Women in the Infantry Redux: Queen of Battle


A few of years ago, when the seedling of integrating women in the infantry had been planted at about the same time I rejoined the Army, I began thinking critically about it and writing about it, mostly here on this blog. Ultimately it led to writing a three part series titled “what is the infantry” as a way of exploring whether or not it is a good idea to enact full integration. It was a strange writing experience, as I really didn’t do much research or reflection – it was mostly a stream of consciousness brain dump of what I felt at the time.

Plenty has happened since then.

While I’ve generally been in the “if she can hump the weight why not” camp, I’ve never claimed to have an absolute answer on the subject because as close as the infantry is to me (I’ve been an infantryman most of my adult life), I don’t own it. I’ve readily shared articles both for and against integration, for the readers’ consideration.

For the past couple of years, I’ve mostly retreated from the debate, mostly because it’s gotten too obnoxious, but also because I was too busy actually leading infantrymen.

The past week has seen a re-emergence of articles against the case for integration (The Best DefenseWar on the Rocks), and so I thought I’d revisit the topic to see what – if anything – has changed.

If you read through the entire “what is the infantry” piece, you’ll notice I don’t really come to a firm conclusion. I lay out what I see and what others have seen, and I kind of let it sit there.

The thing that has stuck with me upon further reflection, is the infantry as a profession is about youth. Infantrymen are young – teenagers and twenty-somethings. The everyday language of the infantryman is couched in youthful bravado and to some extent, immaturity. That’s not a knock, it’s just a reality of being young.

With that, I’m also of the mind that if women were to integrate in the infantry, the infantry would be changed, if only slightly.

One of the great takeaways I got from watching the full press conference a few weeks ago at Ranger Training Brigade (RTB), was when one of the journalists asked what value the female advisors added during the process. COL Fivecoat, the RTB commander, said that the major thing they influenced was the culture of the course. That is, the female advisors who assisted the Ranger Instructors (but didn’t grade) didn’t influence the standards of the course (which remained the same), but they did have an influence on the culture of the course. If I was to take a stab at what was meant by that, I would guess that the change in culture manifested mostly in language, as that is the means in which information is communicated. Anyone who has been in and around the infantry knows what I’m talking about, and it’s thing in which I tried to nail down in part III of “what is the infantry.”

That led me to think, what then would be the effect of integrating women in the infantry? Would the culture of the infantry also be changed?

And ultimately, would that change mean anything?

I don’t get too worked up about hard to measure pseudo-benchmarks like “unit cohesion” or “unit effectiveness.” I’ve referenced the spookiness and voodoo of the infantry before in a mostly reverential way, but I’m not sure that those things are gender specific. It just takes a special person – male or female – to want to do it.

And in the end, I have a hard time believing that as an Army we will ever lose because women are a part of the infantry, and taken further, that America will fall as a result. To prevent those things seems more a function of adequate numbers, resources, and training. That is, have enough men or women to fight, bigger and better guns, and a force trained to use them. That’s how you win. It’s unlikely, in my opinion, that this republic will fall because women serve in the infantry. And if it does, then, as my 7th grade Spanish teacher would say, “tough tidly-winks.”

When I joined the Army back in 2001, I remember scrolling through the Army’s website looking at the different jobs available. I’m not from a military family and really didn’t know much about it. When I looked at infantry, I remember seeing in paranthesis next to the the word infantry, “closed to women.” I wasn’t bothered by it, but if I’m honest and think hard, I do remember having a very slight reaction of “hmm, that’s weird,” only because for something to be outright barred to an entire gender, even at the tender age of 19, seemed strange.

Months later, under the hot Fort Benning sun, I remember shouting the “Infantryman’s Creed” at the top of my lungs. It’s a thing you say at infantry school, and it’s one of the better Army creeds. It’s supposed to capture what it means to be an infantryman, and with the sole exception of the title, it is not gender-specific. It captures a belief.

Adding women to the mix changes nothing.

I am the Infantry.
I am my country’s strength in war.
Her deterrent in peace.
I am the heart of the fight…
wherever, whenever.
I carry America’s faith and honor
against her enemies.
I am the Queen of Battle.
I am what my country expects me to be…
the best trained soldier in the world.
In the race for victory
I am swift, determined, and courageous,
armed with a fierce will to win.
Never will I betray my country’s trust.
Always I fight on…
through the foe,
to the objective,
to triumph over all,
If necessary, I will fight to my death.
By my steadfast courage,
I have won more than 200 years of freedom.
I yield not to weakness,
to hunger,
to cowardice,
to fatigue,
to superior odds,
for I am mentally tough, physically strong,
and morally straight.
I forsake not…
my country,
my mission,
my comrades,
my sacred duty.
I am relentless.
I am always there,
now and forever.



The unexpected benefit of last week’s historic Ranger graduation

Shaye Haver, Kristen Griest

Only a tiny fraction of soldiers in the Army will ever attend Ranger School. Infantry officers and members of the 75th Ranger Regiment will most likely get a shot (or multiple) at going to the school. For the rest of the Army, depending on where and when you are, it can be challenging to get the opportunity to go.

And if that chance appears, it is even more challenging to get soldiers to volunteer.

Even in the infantry, where you might expect to find more eagerness, finding volunteers is not easy. The question “Who wants to go to Ranger School?” is often met with blank stares and laughs.

Everyone knows the school is challenging and “sucks,” and the idea of voluntarily thrusting yourself into that can seem anywhere from unappealing to masochistic to the soldier who already spends a lot of time away from home, deployed, training, or in various states of misery. At 30th AG at Fort Benning, where all infantrymen begin, just about everyone is committed to being an Airborne Ranger and being all they can be. Somewhere between laying on a cot at 30th AG, dreaming of what could be, and mile 23 of a loaded foot march under the hot Georgia sun, that eagerness fades away. The reality of what it means to “suck” seeps into the soldier, and the idea of what might transpire at Ranger School becomes understood.

The school carries its own mystique. In the book Black Hearts, author Jim Frederick accurately describes the deference afforded to the Ranger tab and the cult that surrounds it as “shamanistic.”

On top of that, Ranger School has always been a bit of a mystery. It’s all tales of privation, darkness, and pain. It’s about small camps in the middle of nowhere, cutoff from civilization. The high attrition rate frightens soldiers away before they ever even think about putting a packet together.

It’s certainly too early to tell for sure, but I think last week’s historic graduation might not just have an effect on whether the course ultimately opens up to women (and it’s hard to imagine how it won’t at this point), but I think there are likely a lot more men who are suddenly rethinking whether they might consider going to the school themselves.

Put simply, those who may have been frightened by the mystery or questioned their own ability are looking at Captains Griest and Hayer and thinking “Well shit, if they can do it, maybe I can do it too.”

While the past few months have been particularly embarressing in military social media in regards to the crazy, conspiratorial posts about the school, the one guy heard from another guy about lower standards posts, last week’s very transparant lead up to the graduation ceremony saw a significant change in what was being shared and discussed online. As more information emerged on what actually happened in the woods, mountains, and swamps over the past six months, the “haters” kind of faded into the background.

There was a popular image that was floating around 11872221_988415437887198_655607911683504486_oonce it was announced the two female Ranger students had passed. It essentially says that Ranger School is now a different institution. The implication was that the only way they could have possibly passed was because the standards had been lowered.

As stupid as that image was, it was actually right in one regard. Ranger School will be different. More men will now be willing to raise their hand and volunteer for the school, simply because they’ve seen that a woman can do it. It’s not misogny that’s will drive them, but the fact that female Ranger students have so much more to overcome in order to pass the course, and despite their shortcomings, two were able to do it.

The Army wants more Rangers. The school wants to graduate as many Rangers as they can. It’s good for the Army. But Ranger School will not, rightfully, lower standards to do it. The best way to effect the net number of Ranger graduates is sending more, better prepared students.

Most men self-select themselves out by never volunteering in the first place. The fact that two women have made it through removes some of the self-doubt that prevents a majority of soldiers – both combat arms and support – from ever considering volunteering.

In conversations among infantrymen, I already hear men talking about Ranger School a little differently now.

“It’s pretty motivating that they made it through. Hmm…”


Should an Infantry Platoon Leader already have a CIB before deploying?

War in 2014/2015 was very much about just trying to get outside of the wire. It wasn’t easy. In 2003, a quick check in with the CP via ICOM was enough to get you to at least leave the wall of your firebase to investigate something just outside – alone. Now, the massive CONOPs produced for a mission are sent up days and weeks in advance of SP, and scrutinized by just about everyone in the chain of command and beyond before getting the ok. To get outside of the wire feels like a victory in itself. And to engage the enemy, a blessing from above.

During this last deployment, I watched with interest as other lieutenants jockeyed to get on a mission- any mission – mostly so they could score a Combat Infantryman Badge. In other deployments, firefights were more prevalent, and entire units would get blanket CIB orders. Today, there’s a bunch of paperwork that has to get done, sworn statements, PowerPoint slides depicting the fight, and drone footage if possible. The requirements at times become forensic!

So to get to the point I led with in the post’s title, young infantry platoon leaders who didn’t have a CIB tended to position themselves however they could and within the scope of their influence to get on missions. This, in turn, usually meant a mission for the platoon or at least a part of the platoon, putting them out there and at risk. In plainspeak, the eagerness to get after it and earn combat badges acts as a significant influence on a leader’s motivation to volunteer or otherwise try to get outside of the wire and on mission.

On the other hand, as a platoon leader who already had a CIB from a prior deployment, I felt no urge to volunteer myself or the platoon for any unnecessary missions just to get us out there and perhaps have a chance at getting the award. I often wonder how my behavior might have been different if I didn’t have a CIB. Would it have resulted in me jockeying the platoon to get out more? What might have happened?

In saying all of this, I’m not putting a value judgement on whether this is a good or bad thing. Maybe we want young PLs to be trying to get out as much as possible (although I tend to think not). And even with all of the jockeying, I didn’t see any PL needlessly put his soldiers at risk for some metal – although the point of this post is to say that it is precisely that which is possible.


top search of the week

Women at USMC School of Infantry

Female Marine Infantry

Week ending October 12, 2014

It was a good week for the blog. My post 7 Underrated Military Blogs that Can’t Get No Respect got a lot of attention, which in turn pushed a lot of people to those blogs that don’t get enough love. Hopefully with the influx of new readers, they’ll start posting more.

For whatever reason, though, the top search term was ‘women at usmc school infantry.’  In the world of ‘women in the infantry,’ the recent news that would have people looking for stuff is the recent story of the three women who passed the first day of the Marine Corps Infantry School – the much vaunted Endurance Test.

Last year, when this story was hot, I posted an image gallery titled the Faceless Women of the United States Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course. I’ve always found it interesting – and a little weird – that the the images that accompany the stories always have faceless women. It’s done for privacy, and there is an agreement between the USMC and the media to not show their faces. It creates an odd effect though, of a faceless, personality-stripped female trainee. The pictures in that gallery often features a female Marine alone, or with another female, in a gloomy, cold physical trial. It’s especially weird when viewed in contrast with the Marines’ “Infantrywomen of Instagram,” having just finished the enlisted infantry course, with big bright smiles.

The picture accompanying the Washington Post article also features faceless women infantry trainees, in contrast to the exposed faces of the male trainees.



What is the Infantry(?) Redux

Rita VrataskiLast year I wrote the “What is the Infantry” essays when the topic of women in the infantry was burning hot. Those essays have been scrubbed clean and are getting a new life over at the very shiny Task and Purpose.

While I still love them in their original, stream-of-consciousness form, they do look pretty good over there.

Part I, Black Magic and Voodoo is out today. The others will be posted through the week. Check it out.