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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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’.

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EIB Week: Where/When did you get your EIB? Because, that’s super-important.

An EIB cadre and candidate during testing. From the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook page.
An EIB cadre and candidate during testing. From the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook page.

Further down the rabbit hole of infantry minutiae.

One does not simply “have” their EIB. No, they earn it at some place and at some time. Back in 2001 when I tested, the actual place where one earned their EIB was very important. Getting an EIB while assigned to 4th Infantry Division somehow meant less than getting an EIB while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division or the 101st Airborne Division. This, of course, is due to perceived ideas of unit toughness or eliteness, a thing that really has never been measured.

Today, where you earned your EIB is not nearly as important as when you earned your EIB. Over the past decade of war, the EIB testing scheme has changed to reflect a more realistic test of what makes an “expert infantryman.” Infantrymen from the old school tested on “stations.” Once the basics were our of the way (APFT, land navigation, rifle marksmanship) you would then move, as a group, from station to station training and testing on infantry tasks. Testing took two or three days. Claymore to weapons to grenades to movement to range estimation etc. Then, finally, you would do the twelve mile foot march and be done.

The EIB assessment eventually morphed from “stations” to “lanes” where infantrymen received an OPORD and moved through a training exercise as an individual where many of those infantry tasks were incorporated.

Now, the EIB assessment is kind of like the old school way and kind of like the new school way. There are stations and lanes.

The important thing to know is that whatever EIB YOU did was by far the best one and the one that truly separates the “expert” infantrymen from the ordinary infantrymen. You will know this because said expert infantryman will tell you.

Besides where and when you got your EIB, it’s also very important for EIB holders to know the exact statistics for their EIB. As in, “when I got my EIB, only 7% of candidates got it.” Or, “Out of 900 guys that went for it, only 130 got it.” If someone doesn’t rattle off their statistics, than most likely his EIB would be what many infantrymen would refer to as an “easy EIB.” Likely, close to 50% of that guy’s candidates got theirs. No one ever thinks that a high pass rate might have something to do with good training. The only possible reason so many people would pass is because the grading was easy, infantrymen will tell you.

There’s still more to be said about the EIB, and I’ll get to that tomorrow.

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EIB Week: Is the EIB the “mark” of the infantryman?

Photo from the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook Page
Photo from the 3d Cavalry Regiment Facebook Page.

Whenever I hear commanders talking to soldiers trying to pump them up for EIB, they’ll usually say something about the EIB being the “mark of the infantryman.” Back in the barracks, some NCO will tell an old myth that the Springfield rifle on the EIB badge, if you look real closely, is cocked, ready to fire. Earning the EIB “primes you” for war. And then if you look at the CIB, you’ll notice that the cocking lever is forward, that rifle has been fired. You have seen the white elephant and survived. 

None of that is true by the way – the rifles and cocking levers on both the EIB and CIB are exactly the same.

But the myth is stronger than the reality.

Throughout the year, “the standard” that people refer to when discussing an infantry task is usually the EIB standard.

Take, for example, the foot march. The EIB foot march is a 12 mile movement wearing fatigues, load-bearing equipment, helmet, rifle, and rucksack that usually weighs about 35 pounds without water. To pass the EIB foot march, a soldier needs to complete the twelve miles in under three hours.

Anyone who has done the twelve mile foot march understands that in order to pass that event, it usually takes a lot of shuffling or running to keep under time – especially if that soldier is short, like me.

But if you asked anyone what the foot march standard is for the infantry (there isn’t one), they would likely respond with “12 miles under 3 hours with a 35 pound ruck. EIB standard.”

Out in the field, an infantryman’s ruck usually weighs well over 35 pounds. Field movements – be they tactical foot marches or patrols – are rarely conducted at a 15 minute mile pace, i.e.; EIB standard. They are usually slow and deliberate, designed to preserve the fighting capacity of the infantryman when he arrives at the objective. Plus, hauling ass with +70 pounds of gear just isn’t that easy.

My point, is that for good or for nil, the EIB standards become adopted as de-facto infantry standards, when that is just not the case. If they were the infantry standards, infantrymen would not be able to leave Fort Benning without their EIB.

As I wrote about yesterday, the original intent of the EIB was to give infantry soldiers a way to distinguish themselves from other, less physically demanding jobs in the military. Through hard training and a tough, fair assessment, an infantryman can proudly wear the rifle on and everyone would know that he/she has done something hard and that the job that he/she does is hard.

Today, when a unit conducts EIB, there is usually a long train-up period to the event to sharpen soldiers’ skills. Even if a soldier fails to pass the assessment, he/she receives good, in-depth training on basic tasks, which has become the reason the event is so important today. For many infantrymen, EIB training is the only time they’ll get their hands on some of the more exotic weapons in the arsenal unless it is in their normal duties.

So is it the “mark” of an infantryman? It is certainly a way for an infantryman to distinguish himself (or herself!) by earning a badge to wear on the uniform.

I’ll write more tomorrow about the culture that surrounds the EIB. But to address the title of this post, I’ll defer to something an old PL of mine said.

Sitting in the CP, the PL called in all of the new EIB holders. Once they gathered, he turned from his computer with a white foam cup in his hand, spitting tobacco juice into the cup. He quickly addressed the new Expert Infantrymen, voice garbled by the giant dip in his mouth:

“Hey, good job guys, you’ve earned your EIB. *spit* That’s good. You should be proud of yourselves. Now when you go to the PX, everyone will be able to look at you and know you’re infantry. Good job.” *spit*

He then turned back to his computer and did whatever it is he was doing.

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EIB Week: “Expert” vs. “Combat” Infantryman Badge

CIB

First, let’s just get the basics out of the way. The Expert Infantryman’s Badge, known in everyday parlance as the E-I-B, is a badge awarded to infantrymen and special forces soldiers after undergoing a series of infantry tasks over the course of a few days, usually a work-week. Although the testing standards change every decade or so, there are are common elements to all of them. The EIB test will assess: physical fitness, marksmanship, weapons proficiency, common soldier skills (camouflage, medical, communications, etc.), land navigation, and foot marching. The badge was introduced during World War II by General George Marshall as a way of honoring infantrymen, who were known to have a particularly harsh and often thankless job. Wearing a badge that sets you apart from other soldiers was an easy way of raising morale, while also giving soldiers another reason to train hard.

Also, EIB holders earned an extra $5 a month.

For more on the history of the EIB, see this article from the Infantry School.

I first learned about the EIB early in infantry training at Fort Benning in 2001. It was probably at 30th AG, lounging around in the barracks waiting three weeks for my class date to begin. There were plenty of know-it-alls who knew everything there was to be known about the Army. They usually carried around this giant book called “Hooah” that was full of pictures and short missives on everything exciting in the Army. There were pages and pages of special skill badges and tabs. I’m sure that’s where I first saw the EIB.

I didn’t really understand what it was though until later in training. Most of my Drill Sergeants had Combat Infantryman Badges – which is like the EIB, but with a wreath. The CIB is awarded for being an infantryman who engaged in active ground combat – essentially going to war and doing the job of an infantryman. Most of my Drill Sergeants were Gulf War veterans. A few of the Drill Sergeants in the company, however, did not have CIBs, they had EIBs – just the naked rifle.

Towards the end of training, I remember being on a formation run. My Drill Sergeant – who incidentally would wind up deploying to Iraq with me a year and a half later – was calling cadence. He had both an EIB and CIB.  He was free-styling, just singing whatever came to his mind. Some soldiers have that talent. He started singing:

(Italics is my Drill Sergeant, bold is the soldiers’ reply)

C-I-B / C-I-B
On my chest / On my chest
Hell noHell no
HELL NO!
HELL NO!
Don’t want it
Don’t want it
Don’t need it
Don’t need it
You can have it
You can have it
E-I-B
E-I-B
E-I-B!
E-I-B!
Hell yeah / 
Hell yeah
Hell yeah! / 
Hell yeah!
We can take it / 
We can take it
We can make it / We can make it

I’m pretty sure I understood immediately what he was saying. The CIB is something you really don’t want to get. To earn it, you’re really putting yourself out there. It is one of the proudest things you can earn in the Army, and most infantrymen I know will tell you that the CIB is the award they are most proud of.

But it comes at an incredible cost.

Which takes me to the point I wanted to make here, which is the EIB is always compared to the CIB. A soldier is not allowed to wear both and has to choose which to wear. Infantrymen tend wear a CIB if they have it, as it is generally held in higher regard than the EIB. This is due partly to scarcity. Before Iraq and Afghanistan, and with few exceptions, there was only the Gulf War, Panama and Grenada. Those were places that infantrymen could earn their CIB, but those were short wars. Not that many CIBs (relative to now) were pinned. Then there is Vietnam, which is going back pretty far.

When I got to my unit in 2001, only senior NCOs and officers had CIBs from “back in the day.” Most of the rubber-meets-the-road infantrymen sported EIBs.

Now, with over ten years of war behind us and thousands of CIBs pinned on the chests of young infantrymen, they are not so scarce. In a very Seussian-way, it is not that uncommon to see someone who has both a CIB and an EIB choosing to wear his EIB to distinguish himself from his peers.

It is true, that for the most part, the CIB is an award for being in the right MOS at the right place at the right time. The EIB, on the other hand, requires a measure of skill and performance.

Which gets me to the next thing which I’ll discuss tomorrow: is the EIB the “mark” of an infantryman?

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EIB Week: The Expert Infantryman Badge

EIB

As the saying goes, the best thing about getting your EIB is not having to do it again.

The unit I am with is currently testing for the Expert Infantryman Badge. I got my EIB back in 2001, so I do not have to test for it. Usually, EIB holders find themselves sucked into EIB anyway, as graders or planners. My current duties have me doing neither, so instead, I’ll write about it.

There is so much for me to say about the EIB. More than I can do in one post, so I’ll break it up throughout the week. It’s an interesting piece of infantry lore and I love reading and writing the strange minutiae of sub-cultures. This is as strange as it gets.

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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 Faceless Women of the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course

Fighting to Join the Ranks - Slide Show - NYTimes.com-1 Another two women recently failed the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, joining the other two who failed late last year. I’m proud of them for trying. I’m fascinated by the photos that accompany the stories. There are always photos of the women, but their faces are never shown. I’m guessing there is probably some rule There is a Pentagon rule that protects the women from being identified, so the photographers cannot publish pictures showing their faces.

 

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One picture that captures exactly why Junior Officers are getting out of the Army

Infantry Career Progression

There is something terribly off-putting about looking at a slide and seeing the next 30 years of your life mapped out for you. Yes, there are options. But the options are all very, very linear. And you can’t even access those pre-planned options if you don’t maintain a spotless, best-of-the-best record. Make a few mistakes, and everything you did before can be wiped out in an instant.

This, more than anything else, is why I think junior officers choose to get out. Pursuing a non-linear career path that results in the potential of failing to progress leads some of us to say “nah, nevermind.”

That’s it.

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