Two (More) Academic Articles on Women in the Infantry

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A 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 ago 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.

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Thomas Edward Lawrence Control Other’s Affairs

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Week Ending December 22, 2013

“Thomas Edward Lawrence Control Other’s Affairs,” that was the top search of the week. I’m fairly certain that this search term brought them to my post where I quoted T.E. Lawrence from Seven Pillars of Wisdom regarding getting caught up in other people’s business. He writes:

“All these peoples of Syria were open to us by the master-key of their common Arabic language. Their distinctions were political and religious: morally they differed only in the steady gradation from neurotic sensibility on the sea coast to reserve inland. They were quick-minded; admirers, but not seekers of truth; self-satisfied; not (like the Egyptians) helpless before abstract ideas, but unpractical; and so lazy in mind as to be habitually superficial. Their ideal was ease in which to busy themselves with others’ affairs.”

The post was about my on-again-off-again battle with using social media. It can, at times, be strangling. Given Peter O’Toole’s recent death (he famously played Lawrence in Lawrence of Arabia) it is no surprise that people when out Googling things in that orbit. That quote is one of my favorite, and one not normally channeled.

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What it’s like when a new Platoon Leader meets his Platoon Sergeant in combat

When I saw this scene, I immediately thought it looked like a new platoon leader meeting his platoon sergeant. Especially in a dire situation, like combat. It is one of the strangest arrangements we have – a young, fresh soldier is placed in charge of a few dozen men, many of whom are older and more experienced.

The tit for tat exchange in the beginning of the scene is similar to what will happen over time in a new platoon leader’s experience. Members of the platoon will test the leader by pushing the limits of what can be said in his presence, the other members of the platoon (in this case, the boat) looking on, waiting for the reaction.

Later in the scene, Theon meets his First Mate – which is really more akin to the platoon sergeant in this case. The bald guy in the beginning is more like the super-aggressive squad leader. The First Mate welcomes Theon, and says “They’re not going to respect you until you prove yourself.”

Here’s the text of the first scene above:

Theon: You’re the crew of the Sea Bitch? I’m your commander. Welcome.

Stop.

STOP!

Your captain commands you to stop!

[laughter]

Rymolf: Where are we headed, captain?

Theon: The Stony Shore. To raid their villages. There’ll be spoils in it for you, and women, if you do your jobs well.

Rymolf: And who decides if we’ve done our jobs well?

Theon: I do. Your captain.

Rymolf: I have been reaving(?) and raping, since before you left Thelon’s balls. Don’t reckon I’ve got much use for ideas on how to do it. Don’t reckon I’ve got much use for a captain at all. I’m thinking I can do the job of captain real well myself. All I need is the ship. You don’t know where I can find myself a ship, would ye?

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We do bad things to bad people: Oversimplification in the Military

The other day I noticed another soldier building a “smart book.” A “smart book” is informal military terminology meaning a book that contains lots of information, allowing the soldier who wields it to be “smart.” People in the military like to pare things down to their basic elements so that they’re most easily understood – that’s a good thing.

What caught me with this was that the title of the actual book that was printed on the cover was “smart book.” I thought about it for a moment and remembered back to learning about the book, and the jokey way it was introduced to me. The term “smart book” has been used so much that it has become the actual thing and not the thing it represents. People don’t build a book containing lots of information for a specific reason, they build a “smart book.” The whole process has evolved, and I don’t know if it’s for the better.

I suppose I see this most with the way language is used in the military. A few years ago, before I came back in, I remember this story about the Marine veteran being heckled at a town hall meeting at Columbia University about the potential return of ROTC (I wrote about it here). People started laughing at him when he says this [audio]:

“It doesn’t matter how you feel about war, it doesn’t matter how you feel about fighting, other parts of the country – or, other parts of the world, are plotting to kill you right now, when you go to bed. [laughter] It’s not a joke! There are a lot of tough men out there willing to do bad things to bad people to keep you safe. These people are trying to kill you. They hate America, and they hate you. [heckling]. It’s true, and I’m not lying about it, because I’ve been there, I’ve seen it. I know these people. So when you think that war is evil, it’s true, I believe you [more heckling] war is evil, but it’s not a choice that you have, and it’s not a choice that I have.”

The proximate reason I think he was heckled was because of the simple language he used to describe the reason for the military’s existence (people out there trying to kill you when you go to bed, bad things to bad people, etc.) To an audience of college students, that’s a gross simplification. Maschek, the Marine student-veteran, was informed by years of military service where NCOs and Officers stood in front of formations and said those same things “bad things to bad people” because it was a simple way of generating enthusiasm among the men (and women).

What works in the military for cheep hooahs and oorahs doesn’t translate into the civilian world. Worse, I think it might dumb us down from tackling problems in a thoughtful way.

There’s more to this phenomenon than I understand right now. Maybe I’ll write about it again later – I’m not even sure what to call it. Just some thoughts.

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173rd Airborne Jump Iraq

Dietz print 173rd

Week ending December 15, 2013

The top search of the week was ‘173rd airborne jump iraq.’ Those searchers were surely looking for information on the March 26, 2003 combat jump into northern Iraq by elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team. I wrote about that event from the point of view of a disgruntled All American, waking up on a stale cot in Kuwait to hear the news.

For a paratrooper, earning a combat jump device, or “mustard stain” is the pinnacle of airborne service. You have to be at the right place at the right time – in history. Combat jumps happen infrequently – they are cosmic events, one every 20 years or so. Recently I met someone in my unit who jumped with the 173rd in Iraq, and I couldn’t help but get giddy and ask “What was it like?”

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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 of 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. 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 an 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.

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Infidel

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Week ending December 8, 2013

It was a tie between infidel in arabic and infidel. Since the first was already a top search of the week, the winner is infidel.

I suspect most folks who are searching for ‘infidel’ click on the image of the Major League Infidel banner in an image search and then land on Carrying the Gun. There was a couple of comments yesterday on Enough with the ‘infidel’. It is still my most popular post.

You can read about my infidel crusade here (Enough with the ‘infidel’ stuff already. Seriously, stop.) and here (Infidel Redux). If you want to see it all, check here.

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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.

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