Women In Combat

Discussion in 'Multinational HQ' started by Tracy-Paul, Mar 29, 2005.

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  1. OK, the NG counter-ambush at Salman Pak raised a few questions about women in comabt. Below is a white paper I wrote three years ago about my perspective on the subject:


    Women In Combat, (It's not the Fight, it's the Weight)

    I'm a retired US Army Special Forces Warrant Officer. I have approximately three years combat time out of 20 years served. I worked with women in direct combat situations; as well as training in special operations exercises. Prior to an SF career I was a paratrooper in the 82d Airborne Division; serving as a machine gunner and reconnaissance specialist.

    Natick Labs published a study that found the human body could carry up to 1/3 of its body weight for almost indefinite periods of time (Soldier Load studies).

    The US Army Infantry Center and School found the standard combat load for an Infantryman today is a minimum of 50 pounds. That is ONLY equipment needed to perform direct combat, no camping gear, solid food, extra ammo, etc. This load includes helmet, body armor, load bearing equipment, one unit of fire (210 rounds), canteens, first aid pouch, protective mask, grenades, bayonet, M-16A2, and intra-squad communications equipment. The new Land Warrior System will ADD 25 pounds to this kit when it's fielded in 2005.

    Light Infantry, Airborne Infantry and Special Operations soldiers typically add 50-75 pounds to the load for their life-support and mission-sustainment requirements.

    This implies that we (DoD) should be looking for 150-pound recruits with 15% body fat. How many women fit that mold versus men?

    There are 100,000 Infantrymen DoD-wide. That includes Army, Marines and Special Operations. 60% of them are first-termers, or 60,000 personnel. If all of them were on four-year contracts, that implies a turnover of 15,000 grunts per year.

    Percentage-wise, what constitutes "critical mass" to change a male-only institution? 10% of the force; 15%, 20%? I think 20% is a valid amount. Using that figure, we need to ACTIVELY recruit at least 3,000 women a year to Infantry duty positions under a four-year contract. This assumes no attrition; a more realistic recruiting goal is 4,000, 150-pound, reasonably fit, female high school graduates per year. If you recruit the smaller ones, they WILL fail and bring discredit to the program.

    The next question is: Are there enough interested women out there to justify the change? No one has answered that very crucial question. Not with an opinion survey, but with taking an oath to defend the constitution as grunt.

    During my entire career, I saw more smaller-statured people permanently injure themselves trying to carry the load our missions called for. 95% of what Infantrymen do is move tactically, so a combat load is considered a blessing because they can lose the other 50 pounds sitting on their back and go kill something using the 50 pounds permanently wrapped around their body.

    Too many people focus too much on the combat aspect of our jobs and completely ignore the other 95%: Tactical Movement, Defensive Preparations, etc. This is extremely strenuous work with little or no time for breaks and the like. I've lost as much 35 pounds on one operation alone; and it wasn't from combat.

    As a commander, it broke my heart to see some of my smaller guys blow out joints and backs permanently when we were in training or real-world operations. Small people (100-150 pounds) pay an enormous price for their service, even though they have the heart and spirit of a lion. Losing a grunt to physical injury during an operation is not pleasant, because their load must be split up among the survivors, and the grunt himself must be carried. Grunts don't like extra work; and don't like people whose body gives out. Call it a personality quirk indigent to combat troops.

    The US Army is now researching the need for LARGER parachutes because the Paratrooper's load has gone from 70-100 pounds in World War 2, to over 250 pounds for a Soldier in 2001. That's counting the parachute, jumper, and the jumper's equipment. Current parachutes are descending too rapidly for the jumper to safely land.

    If women are admitted to Infantry slots, it can't be for positions in Mechanized Units; where they can leave most of their load on the vehicle. It has to be across the spectrum: Mechanized, Light, Airborne, and Special Operations. If you look at the majority of soldiers and marines that make Infantry a full-time career, you will see a common physical characteristic: very solidly built with enough body mass to absorb damage and carry that sustained load, even while injured.

    I don't think you can find enough women to justify the change. Hell, we have a hard enough time filling it with men. Altering the standards won't work either, as you succinctly stated. The standards are not "macho-driven"; they come from watered-down recommendations that we send in from the field. Most new grunts discover, to their horror, that basic training doesn't even come close to the misery that awaits them in the field with their unit.

    I don't doubt the fighting prowess of women, any more than I do for men. So that isn't an issue for me. As a leader, I always made it clear that prejudice based on gender will get you smoked (yes, I've commanded units with a 50/50 mix of sexes). If grunts have time for sex in the field, then it's time to look for some combat... or some other form of extra-curricular activity to occupy their social calendars.

    Career Infantry is draft-horse work, with a lot of smarts to stay alive. I don't think there are enough smart women out there capable of working as a Clydesdale.

    Very Respectfully,

    (Signature Block)


    Alright, independent fire, fire when ready...
  2. Will somebody please post that to the MoD.
  3. I have never met a woman in the british army that wants to join the infantry or any branch there of.

    I think you'll find we are too smart to subject ourselves to that kind of needless physical punishment. Ok, let me clarify, I know that if your gonna do that kind of work, then the physical requirements are more than justified, but the majority of women are bright enough to get recruited into other areas.
  4. Tracy - Paul,

    I agree entirely with your well thought out paper. IMO The issue has never been about either the desire or ability to fight, it is the physical requirements of an infanteer (Forced marches, entrenching) on the battlefield that precludes MOST women from the infantry.

    There are always exceptions to the rule, however, does that mean that the system that is battle proven should be changed? In the era of tight budgets is it right to devote resources towards training a group of female candidates of whom some 75% may not cut it? Indeed the temptation has always been to reduce standards when things get tough.

    I will not dredge up the issue of SOCIETY, and the belief that Joe Public would not tolerate the images of women fallen in combat. I believe the argument to be total sh*te. Society doesn't give a toss about any of us.

    Hang on.... reset depression levels to general despair. :)

    This is an extensively discussed topic within the services and generally most people I know with favour the status quo.

    I suppose only time will tell.
  5. What a very intelligent analysis. I have always maintained that there is no reason why women shouldn't be on the front line, and if they are capable of doing a job then there should be better arguments than simple prejudice from stopping them doing them. Won't bore you with the rest of my thought process, it's been covered in other threads.

    Having said all of that (which I still believe) I can't fault your very reasonable and fair opinion.
  6. And very reasonable and fair it was too, Prodigal dear.
  7. I doubt you will find many people who can argue with the physics behind Tracy-Pauls paper but IMO for what it worth I think it all comes back to choices & opportunities.

    I know I may sound like a fantasists but should gender be the deciding factor over the career opportunities available to somebody?

    Or should we all be pitched on a level playing field to prove our worth as individuals against one standard for all?

    If the thought process from the above paper is to be implemented should all recruits who do not fit the desired:
    then be denied the opportunity to train as an infantry soldier?
  8. Congratulations, you've stated the only argument against women in direct combat units that won't get you slated for alleged bigotry. No one has yet found a way to refute these simple references to physiology. Ultimately, you infer the correct question, not "Can women function in combat?", but "Can woman carry large weights over long distances?".
    Iraq is proving daily that women can indeed function in combat, and I'm very suspicious of those minority activists who now call for women to be withdrawn from the military police, etc. Those people have an obvious political agenda; personally, I think they want women back at the stove and breeding kids with a mother's cross pinned on their chest.

    Now, what's necessary is to conduct a comparative study. The Canadian army has allowed women in the infantry for almost a decade, I believe. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but haven't there only been two (2) this far? The other country to consider is Germany. They only conscript men, but an increasing amount of women volunteer for the Bundeswehr. Every field except those underwater is available to them. I have no hard data on their recruitment statistics.
    Tracy-Paul, if you're interested in getting into these things, I can PM or email you a couple of contact details for military psychologists and sociologists. Most have military experience or are indeed currently ranked. The others have plain common sense.
  9. I agree that in an ideal world we should be entirely egalitarian in our selection of candidates for teeth arms training; and the recruitment of women (again in an ideal world) may ease the undermanning problem we currently face.

    The flip side to this is that opening the doors to women at the moment will, in all probability, only result in very few women meeting the standards. So is it worth the disruption (financial, cultural, ethos) to units to implement the more inclusive policy?

    The only important determining factor should be Combat Effectiveness as we are in the business of delivering successful military capability and not a social engineering experiment. The addition of women must not be at the expense of combat effectiveness, however, without actually doing it we cannot acurately guage any potential effect.
  10. In this particular case, I would say 'yes'.

    The playing field is not level now. Physiology tilts it in favor of men.

    Ideally, yes. But that would hamstring us even further. In my utopian opinion I'd make height, weight and body fat percentage a prerequisite for all Infanteers. In exchange for being a first-term Clydesdale, I'd offer other special incentives to make it more 'attractive' (a tough sell in normal times).
  11. I have.

    However, as you may be aware, the British Army does not allow women into the teeth arms. I gather the Israeli Defence Force trialled women in frontline combat units and the experiment failed.

  12. No i agree its not level now, women aren't given the chance to apply for certain combat roles. Nobody can dispute the physiology involved & if the current standards for assessment & training are what's required to deliver the best combat effectiveness then again who can argue?

    But if your argument for keeping women from the front line is based on body fat/mass ratio, surely common sense would be to apply this to both genders?
  13. Firstly where's Airborne Sister when you want a bite.

    Secondly that is the best written and most considered discussion on the subject that I have read.

    From my experience working in Phase 1 soldier and officer training is that the physical limitations of those who are not 'up to it' leads to a massive amount of attrition (U21 recruits have a 1 in 3 chance of completing infantry training without being taken off the course with an injury, whereas O21 have a 7 in 10 chance) - largely the maturity and size of the body is the determining factor.

    I know of occasions when the MO has prevented people from starting courses because the BMI was too low and therefore were considered not to have the bulk to be able to carry the weight required.

    Naturally there will be exceptional people who do not fit the physical model that Tracey-Paul has given.

    Will changing the rules to allow women who fit the model to join the infantry dramatically change the way in which the Army works? Probably not IMO.
  14. If any of it is currently on the Internet (I haven't searched) you may be interested in findings of the "SWINTER" trials held by the Canadain Forces. There were at least two separate trials, held in the 1980s.
    The findings of each were not favourable for women, however the Government at the time ignored the results and ordered an opening of positions for women in Cbt Arms units. Female Officers and ORs (NCMs) were put through the schools. I understand that wasn't entirely successful either.
    Perhaps wotan can bring it up to date.