Katniss Could Have Carried Peeta: Catching Fire, PTSD, and Women in the Infantry

Last year I kind of reviewed The Hunger Games shortly after seeing it because I enjoyed it so much. Shortly thereafter I borrowed the book from a friend at IBOLC and bought the other two, read all three, and now I consider myself a fan. I’m glad I didn’t read the books before seeing the original movie because it made the original viewing experience much richer.

Catching Fire was fantastic, but only because it met my imagination and expectation – not because it surpassed it.

I’m not going to do a full on review of Catching Fire, but I will mention a couple of things that stuck out to me that seem relevant to write about here.

If you haven’t seen the movies or read the books, you will find spoilers below Caesar Flickerman.

caesar flckerman

Very early in the film, we see that Katniss is suffering from her role in the 74th Hunger Games. She has an early flashback of killing one of the contestants and is obviously disturbed by it. She also dismisses any help offered by those around her when they recognize that she is suffering. I’m not the first to point out that she’s likely suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder¬†(PTSD). Haymitch (Katniss and Peeta’s mentor) also seems to be suffering from PTSD and is often found self-medicating with alcohol. The same can be said for some of the other ‘victors,’ specifically the ‘morphlings‘ from District 6 who, upon winning their games, turn to drugs and become addicts.

One of the most powerful scenes in the movie (and certainly the book, when it came at a complete surprise) was when President Snow announces that the tributes for the 75th Hunger Games would be reaped from the remaining victors. When I first read it I remember my stomach sinking and wanting to throw the book across the room. In the theater, that reveal had been numbed since I already knew it was coming, but I could hear the collective gasp from audience members around me who didn’t know. The Hunger Games is such a traumatic and terrible event, that only the thought of a peaceful life of luxury afterwards seems appropriate. To have to do it again, fully knowing you’ve passed an almost impossible test and will be tested again feels like a powerful punch right in the gut.

While not quite as dramatic as having to fight in the Hunger Games a second time, the concept of having to do it again reminds me of the repeat deployments soldiers often endure. The reactions of the victors are the same reactions I’ve seen (and felt) in the faces of friends I know. While there are some who relish the opportunity to go and prove themselves again (District 1 and 2), there are some who feel like they are getting screwed (Johanna –¬†‚ÄúFuck¬†that!‚ÄĚ she screams. ‚ÄúAnd fuck¬†everyone¬†that had¬†anything¬†to do with it!‚ÄĚ). Then there’s Katniss and Peeta, who just won The Hunger Games in dramatic fashion, and are going right back in (stop loss/combat tour extended).

There was one specific scene in the film that ensured I would write about the movie, and that came when Katniss turns to Finnick and pleads with him to carry Peeta (who was injured). “I can’t carry him,” she says, looking to Finnick and letting those words hang in the air as an absolute truth. Of course she couldn’t carry him, she’s a girl after all. Powerful Finnick helps carry Peeta and everything works out just fine.

Instantly, I was ripped out of the movie and my mind turned to that common trope used to argue against allowing women in the infantry – the “she has to be able to carry a 220lb soldier with combat equipment under fire” argument. It was unfortunate, because I was enjoying the movie until that point and was immersed in the world, but I can’t help where my mind goes. I imagined other people in the audience – probably other infantrymen, since I was at a theater near post – thinking, “See? She can’t carry him, women shouldn’t be in the infantry.”

I’ve argued previously that the “she can’t carry” argument is an argument of extremity. It’s a scenario that rarely occurs, and even when it does, good leaders will always point to the biggest guy in the squad to do the heavy lifting.

Also, I think Katniss (as played by 20-something “beast mode” Jennifer Lawrence) could have carried Peeta on screen, as opposed to 16 year old, malnourished Katniss from the book.

Lastly, I just want to comment on one of the things I love about the first two movies – the music. From the Panem anthem to the intro music to Caesar Flickermann’s show, through the first two movies I really believed that these tunes were well known throughout Panem and the people in the Hunger Games universe knew how to react to them. Like, the way that when the music starts in the arena the victors instinctively look up to the sky to see the fallen. They know this because they’ve watched The Hunger Games on television throughout their lives and know all the little rules and cues. All of this is weaved into the films seamlessly, which makes the whole world believable and frightening.

Fantastic movie. You should see it.

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“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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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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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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Women in the Infantry and Saving Private Ryan – male bonding

I have no idea why, but this scene from Saving Private Ryan popped into my head today. More and more, it looks like every job in the military will open up to women – that’s great, I’m all about it. But I wonder if this conversation could be had in that future. Maybe.

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The Junior Officer Reader – Love My Rifle More Than You

We are approaching the ten year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. I am participating in a project called the Iraq War Reading Pledge. The pledge is to read a memoir about the war by someone who was there, a soldier, a journalist, an Iraqi citizen, between February 1st and March 20th.

You can follow the pledge here. Good luck!


A lot of the people who read my blog are young infantry officers. I usually find out awkwardly at some formation when a random 2LT comes up to me and says “Hey, I read your blog.” So, to the young LTs reading this. You should read Love My Rifle More Than You because you may soon have women serving with you (probably not too soon). In the field. Taking poops. This, along with Hesitation Kills offers some of the best insight you can get on what it’s like to be a female in the modern military. It sounds pretty tough.

I just finished reading Love My Rifle More Than You by Kayla Williams. I feel terrible, because this is a book I should have read a long time ago. I’ve met Kayla on several occasions and I’ve had her book for several years, but I never got to reading it. When I first decided to come up with a list of books that I think would be good for a junior officer to read, I knew her’s was one of them and it’s been on my list from the beginning. With the decision to rescind the combat exclusion policy, it seemed to be the perfect time to revisit the book.

Like a lot of soldier memoirs, this one takes place (mostly) during the opening of the Iraq War (2003-2004). Kayla writes a little bit about her life before the military, which colors her experience in the Army and in war (pissed off, rebellious youth). Kayla was a rebel growing up – not what we think of when we think of typical Army material (although for some reason the Army attracts rebels too). She signs up as an Arabic linguist before 9/11 and suddenly finds her skills more useful than I’m sure she ever bargained for. She eventually is assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and deploys to Kuwait before the invasion, and then bounces around Iraq doing missions with artillerymen and the infantry.

Pretty standard stuff in terms of the Iraq War memoir. Kayla covers a lot of time through the book and shoots through what were probably some pretty significant events to show the fuller picture. If the book has any faults, it’s that I wanted to know more about anyone of her experiences in the Army. She could have chosen anything – the animosity she felt to her female NCOs, the strange relationships she had with her peers, or the decision to wear mascara to a USO show and how that became a big deal. I’d have liked to see a lot of these smaller things unpacked and discussed in more detail. But that’s not the book Kayla wrote, so it’s a fault of me just wanting to know more.

What makes this book different from other war memoirs is it focuses much on Kayla’s experience as a female in the Army – and deployed – at a time when war and deployment was very much new for most of the Army. The beauty of the book is Kayla’s honesty about how she felt as a woman who was often objectified by her fellow soldiers, even though that can make for some uncomfortable reading. She talks about the ambivalence she felt in trying to perform to a higher standard in order to shut up her critics, who were always looking for a reason to look down on women, and the struggle in trying to resist the urge to use the greatest asset she had – the fact that she was female – as an excuse to get out of details or carrying something heavy.

Besides the insight on what it’s like to be “young and female in the US Army” Kayla hits some important points that reminded me of some things I had forgotten. Reading about her redployment home, and how everything seemed so trivial and insignificant, made me remember how I felt those same things in the year(s) when I first came home (as an aside, there’s no hope for me now – I’m too far down the rabbit hole of reality television and created drama to ever experience that self-righteousness again). Maybe because I’m so far down that rabbit hole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the drama between Kayla and her various female NCOs who were all described as prissy and seemingly incompetent when it came to leadership. This reminded me of people I knew who grew up in the Army of the 1990s who did not expect – and were not prepared – for the Army of the 2000s.

Lastly, the part that stuck out to me the most was the real pride Kayla described when she received an award, an ARCOM, from the infantry unit that she had served with for a short period of time during her deployment. It reminded me of how small things, in this case, processing some paperwork to recognize a job well done, can go on to mean the world to someone who joined the Army to do good, but is often just pushed through the grinder (put your men and women in for awards!).

Incidentally, I had the book on me the other day and a fellow infantryman asked me what it was about, to which I replied that it was “About the experiences of a female soldier in the Army.” He replied, “Yeah, I mean, but what is it about?”

As if that wasn’t enough.

Since the decision to rescind the combat exclusion policy, women in combat generally and women in the infantry specifically has been the topic du jour here at Fort Benning (home of the Infantry). Most still think that this is something that’s not going to happen, or that it shouldn’t happen. To me, it seems like the time for argument is over and the time for realization and actualization is now. As leaders, it’s now our job to understand the unique challenges and opportunities fuller integration of the military will bring.

Any leader that wants to get ahead of the game and understand some of the issues that will be faced in a more integrated military would be doing himself a favor by reading this book.

These are books that I have discovered or had recommended to me and would be good to read as a junior officer. My goal is to get through all of them before I’m no longer junior. Any suggestions?

Just Another Soldier (Jason Hartley) 10/13/11
One Bullet Away (Nathaniel Fick) 5/13/12
The Unforgiving Minute (Craig Mullaney)
The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War (Brandon Friedman)
Chasing Ghosts (Paul Rieckhoff)
Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (Matt Gallagher)
Love My Rifle More Than You (Kayla Williams) 2/3/13
Hesitation Kills (Jane Blair) 6/10/12
The Blog of War (Matthew Burden)
House to House (Davide Bellavia)
Afghan Journal (Jeffrey Coulter)
Once a Marine (Nick Popaditch)
Greetings From Afghanistan-Send More Ammo (Benjamin Tupper)
The Poor Bastards Club (Paul Mehlos)
Kill Bin Laden (Dalton Fury)
Horse Soldiers (Doug Stanton)
The Long Road Home (Martha Raddatz)
Once an Eagle (Anton Myrer)
The Good Soldiers (David Finkel) 9/19/12
Black Hawk Down (Mark Bowden) 10/1/12

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Biblical Proportions: ROTC, DADT, and women in combat

I had been meaning to write a blog piece on how both the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) and the return of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) to Ivy League schools were both met with scathing resistance and commentary before the changes were implemented, but once the changes actually took place, nothing terrible happened. Now, with the decision to eliminate the “combat exclusion” policy which theoretically was supposed to keep women out of the line of fire and which in practice kept them from the opportunity to try out for many of the combat arms branches (armor, field artillery, infantry etc.), it seems to me that those other two policy changes might suggest how this change might also be received.

In the repeal of DADT, the argument against repeal usually lingered around the idea that having openly serving gay soldiers in the military might undermine unit cohesion or morale, or that it might upset some soldiers’ religious or personal beliefs. There was also another fear of gay soldiers suddenly becoming “flamboyant” once they no longer had to hide who they were, and that this would undermine military professionalism. Both of these fears, of course, were completely unfounded and the repeal of DADT rolled out with barely anyone noticing.

In the case of ROTC returning to the Ivy League, there were a number of Op-Eds written for ROTC’s return and against, as well as town hall meetings that turned nasty as some students and faculty members made their case for keeping ROTC off campus. Interestingly, a major reason cited by those against ROTC was the military’s DADT policy. Beyond that, many believed (and still believe) that a college campus is not an appropriate place for the military to have a presence (militaries do carry out wars, after all) and that by having ROTC around, it could potentially “militarize” the campus (whatever that means). After much handwringing, ROTC was invited back to a host of Ivy League School (Columbia, Harvard, Yale) with little incident. Some argue this is because of the low-key rollout of the programs, but whatever.

The point is, both of these changes were met with heated debate that fizzled quickly once the deed was done. Maybe, as Americans, we’re so apathetic that we just shrug and move on when the we think there’s nothing we can do. Maybe we’re easily enraged by the pundits and media darlings that tell us what to think. Or maybe we just like to argue.

While I think integrating women into combat arms will face some unique hurdles that differentiates it from the repeal of DADT and bringing back ROTC, none of these hurdles are insurmountable – in fact they’re all pretty simple to address with a little common sense. People in the military are pretty good at following orders, and I would imagine that integrating women into the various combat arms positions (if that is indeed what happens) will happen methodically and with care – and probably with little commotion.

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Ranger women


Today we learned that the Pentagon is officially lifting the ‘ban on women in combat’ which will open up positions in the military that were once open only to men – namely combat arms jobs like infantry. I’ve written about this a lot on this blog and it’s a move I support. There are a number of reasons why I feel this way, but I can’t articulate those reasons any better than COL (Ret) Ralph Puckett, one of the founders of the modern Rangers.

From the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer:

Although there are many — particularly Rangers — who are vehemently opposed to opening the training to women, women will be permitted to attend. Rather than continuing to fight against the inevitable, the Army would do well to focus its attention on the steps to be taken to ensure that standards will not be lowered, and that the integration will be accomplished as smoothly, efficiently and fairly as can be.

If I were the commander (I’m not; it’s easy to say what one would do when he has no responsibility for the outcome), I would already have begun to plan for eliminating the prohibition on women attending Ranger School. I would be training and indoctrinating my staff. We would be preparing for the day when the first female student arrives.

I would make it clear (and I would continue to reiterate my position) that I have zero tolerance for harassment and fraternization.

If I had been in command for a couple of months, my soldiers would know that I mean what I say. There may be one or two violations of my policies. If there had been any doubt that I did not mean what I say, my swift, direct, strong actions would eliminate that doubt. I would expect little difficulty.

I would assign a couple of mature, experienced, respected female soldiers to my staff to advise my commanders, staff, and me. I would particularly want some senior female noncoms who fit the description.

I would make it clear to my commanders, staff and senior noncoms: “If you do not believe that you can give 100 percent effort to make this transition succeed, you need to request a transfer now.”

I would do everything in my power to make the transition from all-male to coed training go smoothly, and the integrity and value of Ranger training not be diminished. This transition affects the combat readiness of our Army and the security of our country. Significant diminution of combat effectiveness will occur if standards are not maintained.

I believe the biggest hurdle for women to overcome would be the skepticism of the men. On the other hand, it will be difficult for the females to accept being treated as equals with no deference being given to their sex.

Many — probably most — male soldiers may have difficulty in accepting the females as equals — as soldiers — and treating them in the same manner as the male soldiers. I do not believe most of the men will find that easy, especially those who have lived under the mores of the last few generations. I do not believe that the two sexes can ever look at each other without any inbred deference.

But we can do a lot better than we are doing. The most important factor in making this thing work is strong, sensitive commanders who put combat readiness first.

I believe the only step required to authorize females to attend Ranger School is for the combat exclusion rules to be eliminated. The Army would have to change the regulations governing qualification for admittance.

Standards must not be lowered. Establishing different criteria to enter or graduate would be the worst thing that could be done.

Unfortunately, I believe that the Army will lower standards. It has in the past. Take the Physical Training Test as an example. Females have to perform fewer repetitions and may run more slowly than men, yet get 100 points for the event. Females do not have to do chin-ups; they “hang.” Statistics show that women have more injuries (“stress fractures” is an example.) than men. If females undergo the same rigorous training as the men, the number of female injuries may rise to “unacceptable.” In my reading of studies and books examining what females can do and can’t do, there are examples of changing physical standards so women can meet the requirements. I strongly doubt that the Army can resist giving special consideration to females.

There could be benefits to the Army if women are accepted in Ranger School. But only if standards are maintained.

If standards are maintained and other problems minimized or eliminated, the Army will have added a pool of highly motivated, intelligent and physically outstanding individuals. They will be higher quality than some of the men who are being accepted. They will motivate the men to do their best — not to be outdone by women.

Among the biggest, if not the biggest, obstacles to making it work are those senior officers who don’t have the moral courage to refuse to knuckle under to superiors, politicians, and other influential people who may have in their minds only the advancement or protection of their personal careers.

Can it work? I think it can, if commanders and senior noncoms devote themselves to making it work. It won’t be easy.

Ralph Puckett, a Columbus resident and retired Army colonel with 22 years’ service, was honorary colonel of the 75th Ranger Regiment from 1996-2008.

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Assad’s Lionesses


This, from The Independent:

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has recruited a brigade of women to man checkpoints and carry out security  operations as he attempts to free up soldiers in his beleaguered army to fight the rebels.

Dressed in fatigues and armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, the female recruits ‚Äď the ‚ÄúLionesses for National Defence‚ÄĚ ‚Äď are part of a new paramilitary force. They have already been deployed in Homs, where they have been spotted guarding areas where residents still largely support the regime. Videos from both opposition and pro-government sites purport to show members of the all-female unit in action.

A spokesperson from the Syrian opposition claims that placing weapons in the hands of women is simply a way to get the Free Syrian Army to kill women, which would then enflame opinions against the rebel cause.


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