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Women In Combat

The soon to be former secretary of defense, Leon Panetta, is “preparing to announce” (I have no idea why they say shit like that, quite clearly its been announced, if only through unofficial channels) that women will be able to serve in combat. More specifically, combat specialties, like my former specialty, infantry. I personally don’t have any issues with this, at least with the concept, I just want to list what my few objections are.

1. Physical requirements. Women have lower physical requirements than men, and that is really as it should be, since they are physically different in many ways. In most specialties that is probably a relatively minor concern, but here it will be.

My 5′ 7″, 160 pound body was required to carry, drag and otherwise manhandle other much larger soldiers all over the place, the idea being that that sort of thing will be required in many cases of injury or other incapacity. There will obviously be a smaller subset of female soldiers, right from the get go, who will be as able to do that. Now, that doesn’t mean that they can’t, or won’t end up in situations that will still require that in other specialties, but it stands to reason that and a whole host of other combat related tasks will generally be more difficult for most women.

If women are to be allowed to enter combat specialties, I think that male and female physical standards should be uniform, if only in those specialties.

2. Logistics. Women also have slightly different logistical considerations than men. Very slight, yes, but different none the less. My concern is more of a question, and that question is how much in the way of additional resources will be required to support women in forward positions. I’m no great expert on supply and logistics, so I won’t say any more, it might well be that there are no issues what so ever.

3. Quantity of applicants. Whatever the additional resources might be, if the level of interest is very low or if the number of interested women who can meet enhanced physical requirements is low, I question whether it is in anyone’s best interests to introduce women into some specialties. I mean only that numbers matter, that the more you have of pretty much anything, the price per unit decreases, while the fewer you have, the costlier each unit becomes.

The Navy allows only female officers aboard submarines (last I knew, that may have changed) the reason for this is that it made no sense to add additional enlisted facilities for women. The considerations for officers already lent themselves to, for want of a better term, integration. Space is obviously already limited, much more so than aboard surface vessels, and I assume it may have actually proved impossible to accommodate the very low number female sailors who would want or qualify to serve below water.

4. Male reactions. I forgot this one. There have been a few studies that have indicated male soldiers are more likely to put attempts to save a female, as opposed to a fellow male, soldier ahead of the mission. I’m not all that convinced, but I recognize that there are both social and biological components that may very well make this true. If it is true, I would say that the military should weigh the cost against the benefits, if there are any.

It possible that the lack of front lines on today’s non-conventional battlefields may make supporting females in combat specialties a non-issue, but I’m no expert. I’ll be along at some point to add to this once the full announcement is made and there is more information is available. I have nothing against the idea of women in combat roles as long as it makes strategic and tactical sense, rather than just because some people see it as unfair that women aren’t allowed in these jobs now. The military exists for a purpose, and that purpose isn’t fairness, anything that detracts from that purpose is simply institutional cancer.

Update: It seems that female officers are currently only allowed to serve on ballistic missile submarines, but in 2013 they will also be allowed on attack submarines. That makes sense to me, because space is far more limited on the much smaller attack submarines. The Pentagon looked at the viability of female enlisted sailors being allowed to serve on subs, but concluded that the cost per bunk for enlisted females would be 75 times the cost of a male bunk, $300,000 and $4,000 respectively. Obviously they decided it wasn’t worth it, I have to agree.

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