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.

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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.

 

army myths

Army Myths: The way you’re supposed to wear the blue cord (infantry)

Pay day activities, uniform inspection, whatever the event, when infantrymen start putting on their dress uniform, there will always be “that guy” who insists there is a certain way that the blue cord is supposed to be worn. I’ve seen senior NCOs pinch both sides of the cord with their thumb and index finger to test for “thickness,” insisting that the “fat” side goes to the rear (or to the front, who knows). I’ve also heard others say that the loop that grasps the button is supposed to be facing a certain direction as it comes off of the cord.

This is another myth. DA 670-1 indicates how the blue cord is worn, and it’s pretty simple:

 

DA 670-1

It’s worn on the shoulder, attached to the button. No thickness, no directions. Pretty simple.

Related: turning the buttons of the Class A’s/ASUs a certain way so that the eagles on them face this or that direction in times of war. More nonsense that gets passed around from generation to generation.

soldiering

Women in the Infantry: A Reflection on The Experiences of Allied Nations

Karina

On Facebook, I noticed a couple of my friends attended an event where female infantrywomen from allied nations were talking about their experiences. Outside of Facebook, I saw nothing on it. I asked Jason Lemieux, a friend whose work and writing I admire if he would be interested in writing a guest post on the event for Carrying the Gun, to which he agreed.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that CrossFit proper has not replaced running in the Canadian Army. 

CAF’s Director of Force Health Protection has issued a Public Health Advisory against the unmodified use of CrossFit and other “Extreme Conditioning Programs” (ECPs). ECPs have been traced to several hospitalizations of CAF personnel in recent years. One case reportedly required dialysis to treat acute renal failure. 

The Directorate of Fitness, Personnel Support Programs has created a fitness program that borrows the most useful aspects of ECPs but it does not endorse CrossFit proper. From the Advisory:

ECPs, such as CrossFit®, P90x®, and Insanity®, have increased in popularity over the past few years. These programs are characterized by frequent, repetitious, high intensity exercises with very short rest periods between sets/cycles and little recovery time between workouts. Some ECPs do not encourage participants to progressively increase their workloads in an effort to allow for training adaption. CF personnel who participate may not have the requisite knowledge to properly set the required work to rest ratios to offset injury or illnesses possibly associated with ECPs. A disproportionate number of injuries such as muscle strains, sprains, stress fractures and rhabdomyolysis associated with ECPs have been cited in anecdotal reports and case studies, however, few studies have looked at the relationship between ECPs and injuries to date. (reference B)

ECPs are not endorsed by Personnel Support Programs (PSP), Directorate of Fitness (DFIT) or D FHP for reasons noted in para 4. DFIT has reviewed ECPs and has incorporated some of the recognized benefits into their physical fitness programs. To reduce the risk of injuries, DFIT has also developed a Tactical Athlete User Clinic, which educates and trains CF personnel on how to safely perform complex weight lifting techniques commonly found in ECPs (e.g., clean and squat). In addition, two courses (the Basic Fitness Training Assistant (BFTA) and the Advanced Fitness Training Assistant (AFTA)) are offered to CF personnel who are interested in leading safe and effective unit physical training. 

Of course, whether the more reckless aspects of CrossFit have caused injuries among CAF personnel needs to be analyzed separately from whether excessive distance running has also caused injuries. 

*B. Bergeron MP, Bradley CN, Deuster PA, Baumgartner N, Kane SF, Kraemer WJ et al. Consortium for health and military performance and American College of Sports Medicine consensus paper on extreme conditioning programs in military personnel. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 2011. 10:383-89.

Last week, I had the good fortune to attend a symposium on the experiences of allied nations with integration of women into combat arms units. The symposium was hosted by the Combat Integration Initiative, a joint effort of Women in International Security and SIPRI North America. Service-members of both genders from the US, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden participated. In my limited allied experience, it was a good personnel practice-sharing exercise between military allies. A few participants noted that they left the symposium with a better perspective on their own service.

For me, the symposium was as novel as it was enlightening. Even as an integration advocate, it was surreal to find myself making small talk with infantrywomen and even women infantry commanders. Much of what was expressed confirmed my pre-existing beliefs, so it’s fair to take my remarks with a grain of salt.

I’ve split this post into two sections. The first section is a far-from-comprehensive reflection on the symposium. The second section is a more detailed look at physical occupational standards, especially those of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Physical occupational standards are the latest source of contention as the US military branches prepare to implement the 24 January 2013 DoD integration policy (PDF).

Debates that are already over: Can women succeed in the combat arms?

Even without considering the experience of US servicemembers, including FET members who participated in ground combat, it is obvious that women can succeed in the combat arms. The Nordic infantry commanders seemed puzzled and maybe even a little bored with the question. “Here I am, a woman who led an infantry platoon in Afghanistan. There’s two days of this?”

I took from the symposium that the hallmarks of successful integration are maturity at all levels of the institution and a commitment to view and lead servicemembers as military professionals without consideration of gender.

A few observations in support of maturity:

  • At the individual level, the panelists used a typical military no-nonsense communication style to convey egalitarianism rather than self-importance, reason rather than bravado. They were over themselves.
  • The Swedish Marine Corps, which seems to have gone the furthest of the participating allies in creating a gender-blind force, does not distinguish between men and women in berthing assignment. Bathrooms, bedrooms, and showers are shared. People deal with it. This strikes me as the logical endpoint of integrating an expeditionary force.
  • The allied representatives had the eminently realistic view that sexual activity is both inevitable and manageable: Develop a set of ground rules and get over it.

That said, the Nordic personnel cautioned the American attendees not to overlook the cultural differences in the societies from which their militaries originated. Even with highly egalitarian values, the Nordic countries only integrated their combat arms in the last decades of the Twentieth Century. The US’ relatively elitist culture makes it all the more imperative that senior leadership accept integration as the new normal and impress upon subordinate commands that the time has come to integrate for the benefit of the military and of the country.

For the participating allies, successful integration required maturity not just at the individual or unit level but at the institutional level as well. When the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) allowed policy to follow the conclusions of valid scientific research in 1991, its physical occupational standards were overhauled. This change was presumably not without its associated cost and discomfort. In 2013, they changed the standards again, both to reflect lessons learned from Afghanistan and to incorporate new equations that reliably predicted occupational competence without respect to gender. The successful integration of women was the immediate-term goal. However, in the big picture, integration served as the impetus to create a test that truly measures occupational competence when lives are on the line. Will the US military branches follow this example?

Throughout the symposium, the duty of military professionals to evaluate fellow servicemembers solely on the basis of their occupational competence was reiterated over and over. Major John Steemann Adamsen, former infantry commander in the Danish Army, put it best: “In Iraq and Afghanistan, I never ‘led women.’ I commanded soldiers.” Women are valuable members of the combat arms team not because they bring special competencies or assets to population-centric missions (which vary by cultural context anyway) but because they perform to the same occupational standards as everyone else.

The US military personnel who spoke on the panels reported that where women were given the opportunity to perform to standard in combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, they were treated as valuable members of the team. Bryan Coughlin, a US Marine Corps infantry captain, realized that his poor experience with Female Engagement Teams (FETs) on his first deployment needed to be understood in context: he wasn’t really sure how to lead them, nor did he have the opportunity to properly employ them. On his second deployment, he was attached two FET personnel who became integral components of his infantry platoon. Yes, they went on every patrol in full gear and yes, they returned fire in contact. He is converted.

The connection between physical fitness tests and occupational standards

The relationship between physical fitness tests (PFTs) and occupational standards is especially relevant now because the US military branches are in the process of validating their occupational standards as gender-neutral to comply with DOD policy.

The acme of occupational relevance is to test personnel in the precise movements most often used in the course of their duties. Unfortunately, this becomes a logistical impossibility when applied to the many occupational components of a modern military organization. Instead, the participating allies have developed proxy tests that reliably approximate competence in one’s occupational tasks. I have decided to elaborate on the CAF’s occupational fitness test because it strikes me as an ideal legal and scientific model (and because I was not able to attend panels on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, and culture; or recruitment and retention).

It took an act of human rights law to ensure equal opportunity in the Canadian Armed Forces. In 1989, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered the CAF to open all positions to women and to ensure that any physical standard is based on a bona fide occupational requirement (BFOR). As such, the CAF PFT minimum standards are scientifically correlated to the essential tasks most likely to be performed in combat. The definitions of “essential” and “most likely” are key to understanding what makes an occupational requirement “bona fide” under human rights law:

Tasks are deemed “essential” according to the consequences that follow from failure to complete them. Essential tasks are those whose failure would result in at least one of the following:

  • Injury or death to the Canadian Armed Forces or to the general public
  • Compromise the outcome of a mission or operation
  • Cause significant damage to Crown (i.e., government) property

Unless the CAF can show that one of these three consequences is reasonably likely to occur as a result of failure to perform a task, then they cannot enforce the task as an occupational standard.

The six “most likely” occupational tasks that inform the current CAF PFT were identified from a thorough review of physically demanding tasks that CAF personnel have been historically required to perform in combat. For instance, after reviewing after action reports from Afghanistan and training exercises, Canada found that using the fireman carry to extract a wounded comrade is a nice fantasy but dragging is overwhelmingly more common (PDF).

Furthermore, in Afghanistan, vehicle extraction was required in 45% of CAF casualty evacuations. Since it is impractical to use vehicles in routine physical fitness tests, Canadian researchers developed a composite test that combined a casualty drag, grip test, and static squat test to strongly predict the ability to extract a casualty through a vehicle hatch. By limiting occupational requirements to essential and most likely tasks, the CAF kept those requirements grounded in the realm of the reasonable and empirical as matters of life and death should be.

The CAF occupational standards are also informed by the legal Duty to Accommodate, which states that Canadian employers must provide employees the leeway to complete occupational tasks with work methods to which they are individually suited. In other words, for the purpose of placing a heavy box on a high shelf, it is not the business of the CAF to dictate that a soldier favors the use of his/her arms or hips or legs. Their only business is whether the box makes it atop the shelf. (There’s a lesson here for the US Army, who recently found that despite a relative lack of upper body strength, women were able to load heavy objects by emphasizing their hips and core in the lifting movement.)

Initial research found that for some occupational tasks, the average servicewoman did not need to be able to complete as many pushups or situps as the average serviceman to complete the task. This is probably a cultural artifact: men enter the military with more experience in pushups and situps but these exercises are not especially relevant to combat. From 1991 to 2013, the CAF PFT reflected this finding, leading to perceptions of gender bias when the test was actually gender-neutral in terms of occupational outcome.

After another round of research in 2013, CAF instituted the FORCE program, which uses four exercises that simulate real-world combat movements closely enough to reliably predict performance in the six most likely occupational tasks without respect to the cultural artifacts of gender. Of the four exercises—sandbag lift, intermittent loaded shuttles, 20-meter rushes, and sandbag drag—women tend to have the most trouble with 20-meter rushes and the drag but over 90% of women are passing these events as of April 16, 2014.*

There are some interesting differences in the Nordic physical fitness standards (PDF which may be outdated in places). The Danish and Swedish PFTs are gender-blind, though perhaps not as predictive of occupational performance as CAF’s FORCE program. Both countries’ minimum PFT standards vary by occupational specialty, which in my opinion is their primary advantage over the FORCE program. According to Captain Nina Sofie Berg, a Norwegian infantry commander, Norway is looking into a similar system. Norway has separate PFT standards for men and women but its combat training standards are gender-blind. Also, in Denmark, platoons pass or fail the PFT as a unit. The intended lesson is that leadership and teamwork are necessary for success.

(More foreign nation military gender research can be found here.)

It was refreshing to see such transparent empiricism. It remains to be seen if the US military branches’ integration efforts will compare favorably. The US Marine Corps plan seems to be to correlate performance in occupational tasks to its existing physical fitness test—pullups, crunches, and a three mile run—and combat fitness test, which includes the historically irrelevant fireman carry, by Fall 2013 to “develop a physical screening test for MOS classification.” It is not clear whether the Marine Corps examined the value of these exercises as strong gender-neutral predictors of occupational performance but so far there is no indication that the Corps plans to modify or replace any of them.

On a related note, the US military community’s concern for women’s pullup strength seems out of proportion to the unique demands of combat. In the participating allied countries, upper body strength is measured with a more diverse set of exercises and in a smaller proportion to the rest of the PFT. Corporal Malin Tilfors, a female Combat Craft Driver in the Swedish Marine Corps, noted that the ability to stay awake without eating for days at a time has played a much larger role than upper body strength in her combat training. Either way, she meets the standard.

In closing, whatever was believed about women’s deficiencies in centuries past, it is now known that they can thrive as members of combat arms and infantry units. We should not be swayed by unfalsifiable assertions to the contrary. In particular, we should unequivocally reject attempts to turn this discussion of civil rights and military professionalism into an amateuristic contest of status that substitutes combat arms experience for scientific and historical literacy.

As a public institution, the US military has an obligation to honor the values of US society. We can do better than discriminating in employment opportunity on the mere basis of the circumstances of one’s birth. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s historic decision to overturn the 1994 combat exclusion policy was the right call, and the military branches should implement this policy intelligently and in good faith.

*Even before the FORCE program, the Canadian army PFT dispensed with irrelevant distance running in favor of a forced march. According to Colonel Jennie Carignan, stress injuries became less common and performance increased when some of the running in army physical training was replaced with CrossFit.

Jason Lemieux served five years in the US Marine Corps infantry and three tours in Iraq. He is currently a Policy Fellow with the Service Women’s Action Network. Jason blogs at Jasonlemieux.com. The views expressed here are his own.

infantry

Two (More) Academic Articles on Women in the Infantry

untitled_by_liarafemshep-d6w7599A reader of the blog sent me on a hunt for two (more) academic articles on women in the infantry, or, women in combat arms more generally. The two articles are “Breaking the Kevlar Ceiling” by Major Jacqueline Escobar and “Why Can’t Anything Be Done?” by Dr. W.J. Gregor.

The articles are worth reading in their entirety – but they are not really shedding anything new on the discourse. This is a topic that has been beaten beyond death. And anything we really ever needed to know was laid out twenty years by COL(R) John Ripley.

However, I’ll attempt to boil these articles down to their thesis’ below.

Major Escobar makes the case that getting more women into the top positions of the Army and military is critical to ensuring that we make the best strategic decisions possible. Her evidence comes from studies on corporate America where it was determined that achieving a “critical mass” of women in the boardroom creates a “fundamental change in the boardroom and enhance[s] corporate governance.” She demonstrates that although the top positions in the military aren’t necessarily coded to combat arms, the historical norm has been that those top positions are traditionally filled by combat arms officers. Thus, allowing women to serve in combat arms would by extension lead to more female combat arms officers and eventually more women generals in the top positions, finally leading to a “fundamental change in the boardroom” and an “enhanced corporate governance.”

Escobar also makes an argument that another reason female officers are not making it to the top ranks is because many of them choose to get out at or before the field grade level. Part of the reason, she says, is because they know that in the current system, the chances of them achieving the highest positions in the military are slim given the current restraints (top positions being traditionally reserved for combat arms guys, for example).

It needs to be stated that Dr. Gregor is linked to the Center for Military Readiness, which is a non-profit that has opposed the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell’ and often publishes articles against integration of combat arms. That is to say, they have an agenda. Dr. Gregor’s article is lightly colored with the bias of someone out to prove his hypothesis out of political spite rather than allowing the data to speak for itself (he writes about the “Democrat Congress” and targets “those who are committed to making the Army look right”). That said, where the paper is coming from shouldn’t discourage you from reading it. Data is data, and there is value in reaping from multiple perspectives.

It’s tough to plow through because he builds the case slowly and over arguments you’ve no doubt read about time and time again. For the patient reader, there is value in sloughing through, though. Dr. Gregor argues through the presentation of physical fitness data that women simply are not cut out for the tough work of combat arms. The graphs he presents are convincing, showing that even the top performing females just barely reach nod-worthy standards in the male category.

Interestingly, Dr. Gregor does not make the argument that because so few women would be able to meet the male standards (in this case, on the APFT) that we should not integrate combat arms. Instead of making that argument, he argues instead that if we were to maintain current standards (which it is likely we will) than given the data, very few women will ascend into combat arms, and that of those who do, they will be at a severe handicap because of the built-in limitations of their gender which will further hinder them as they are rated against their peers – mostly males. Thus, fewer women will ascend the ranks to get into the “boardroom” as Escobar argues because there will be so few that make it through the brutal combat arms gauntlet.

It’s an interesting argument, a kind of “be careful what you wish for” argument. Of course, the great fear is that “standards” may change to allow more women in, at the risk of military readiness and performance. Then, you would have more women making it to the “boardroom” of a force that looks different than it does now. Better? I don’t know.

The two articles interplay well with one another, and I thank the reader who sent me to them.

Aside from the ominous forecasting, I’m of the belief that writers on this topic truly do want to see a military that is better than before, and their passion pours onto the page when they write about it. For various reasons, that passion often comes out as either vehemently opposed to integration or fanatically in support of it.

Again, I think the key question that we aren’t asking is ‘what is the infantry?‘ Or rather, what do we want to the infantry to be? Has it changed? Should it change?

I think there is a disconnect out there in what people think the infantry is (or want it to be) versus what it actually is. Most people (meaning, outsiders) think the infantry is something between what it actually is (close with and destroy the enemy) and special forces (hearts and minds). That force – which doesn’t exist – is filled with older, exceptionally fit, super smart men and women.

So, go read the articles and be informed.

infantry

Two Academic Articles on Women in the Infantry

Female Commander Shepard

I’ve been reading, writing, and thinking a lot about women in the infantry the past few weeks. Well, the past year, really, but more so in the past couple of weeks. Soren’s blog post from last week is attracting tons of visitors and people are commenting and sending me things to read.

I’ve had two academic articles about the fighting woman open in my browser for a few days waiting for me to get to them. I finally read them this week and wanted to share them here.

The first was sent to me by friend of the blog Kayla Williams (who incidentally is referenced in the other piece I’ll get to in a moment). It’s called “Fighting and Winning Like Women” by Dr. Robert Hill. It’s in the November-December edition of Military Review.

There was a time not too long ago when I would whole-heartedly recommend anything written on the subject because there wasn’t much out there that talked about why women should be integrated into combat arms or why it was a good thing, or in this case, inevitable. I just couldn’t get into this piece though. It is short, but it’s not really saying anything new. It’s a rehash of the same things that Soren said, but less digestible. There are lots of references to things famous people have said, a reminder not to lower standards, and for leaders to lead. Other than that, there really isn’t much there.

The second piece comes from the summer 2013 issue of Parameters. It’s called “Women in Battle: The Female Soldier” by Anthony King, a professor at the University of Exeter. King’s article is more academic than Hill’s, which is refreshing in a field that is stuffed with gross anecdotes from current or ex-infantrymen. In the piece, King argues that the integration of women in the Armed Forces has been an overall success and is due to the professional ethic of the all-volunteer force. He concedes that full integration into the infantry will be difficult, however, because of the likely very few women who will be able to make it.

 Indeed, for Kanter, a female workforce of 15 percent or less constitutes not even a genuine minority but merely a token.

King’s thesis shines brightest when it introduces studies from other fields, in this case gender studies and sociology. He notes that in studies of the business world, a workforce comprising 15% women (like the military) does not even constitute a minority, but merely a token. Breaking cultural norms long established would be extremely difficult at best when the sight of a female soldier is a “token” event.

In the course of a narrative ostensibly dedicated to extolling brotherly cohesion, Sergeant O’Byrne (one of the central figures in Junger’s account) made a surprising admission. Rather than expatiating on his soldiers’ love for each other, he observed: “There are guys in the platoon who straight up hate each other.” Yet O’Byrne noted a paradox: “But they would also die for each other. So you kind of have to ask, ‘How much could I really hate the guy?’”

King also makes the best argument I’ve seen against the idea that integrating women into the infantry will weaken the force because of disruptions to male bonding. In his section titled “Professionalized Cohesion” he makes the case that soldiers guided by a professional ethic to accomplish the mission would unlikely have any issue with an infantrywomen so long as she could do her job. He discusses examples where units are able to accomplish the mission even if they don’t know each other, based on common knowledge acquired through standardized training. Anyone who has been through an Army school knows that this is true. You get thrown in with a bunch of people you don’t know, someone is in put in charge, and you get to work. There are always initial pains as the dust settles, but it usually doesn’t take long to start operating on high. Success doesn’t come from being buddies with the men, but rather trusting in the competence of them.

There might be something worth exploring further on the topic of ‘brotherly love’ in combat arms. By the end of our year in Iraq, our platoon was sick of each other. Even my best buddy and I went through ups and downs. But as a fighting force, we were tight and trusted one another.

Implied in cementing that trust, of course, is maintaining current standards for ascension and tough training at the unit in order to preserve that confidence.

King also references two friends of the blog in his research, Kayla Williams who wrote Love My Rifle More Than You (which I reviewed earlier this year) and Jason Christopher Hartley who wrote Just Another Soldier (the last book I read before going to OCS – still owe a review!). Kayla’s book is probably the best primer on what it feels like to be a woman in the modern military and at war. Jason’s book is a great way to get into the mind on an infantryman – it’s about so much more than pulling the trigger. In Jason’s book, he makes a case against women in the infantry because of sex (something I alluded to as well in What is the Infantry – Part III). I know Jason, and I know that his thoughts on the subject have changed. It would be interesting to know what he thinks about his book being used in a article about women in the infantry and being cited as a critic of it (well, what do you think, Jason?).

I suspect that we’ll see even more academic articles on this subject next year, as we’re still only warming up to 2015 when the other foot is supposed to drop. I’ve been contacted by a few academics in the past year asking permission to cite things I’ve written on the subject so I imagine there is a horde of passionate college students ready to prove whatever it is they set out to prove regarding women in the infantry.

This is a good thing, because I for one am tired of reading about women in the infantry from male infantrymen.

infantry

How to Lead Infantrywomen in Combat

One of the author's soldiers, 'Karina,' during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.

One of the author’s soldiers, ‘Karina,’ during a deployment to Afghanistan in 2009.

This is a guest post from friend of the blog Soren Sjogren, a Danish Army Officer who has led a mixed-gender infantry unit in combat.

Leading women in combat

Whether women are eligible to serve in combat units in the US is no longer a discussion. The first women have already passed basic infantry training and American junior officers will soon face the challenges of leading mixed units.

As a Danish army officer I have led mixed platoon-size combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here is what I have learned about leading women in combat.

Do not focus on gender

Gender is not important. Ethnicity is not important either. What is important, however, is this simple question: Does this person deliver the results expected as a part of the team? The only standards to measure are the soldiers’ ability to do their job. Do not focus on anything else.

Measure your soldiers by the same standard

Make sure you measure your troops by the same standard. The idea that women have to prove themselves more worthy than the males by making tougher demands on them is just as wrong as the opposite – lessening standards in an attempt to stuff more women into the unit. Remember: It can never be an objective to have a specific number of women in a given unit. The objective is to train and maintain a fighting force able to carry out its tasks.

Protect your unit from attention

Along with arrival of the first women in your unit comes a lot of attention. Imagine the interest of the media in the first mixed unit deployed in combat. All sorts of commentators might have an interest in the women in your unit in order to use them to promote a specific cause. Higher command might have an interest in telling the success story of women in combat.

Say no, politely. Your job as a leader is to protect your unit and focus on the mission. The women in your unit are there for the same reasons as the men: to prove themselves and serve their country. They did not become soldiers to attract the attention of the press, commentators, or higher command because of their gender.

Never accept sexism

Words have the power to move and to transform us. Never use nor allow language that implies negativity related to gender. An innocent joke about women’s lack of ability to do something or implying that it is OK to use gender as an explanation is the first step down the wrong path.

Do not go there yourself, and strike down hard on any approach to sexism.

Allow women to be women

There is no such thing as a stereotypical infantry soldier. Dark, light, big or small – the only thing that matters is that you are able to do the job. You do not need to transform women and make them more ‘manly’ in order to serve.

Allow them to be women as long as they do their job. Just as you allow the rest of your soldiers to be the individuals they are.

A final word

In the Danish army women are still a minority, even more so in combat units. Few women make it into the infantry. The average woman certainly will not.

But neither would the average man. The point is that we are looking for people who can get the job done. Gender regardless.

Focus on the task. Focus on the standards of the field manuals. Focus on your unit’s ability to capture the objective or to hold the ground. That is all there is.

soldiering

The Infantrywomen of Instagram #inyourface

women_itb

What a day for military women!

Yesterday was a day where that ugly topic, women in the infantry, reared its head again and for some reason was all over the place. It’s one of my favorite subjects because it is about so much more than just women in the infantry. It’s an exhausting, emotional topic and I’ve been happy not having to write about it for awhile.

But here we are again.

As it has been reported, the four women pictured above will likely be the first four women to complete the United States Marine Corps infantry course. A milestone day, and more on the picture in a bit.

On the same day that this photo and story emerges, I also read an article in the Washington Times titled “The feminist campaign to make weaklings of America’s warriors,” an article in Politico that suggests that as the Army moves closer to integrating combat arms, it would “behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy,” and a blog written on Ranger Up’s Rhino Den asking “Where is the Army I Joined” in which the author rants about the impending implosion of the Army, mostly because of women.

What all of this says to me is that on a day where four women have done it – they’ve proven that they can do it, the running line is still that they are here to make us weaker, destroy our Army, and it would be in everyones best interest if they weren’t attractive.

As I’ve written about extensively, women in the infantry is a topic that I am conflicted about. But that conflict doesn’t stop me from responding to false narratives, bad ideas, or poor arguments.

Now as I learned the last time I responded to a piece in the Washington Times, they often retain a strong bias when it comes to military issues. This article was no different. In a nutshell, it argues that the military can’t have it both ways, as in, it can’t say that it wants to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the military (making women victims) while also trying to push women into combat arms (making women warriors). The hidden claim is that there is some mystical male sexual power that is a necessary thing for combat, and that by letting women into the show, that power will be diminished or destroyed(!). I wrote about sex in the infantry, and it made a lot more sense when I wrote it.

Most of the article is complete nonsense, a stringing together of old tropes and anti-feminist fears. I’m not even going to do it the favor of fisking it. I will say this, though. His central claim, that there is this hidden feminist cabal that has an agenda and in their crosshairs is the infantry as an object of hate, is a theory I have heard quietly whispered in hallways before. I have no idea where this is coming from, but there are people out there that believe it is a real thing, and if they were reading this paragraph right now, would scoff at me and say I am being naive.

The Politico piece which reports on an email shared with them recommends we showcase “average looking women” in strategic communications because pictures featuring pretty women often undermine the message. As friend of the blog Kayla Williams said on her book’s Facebook page: “Army guidance on pics of women inarticulate but not misguided – more images with mud/camo instead of mascara = good.” As in, we all know what was said in the email is true, but it feels bad hearing it. When we see a picture featuring an attractive female soldier, it undermines the message mostly because we’re all very immature. The email looks bad but the message is correct. What’s sad, is that we’re still at a point where we have to say these things – pick ugly women so they’ll be taken seriously. We’re still cavemen: There Are No Girls With Good Personalities.

Now the Rhino Den piece. Ugh. I like Ranger Up, but I feel like that as their brand matures, I expect more from them. For every great Rhino Den article, there are three or four that ride the line of racist or misogynist. I’ve always enjoyed the “barracks” level stuff that comes out of there, but to keep this in military terms, the Rhino Den isn’t a Private anymore. It’s a First Sergeant now, and First Sergeants can’t get in front of the formation and say some of this shit (or at least, they shouldn’t).

The piece is a mostly rage-fueled anecdotal trek into why one soldier believes his Army is falling apart, and it has mostly to do with women and his belief that the top generals are only interested in pleasing their political masters who have grand schemes for reshaping the military. It’s a sad article, and I am sad that it’s on the Rhino Den, where I imagine thousands of people will read it.

I could go line by line and show what’s wrong with the article, but that would be tedious and boring. I’ll just leave this here to give you a taste. You can click the link if you actually want to read the whole thing:

I wish that was a stand-alone incident, but the more time I’ve spent in the Army has taught me that this actually happens to be the norm. The vast majority of female soldiers I have encountered think it’s some sort of game and view the Army as a playground for them. Despite what anybody says, the Army is very much still male-dominated, and rather than aspire to show they can do what the males do, the average Army female adopts that playground mentality and engage in a variety of unprofessional conduct, the most common being flirting and sometimes sleeping with upper ranks. A female E-4 I encountered during in-processing to my first duty station had told me stories of sleeping with lieutenants and captains and her philosophy was that rank only applied on duty.

With that out of the way, I can go back to the good news story of the day, the four women in the picture.

What I love about that picture is that I feel like I can see what they’re feeling. Knowing that they are finishing up their infantry course and are near graduation, I can see the relief and exhaustion in their faces – that feeling of completing something hard. They are clean for the first time in probably over a week. They watched the dirt flow into the drain and felt that simple satisfaction of stepping out of a hot shower for the first time in a while and smelling good. Their smiles show the happiness of achieving something great, and I know their minds are fantasizing about the things they are going to eat that they couldn’t while they trained and the things they will buy with the money saved up while in the field.

It is a picture I’ve seen hundreds of times of young infantrymen near graduation day, happy and ready for the big adventure. They are the greatest pictures and they make me happy. #nofilter

What a day for the military!

infantry

EIB Week: Complete

EIB

EIB Week: The Expert Infantryman Badge – Introduction.

EIB Week: “Expert” vs. “Combat” Infantryman Badge – Which is more important?

EIB Week: Is the EIB the “mark” of the infantryman? – Well? Is it?

EIB Week: Where/When did you get your EIB? Because, that’s super-important. – I got the last hard EIB.

EIB Week: Camp EIB vs. Camp Ranger – A cosmic struggle.

EIB Week: One final thought – Just sayin’.