Last week, the Administration lifted the ban on women in combat. Of course, in modern warfare, there really aren’t a lot of non-combat roles. Despite the ban, 150 women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and 800 wounded while performing “non-combat” duties. Indeed, part of the pressure for this change was so that women who have already been in combat would get the appropriate benefits and pay.
But that’s a little different from having women assigned to combat roles where the intention is to engage the enemy. We may want to be careful in certain theaters (e.g., the Middle East) where women prisoners may be subject to even greater abuse than male ones. Of far more concern is this:
At a briefing Thursday morning, Pentagon officials repeatedly stressed that there will be “gender-neutral standards” for combat positions. This could make it difficult for women to qualify in roles that specifically require upper-body strength.
For example, to work in a tank, women will have to demonstrate the ability to repeatedly load 55-pound tank shells, just as men are required to do.
Infantry troops routinely carry backpacks with 60 or 70 pounds of gear, or even more. The most common injury in Afghanistan is caused by roadside bombs. This raises the question of whether a female combat soldier would be able to carry a 200-pound male colleague who has been wounded.
NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman recently reported on the first two women allowed into the Marines’ grueling 12-week Infantry Officer Course in Quantico, Va. Both women were in outstanding physical condition, yet both dropped out early in the training.
This is the rub: if we’re going to do this, the standards for roles in the military have to be set based on the role even if that means that few, if any, women qualify for those roles (or, by contrast, if women come to dominate certain roles). The Pentagon is making all the right noises now. However, I fear that, for all the resolve being shown now, those standards will be allowed to slip if women are not getting into combat roles in the numbers that various political agitators expect.