Today we learned that the Pentagon is officially lifting the ‘ban on women in combat’ which will open up positions in the military that were once open only to men – namely combat arms jobs like infantry. I’ve written about this a lot on this blog and it’s a move I support. There are a number of reasons why I feel this way, but I can’t articulate those reasons any better than COL (Ret) Ralph Puckett, one of the founders of the modern Rangers.
From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:
Although there are many — particularly Rangers — who are vehemently opposed to opening the training to women, women will be permitted to attend. Rather than continuing to fight against the inevitable, the Army would do well to focus its attention on the steps to be taken to ensure that standards will not be lowered, and that the integration will be accomplished as smoothly, efficiently and fairly as can be.
If I were the commander (I’m not; it’s easy to say what one would do when he has no responsibility for the outcome), I would already have begun to plan for eliminating the prohibition on women attending Ranger School. I would be training and indoctrinating my staff. We would be preparing for the day when the first female student arrives.
I would make it clear (and I would continue to reiterate my position) that I have zero tolerance for harassment and fraternization.
If I had been in command for a couple of months, my soldiers would know that I mean what I say. There may be one or two violations of my policies. If there had been any doubt that I did not mean what I say, my swift, direct, strong actions would eliminate that doubt. I would expect little difficulty.
I would assign a couple of mature, experienced, respected female soldiers to my staff to advise my commanders, staff, and me. I would particularly want some senior female noncoms who fit the description.
I would make it clear to my commanders, staff and senior noncoms: “If you do not believe that you can give 100 percent effort to make this transition succeed, you need to request a transfer now.”
I would do everything in my power to make the transition from all-male to coed training go smoothly, and the integrity and value of Ranger training not be diminished. This transition affects the combat readiness of our Army and the security of our country. Significant diminution of combat effectiveness will occur if standards are not maintained.
I believe the biggest hurdle for women to overcome would be the skepticism of the men. On the other hand, it will be difficult for the females to accept being treated as equals with no deference being given to their sex.
Many — probably most — male soldiers may have difficulty in accepting the females as equals — as soldiers — and treating them in the same manner as the male soldiers. I do not believe most of the men will find that easy, especially those who have lived under the mores of the last few generations. I do not believe that the two sexes can ever look at each other without any inbred deference.
But we can do a lot better than we are doing. The most important factor in making this thing work is strong, sensitive commanders who put combat readiness first.
I believe the only step required to authorize females to attend Ranger School is for the combat exclusion rules to be eliminated. The Army would have to change the regulations governing qualification for admittance.
Standards must not be lowered. Establishing different criteria to enter or graduate would be the worst thing that could be done.
Unfortunately, I believe that the Army will lower standards. It has in the past. Take the Physical Training Test as an example. Females have to perform fewer repetitions and may run more slowly than men, yet get 100 points for the event. Females do not have to do chin-ups; they “hang.” Statistics show that women have more injuries (“stress fractures” is an example.) than men. If females undergo the same rigorous training as the men, the number of female injuries may rise to “unacceptable.” In my reading of studies and books examining what females can do and can’t do, there are examples of changing physical standards so women can meet the requirements. I strongly doubt that the Army can resist giving special consideration to females.
There could be benefits to the Army if women are accepted in Ranger School. But only if standards are maintained.
If standards are maintained and other problems minimized or eliminated, the Army will have added a pool of highly motivated, intelligent and physically outstanding individuals. They will be higher quality than some of the men who are being accepted. They will motivate the men to do their best — not to be outdone by women.
Among the biggest, if not the biggest, obstacles to making it work are those senior officers who don’t have the moral courage to refuse to knuckle under to superiors, politicians, and other influential people who may have in their minds only the advancement or protection of their personal careers.
Can it work? I think it can, if commanders and senior noncoms devote themselves to making it work. It won’t be easy.
Ralph Puckett, a Columbus resident and retired Army colonel with 22 years’ service, was honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment from 1996-2008.