“Gender-Neutralizing” Call of Duty

Female Call of Duty

I’ve never been a big fan of the Call of Duty series. Not because it’s bad, but because I just haven’t really played it. I am completely aware, however, of its reach and popularity with the gaming public generally and the military gaming community specifically.

That’s why I found it interesting when it was revealed that the next generation of Call of Duty games will include playable female characters in what is considered to be one of the more “realistic” combat shooters. As an aside, if you want an “ultra-realistic” version of combat, try this. Or at best, play Mass Effect.

I assumed that the decision to include female fighters was Infinity Ward’s way of responding to the rescission of the combat-exclusion policy, or the recent test runs by the USMC to start allowing women to try out for infantry.

Turns out, the reason was actually technological.

Apparently, the game engine has to work overtime if there are different “models” being drawn onto the screen at a given time. If there are only “male models” then the processing power is less. Adding “female models” eats up double the processing power.

Well, it looks like they figured out how to address that and now women and men can kill each other without slowing things down. Additionally, the developers ensured that even given the female character’s slighter frame and size, there is no competitive advantage to choosing to play as a female.

“Even on the female characters, we can’t make them smaller,” Rubin said. “They have to have gear on them that makes them the same size as male players. We need to be fair. It has to be fair from a gameplay standpoint.” As a result, the female soldiers may appear to have slightly differently-shaped bodies, but the areas that count as their bodies as far as the game’s bullets are concerned will be the same shape as men’s. “They might look differently, but they’ll fill the same area so that your hit-boxes aren’t out of whack.”

In other words, Infinity Ward found a way of integrating women into the virtual combat arms of Call of Duty without changing the standards.

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A good article on the 10th Mountain in Afghanistan that gets so much wrong

Saw this article from the Washington Post making the rounds a couple of days ago: In Afghanistan, redeployed U.S. soldiers still coping with demons of post-traumatic stress. It’s about soldiers in the 10th Mountain Division who are currently fighting in Afghanistan. Not sure why I decided to read it – I think someone said it was an important article so I jumped in.

It’s a good article, but one of two things are happening here: either the journalist doesn’t understand the nature of the modern, all-volunteer military (doubtful), or he’s taking advantage of the fact that most Americans certainly don’t.

They have served as many as seven combat tours each, with the accompanying traumas â€” pulling a friend’s body from a charred vehicle, watching a rocket tear through a nearby barracks, learning from e-mail that a marriage was falling apart.

But a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder is not a barrier to being redeployed. Not when the Army needs its most experienced soldiers to wrap up the war. Instead, the Army is trying to answer a new question: Who is resilient enough to return to Afghanistan, in spite of the demons they are still fighting?

The first paragraph is catching. Seven deployments! That’s pretty incredible, and probably unfathomable for someone reading this who has not served in the past ten years. It’s incredible to me – as someone who has served!

But it is the second paragraph that had me leaning in and wondering where this article was going. Not when the Army needs its most experienced soldiers to wrap up the war. What is he talking about there? That sentence is making it seem like these men were forced to go overseas, specially selected, when they certainly were not. Stop-loss as a policy has ended. These men chose to stay in the Army, which is admirable. They are not victims of the Army preying on their war experience to close this thing out. The Army is not having any problems recruiting or retaining its soldiers. These soldiers chose this, proudly.

The author then goes on to list some soldiers and the problems they faced upon redeploying from previous tours. All good stuff.

Later, he writes this:

His commanders and his subordinates said Borce is an impeccable leader, the kind of soldier his unit needs here in Ghazni province. He was chosen to redeploy. He followed orders. But he acknowledges that he was still reckoning with what he had already been through, even as he boarded the plane for Afghanistan in January.

Chosen? Again, this line makes it seem like the Army singled him out, which the article is not substantiating. It appears that Borce wanted to go, despite dealing with readjustment issues. The Army “chose” the 10th Mountain Division, of which Borce was a member. That is all.

Further on, he writes this:

“The mentality was that you had to be hard. There was no concern for behavioral health, even though at the time I had a lot of issues,” he said. “Some of the stuff I saw really messed me up.”

That mentality has changed, he said, and for plenty of reasons. Last year there were 349 suicides among active-duty U.S. troops, more than the 295 Americans who died last year in Afghanistan.

I’m pretty sure that this was the line that compelled me to write this down and make sure I responded to this here. It was just a few weeks ago that a study came out confirming that deployment factors are not related to the spike in military suicides. If you didn’t know that, you would probably buy in to the popular narrative that deployments are related to the military’s suicide problem – which the studies show is not the case.

Lots of people like to write about the “veteran as victim” narrative and the civilian-military divide. While there was some good stuff in this article, I got the sense that it painted the soldiers in this story as victims of their own professionalism. They are professional soldiers, capable of coping with multiple deployments – that is a good thing, and worth writing about. The style and juxtaposing though, hints at things that don’t exist, and to me, that does nothing to inform the public of the reality of what is going on with their military, but rather only reinforces tired old narratives that don’t want to die.

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Heavy vs. Light Infantry (and what the hell is a ‘Dragoon’ anyway?)

Standing at the position of ‘parade rest’ at the 30th Adjutant General Reception Battalion at Fort Benning, Georgia, my eyes flitted left and right to steal glances of the plaques bolted to the walls. They were there for me to read, weren’t they? Each plaque had a unit name and patch on it and a short snippet about them.

82nd Airborne Division (Light)

25th Infantry Division (Light)

3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized)

It was supposed to be motivating, I thought. Here are all the different places I could go after I finish my infantry training. I was 19, and didn’t know shit about shit.

It was clear from the very beginning that the “light” units were the cool units to go to. Light, I assumed, was a reference to the combat load that individual soldiers carried. A paratrooper in the 82nd could fight better because he carried less gear. He could march further and faster and fight better. That made sense.

I didn’t see any units designated “medium” or “heavy,” though I assumed that the units designated “mechanized” must fill that role. The school that produces our MOS, though, does not differentiate between infantrymen – you are either an 11B or an 11C, infantryman or indirect fire infantryman (mortars), respectively. No one is pre-designated as a “light” or “heavy” infantryman.

About half a year later, there I was, the newest Private in an Airborne Reconnaissance platoon – the Scouts. “This will be great,” I thought, “I will be the lightest of the light because I have to move further and faster than anyone in the battalion.”

I wasn’t a big fan of rucking. When I joined the Army I weighed 140 pounds. Foot marching was the event that instilled the most fear into me as a new soldier.

When I got to Scouts, they needed a new RTO, and since I had a new pack of map markers sitting on a table in my barracks room, my squad leader decided that was reason enough to make me the new RTO. Humping the radio adds a significant amount of weight to your load.

Fast forward to our first field exercise shortly thereafter. Being “light” infantry didn’t feel so light anymore. At infantry school we were issued medium sized rucksacks. Here at Fort Bragg we got large. The more space they give you, the more stuff you pack into that space.

My rucksack hung on my back, fat and bursting at the seams with gear. None of this made any sense, I thought. How am I supposed to move swiftly with all this gear loading me down?

Over time, the whole idea of being “light” infantry became a joke. We’d get the packing list for a foot march or an FTX and someone would inevitably make a crack about the whole thing. “Light infantry my ass.”

So how is being an infantryman in a “light” infantry unit any different from infantry in a “non-light” unit? Or stated another way, can you really have light infantry without having medium or heavy infantry?

That was all a really convoluted story to get to my point, that the whole idea of “light” infantry as something different from all the other infantry we have is a concept that is old and remains today out of legacy. The reality is, most infantry units train pretty similarly. Obviously each unit has its quirks – airborne, mechanized, Stryker, etc. But the infantrymen in those units all came from the same place and do the same training – OSUT at Fort Benning – and for the most part, rotate around the military throughout their careers.

A long time ago, those designations really did mean something. “Light” infantry was just that – lightly armed infantry that moved ahead of the “heavy” infantry wearing more armor and carrying heavier weapons. Add horses to the mix and you get “light cavalry” also known as “dragoons.” Then you also have “heavy cavalry” which is just heavily armed cavalrymen.

Using the “light/heavy” designations doesn’t really work that well in the modern Army. The case could be made that Stryker and Mechanized units are “heavy.” The Stryker is an infantry “carrier” meaning its role is to transport infantrymen to the battle, but not necessarily to “fight,” making it more akin to “light cavalry.” Maybe the Bradley is a legitimate “heavy” infantry platform.

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The Command Sergeant Major’s Nightmare

Patrol Base Diamond II in Vietnam, 1969 - Archive Photo of the Day - Stripes

I saw this picture in Stars and Stripes (online) and kept it open in my browser for a few days. I kept coming back to it. It’s one of those “cool” war pictures that came out of Vietnam – the sunglasses, cigar, ammunition around the neck and machine gun hanging over the shoulder. He even has a dust brush in his helmet band. “Fuck it,” he’s saying, “I’ll do it.”

It looks cool, but it’s a Command Sergeant Major’s nightmare.

Back in OCS, a well-respected CSM was speaking to the class shortly before we graduated, instilling us with his parting words. He wanted to talk about standards and discipline – surprise! The movie ‘Restrepo’ and its companion, the book ‘War’ by Sebastian Junger had recently come out and he wanted to use these to paint his words.

He couldn’t remember the author’s name, but was pretty sure it was Sebastian Bach.

I remember sitting there in the front row, biting the inside of my lip to keep from laughing. There was something about the forcefulness of him saying again and again that it was Sebastian Bach that got to the absurdity of it all.

Anyway, he said he was able to stomach Restrepo and enjoyed it, but couldn’t finish War because he kept wanting to throw the book across the room because of all of the glaring discipline infractions he kept reading about.

He then went into a story about meeting a fresh 2LT outside of a dusty chow hall in Afghanistan. As the 2LT approached, the CSM gave him the usual once-over, checking out his uniform and appearance.

“He had these boots,” the CSM recalled, “that looked odd. And as he got closer, I could see that they weren’t Army issue boots at all, or even a pair of authorized aftermarket boots. They were some fancy brand of boots, that had been spray painted tan to make them look passable.”

The CSM went on to talk about why shaving is professional, rebutting the thoughts in some of our heads “but special forces!” by telling us we’re not in Special Forces.

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Whose Platoon Is It Anyway?

PL and RTO

Maybe this is all just semantics, but I’m of the mind that words are born of thoughts, and they all mean something.

What does it mean when a platoon leader, a young lieutenant declares “This is my platoon.” Or, “these are my guys.”

Or when someone asks, “Hey, when are you getting your platoon?”

I never thought much of it when I was enlisted. The platoon leader really didn’t factor that much into what I did on a day-to-day basis. I was much more concerned with what my NCOs thought, and keeping my mouth shut when an officer came around.

Back in IBOLC, as the talk of going to “take” a platoon stirred, I started to feel bothered by the idea of declaring a platoon “mine.” Something just seems wrong about it. I think the idea is born from a good place, a patriarchal desire to do good for your guys, but still, something seems wrong. They aren’t and will never be mine. Platoons are made up of individuals, and if anyone owns them, it’s the Army.

The platoon leader, at best, just signs the hand receipt.

Maybe it’s because of the rank/pay/duty disparity – I don’t know.

I do know that in most cases, the platoon leader will come and go, but the soldiers of the platoon will remain long after.

So, who does the platoon really belong to?

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Guest Post for On Violence: “Validate” vs. “Retain”: A response to the Washington Times

Michael Cummings – one of the two writers from the blog On Violence – wrote a guest blog here last week on women in the infantry (What Does It Actually Mean to Prove Your Manhood?). Yesterday I was able to return the favor after seeing a poorly headlined article in the Washington Times. The post is a counter to that article’s claim that the Pentagon has been “hinting” that it would soon be lowering standards to allow women in combat arms.

Check it out.

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PAUSEX: Iraq. Nothing is over.

Baghdad Monument

I’m a Howard Stern fan. I was listening to an old broadcast of the show from October, 2006, and when Robin was reading the news, she matter-of-factly stated that the number of US service members who had died in Iraq that month had just reached 100. Howard acknowledged it with a barely audible grunt, there was an awkwardly long pause, and then Robin moved on to the next news story.

If you are a follower of this blog, then you know I’ve been recounting my year in Iraq during OIF I in a series of posts (Iraq: Ten Years Later). It’s been a sometimes enjoyable and sometimes painful experience and I can’t possibly get down everything I want.

I’m very aware, however, that I am fortunate to have the luxury of ruminating over that experience. One, because I made it home safely and two, because my basic needs are met. I’m able to delve into the airy “what it all means” discourse. Many of my veteran peers do not have that luxury. And based on my thesis research, veterans who served in the Iraqi military are for the most part, uninterested.

While I’m waxing nostalgic over my year in Iraq, others Iraq veterans are bummed out about the country’s slide to civil war, concerned now that if this unraveling is the end result, their service and sacrifice might have been squandered. Others still, are writing about how Iraq Was America’s Best Run War (Foreign Policy). A rage-inspiring self-congratulatory title designed to get you to read it, I’m sure.

There is no shortage of interesting and important things happening in the Middle East right now. Egypt is still struggling to find itself out of its most recent upheaval. Syria continues to implode. Peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians have just resumed.

But over in Iraq, things are getting really nasty.

July 22, Reuters: Al Qaeda militants flee Iraq jail in violent mass break-out – Over 500 militants busted out in brazen raid on Abu Ghraib prison
July 29, The Independent: Iraq car bombs: At least 60 dead as rush-hour attacks hit Baghdad and nearby cities
August 2, AP: Iraq sees highest monthly death toll in 5 years – over 1,000 killed in July

I think, as a result to the daily barrage of bad news stories that came out of Iraq while we were there, we have become completely desensitized – and uninterested – in anything that happens there, no matter how spectacular or significant. Syria and Egypt are interesting because they’re new. But Iraq, well, we’ve been watching death and destruction there since we were children.

It’s unfortunate, because what’s going in Iraq is significant and important. And the lives and souls of millions of Americans are forever tied to that ground – for better or for worse. It is worth paying attention.

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