Thursday, April 26, 2018
Opinion

Column: The failing effort to add women to infantry, special operations forces

In January 2013, the Department of Defense announced it was removing the combat exclusion ban that kept women out of infantry units and special operations forces like Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets.

Where do we stand nearly four years later?

Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta argued, "If members of our military can meet the qualifications for a job — and let me be clear, we are not reducing qualifications — then they should have the right to serve."

And the day the change in policy was announced, Col. Ellen Haring of the U.S. Army Reserves, who filed a lawsuit challenging the combat exclusion ban, said, "Nobody ever asked for special considerations or reduced standards; just let us compete at the standards as they exist."

The Marines were the only service to seek the combat exclusion after a $36 million exhaustive study on infantry coed units conclusively determined that mixed male and female infantry squads performed at a vastly inferior level to their all-male squad counterparts in scores of battlefield exercises. Despite expressed reservations, the Marine Corps leadership took their civilian superiors at their word that standards would not be changed and took the challenge head-on, opening both their enlisted and officer infantry schools.

In the first half of 2016, six out of seven women failed the basic combat physical fitness test, which included a minimum three pull-ups, a three-mile timed run and other combat tasks. The 85.7 percent failure rate of female Marines compares to 2.7 percent (40 out of 1,500) of their male counterparts failing to pass the basic screening. The female Marine officer track record at the USMC Infantry Officers Course is 0 for 31 — no woman has lasted more than two weeks of the 12-week training. The majority of women were not able to complete the day one combat endurance test, and none were able to pass the second week timed rucksack march.

What are the results across the other branches?

Out of an active-duty Army of 479,000 soldiers, fewer than 200 women have signed up for combat arms. Aside from three female West Point grads who completed the Army's Ranger school in 2015, the numbers and results have not matched the optimistic rhetoric that claimed opening all combat billets would "diversify" and improve the overall force.

The first two female soldiers, one who attempted the Army Special Forces Selection Qualification course and the other the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, failed to complete the initial screening. It was the same result for the female Marine attempting the Marine Corps Special Operations Command selection this past summer.

Today, there are no women, officers or enlisted, in Ranger School. No female sailor has volunteered for Navy SEAL training. The poor recruitment and results after four years do not add up to any quantifiable metric of success nor justify the millions spent in studies and efforts to add women to previously male-only billets and commands.

Despite being one of the early supporters for integrating women into infantry and special operations forces, Haring wrote in the Marine Corps Times last week that Marine Corps infantry training was "unrealistic."

"Where do they get these standards, who validated them and who can actually meet them?" she asked.

Haring, whose legal team based the original case on the objective "to open the profession of combat arms to women on an equal basis to men," now wants the bar to be lowered. This is the very definition of hypocrisy and slippery slope at the same time.

This is a failed policy. In order for this Pentagon social experiment to "succeed," standards will have to be "gender-neutral" or lowered, defeating the original intent of the order. That invalidates every argument that women are the equal of men in physical tests and combat arms if given the chance to perform at the same level. Maybe it is time to call women in combat roles of infantry and special operations forces what it is: Falling short of standards.

Former Navy SEAL and Commander Dan O'Shea is a veteran with multiple combat tours in the Middle East. He is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, BUD/S and Army Ranger School.

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