Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On his way out, Panetta destroys the glass ceiling

Talk about a leaving on a loud note... Defense Secretary Panetta's lifting of the ban on female front line combat service is huge news. To be honest, I largely agree with the sentiments of a friend who simply told me, It was going to happen sooner or later.

Regardless of the hyperventilating excitement of some liberals, the excuse of ''equality'' doesn't satisfy the  complexity of this issue. I respect that numerous female service members possess the intellectual, physical and emotional capabilities to serve in combat. Nonetheless, I have some concerns about the potential impacts of this development. What, for example, will be the impact on men (who will remain the predominant majority of combat personnel)? What will this evolution mean for the combat interoperability between men and women? For one example, even if subconsciously, will male soldiers excessively focus on force protection concerns in preference to the demands of the mission? What will this mean for general issues like single sex barracks? What about female platoon leaders? What about the politics when female service members are captured or killed (remember Jessica Lynch)?

On a side note, counter to majority opinion, I actually expect that Special Forces units will be among the most able to adapt to the new regulations. Possessing greater individual redundancy, serving personnel in these units are largely judged  on their ability to operate above a (albeit advanced) base line level.  Here, ''politics'' is subjugated to capability.

However, the record also suggests that women (who meet the standards) can serve with distinction in combat units. Consider the experience of female aviators in the US Navy and US Air Force, or female soldiers and marines in Afghanistan and (previously) Iraq. Every day, women successfully serve alongside their male counterparts in an aggressive, high expectation environment.

In the end, I think the key must be this: Open access - but do not open the door to sex-subjective standards. All must reach the same baseline. Which sadly... isn't great.

Anyway, a friend in the know has sent me these valuable (personal) thoughts -

I have found that gender mixing influences the dynamic of a team, particularly in simulated combat conditions. 

In fact I'd say the overriding factor is the high political cost of any soldier's life, rather than the sex of the soldiers.

I know that some soldiers complain about females out on patrol with them, particularly to the extent that they struggle with the weight, but I have seen that to be true with my male colleagues as much as the females.

I think it's becoming more and more politically difficult, at a time when governments are addressing the concept of equal rights such as gay marriage, to ignore the fact that there are restrictions on women's service in the military.

Research has shown that very few women will take the offer up, fewer still will pass the rigorous physical demands and mentality required. In the IDF (Israeli Military), a tiny proportion of women took up the infantry career, because it's punishing, brutal in many ways, and because it is a man's world. For better or for worse, it's an immense challenge I would imagine, to enter an aggressive, macho (often by necessity as much as corp d'esprit) world like the infantry.

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