with dolls, and sometimes cries at bad rom-coms, I am also twice the age of the male soldiers with whom I deployed, carried half my body weight, and kept up. I also was one of two females who carried a wounded soldier to a PEDRO. I didn't even cry. I can't remember if I was menstruating at the time...

I am a crappy runner. Nevertheless, I passed all Army PT tests even to the standards for males. Of course these tests were also easier the older the soldier is. Under his logic, anyone - male or female - should be discharged (honorably?) after age 30, because apparently all that matters is the ability to run and lift things and talk about boobies and shun menstruation. One of the many reasons I thought OCS as horrifying was that I watched people earn their butter bar because they could 1) run five miles in 45 minutes, and 2) yell.

That's all one has to do to be an officer in the USA these days. I'm not kidding. I watched smart people who can actually lead and think under pressure get out, or go enlisted because they couldn't stomach the nonsense. I understand why the Army has a tradition or rewarding people who can shout (and lift heavy things) rather than real leadership much better after reading this. There is more to the combat than cardiovascular capacity! I think we'd all agree that anyone on a patrol needs to be able to carry a mate to safety if necessary, and I assure you women can do that.

I say this having been in combat. I went on over 100 combat patrols in the most dangerous Districts and Province in Afghanistan, and have been in dozens of TICs, and have been IEDed 3 times, and not only was I not a drag to the non-menstruators around me, I was a force multiplier because I can carry rounds, and send them down range just as well as the boys. In fact, the Army's insistence that long distance running was key to combat effectiveness continuously proved wrong to me. What we needed out there was the ability to carry lots and lots of stuff on our backs at a 15 min/mile pace forever, all day, for weeks on end. Women can do that just fine! Occasionally shooting prompted us to sprint with that weight for cover, and we did that fine too. I've NEVER gone on a combat patrol and jogged! More importantly for combat effectiveness is what the Army calls "resilience," meaning the ability to see bad shit and continue the mission ("Charlie, Mike"). Women and men are susceptible to combat stress, PTSD, and all that other stuff. In fact, if we're looking at numbers here (selectively), I'd point out that far more men have PTSD than women, so perhaps men aren't up for combat?

I absolutely take issue with his characterization of women "looking cute" while men lifted things. I remember in BCT once a male soldier tried to help a female soldier with something, and the DS yelled at him, and reminded us that that dog don't hunt, because downrange we're all going to need to be up for that. The DS was right, and today I'm proud to say that my Army promoted women getting their shit together and learning to pull their own weight. While the Army still links physical fitness too much with leadership, in my opinion, they are right to emphasize that part of leadership is the ability to lead from the front (hence OCS' "Follow Me" slogan), and dudes in uniform are going to be less serious if their female OIC is leading from behind. Got it. It's still all possible.

It's strange to have done three deployments with an integrated Army, and read that apparently I was using sex and threats of false rape reports to further my career. The British Army has mixed accommodations; even the "ablution blocks" were mixed sex. Guess what: we all survived, and we weren't all shagging each other as much as Fred would have us think. His opinions don't change the fact that I was integrated, and carried my own weight (literally and metaphorically). Not only have I peed in front of guys, but because Helmand is so dangerous, I had to go announce to them I wanted to pee, ask the point man to barma the area (check for IEDs), and then have them stand guard around me so I could have 30 seconds to drop trou, have a wee, and not worry about getting shot. We showered in front of each other, we did laundry together, we ate together, and we shared accommodations, and it was professional. 

There is an intimacy to living together like that, but it's often not sexual. The thing they never told me in training is that the real intimacy comes with being with someone who is about to die, or has been terribly injured. One soldier I was on patrol with stepped on an IED and suffered a traumatic amputation of both legs. I went with him to the field hospital (SOP is that the first one with the soldier accompanies the injured bloke/bird to the hospital); months later his wife emailed me to ask if I'd had an affair with her husband. My point is that of all the intimacies troops experience, the most important one is not at all sexual. Troops also had lots of sex downrange, but they kept it discreet and out of the "office". In any event, the issues we face in combat have actually little to do with our potty parts, and much to do with our maturity, and I'd prefer to see my Army focus on the important parts of resilience and leadership. Yes, sex can erode command authority, but so does sexism. Of course I would say that, I'm a girl who sucks at running.

I don't see the military as he does. It is simply a fact now that because war is so weird and unconventional that women are in combat. Often I suppose these are logistics folks taking the mail out to FOBs or something like that. In any event, let's please stop pretending there is a FLET and everything is neat, and women can be sheltered in a green zone. That world has never existed in AFG, and I suspect it hasn't in Iraq as well. Moreover, I have not seen the presence of women, people of color, or gay people erode anything we did in Helmand. I believe that to a great extent, something can only "erode command" if leadership is weak. In other words, if troops are irritated to have women (or place any group here), then command needs to step up and create an ethos and environment in which it becomes workable (CW can speak to this much more than I). Easier said than done, I know, but it would be aided by having officers who have some charisma in addition to their ability to run 5 miles in 45 minutes.

It is interesting that he said "the brass are terrified of women." I believe that to be 100% true. I felt in the USA there was a big difference in experience, backgrounds, and just plain street smarts between CPTs and below and Majors on up (and similar split among enlisted ranks based on time in). The Army has its most highly educated junior ranks it has ever had in all its time. Additionally, Field Graded cut their teeth in Desert Storm 1. With all due respect to their 72 hour war, our war kicks their war's ass. What I'm getting at is that those with more time in are more socialized to buy into the argument that change is bad, and that women/gays/blacks/etc. are going to disrupt something sacred to the esprit de corps. In contrast, those in for 10 years or less (who had done most of the fighting) are less amenable to those arguments because we grew up with women/gays/blacks/etc.

I'm not intimidated by integration. Integration of women does not threaten the military. From my perspective, what threatens the military is that we are hemorrhaging smart and battle-tested CPTs who are keen to get out and going to a world that isn't so superstitious and resistant to change. What threatens our military is that we are given power in war, and treated like children in garrison. (It's true that in CONUS I needed a "battle buddy" to go pee. I agree it's nonsense.) What threatens our military is that it punishes those who seek better ways to fight a war that is unconventional - but please don't tell the field grades and generals that we're not fighting an enemy in uniform. Better they work on devising new PT tests that even girls can pass.

Thanks for the interesting read!

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