Responding to the decision to allow women to try for front line positions is no easy matter, because it is the result of a confluence of a long list of deplorable events and wrong-thinking. Thus, I am outlining my thoughts in a series of articles, the first of which can be found here.
Simultaneously, I'd like to offer some links to important commentary. First, the most important voice is that of a woman who was highly qualified--the epitome of female training and readiness, Captain Katie Petronio:
As a young lieutenant, I fit the mold of a female who would have had a shot at completing IOC, and I am sure there was a time in my life where I would have volunteered to be an infantryman. I was a star ice hockey player at Bowdoin College, a small elite college in Maine, with a major in government and law. At 5 feet 3 inches I was squatting 200 pounds and benching 145 pounds when I graduated in 2007. I completed Officer Candidates School (OCS) ranked 4 of 52 candidates, graduated 48 of 261 from TBS, and finished second at MOS school. I also repeatedly scored far above average in all female-based physical fitness tests (for example, earning a 292 out of 300 on the Marine physical fitness test).
So far, so good. She outlines the trajectory of her career and mentally and physically, she was at the top of her game. But then reality set in:
I was a motivated, resilient second lieutenant when I deployed to Iraq for 10 months, traveling across the Marine area of operations (AO) and participating in numerous combat operations. Yet, due to the excessive amount of time I spent in full combat load, I was diagnosed with a severe case of restless leg syndrome. My spine had compressed on nerves in my lower back causing neuropathy which compounded the symptoms of restless leg syndrome. While this injury has certainly not been enjoyable, Iraq was a pleasant experience compared to the experiences I endured during my deployment to Afghanistan. At the beginning of my tour in Helmand Province, I was physically capable of conducting combat operations for weeks at a time, remaining in my gear for days if necessary and averaging 16-hour days of engineering operations in the heart of Sangin, one of the most kinetic and challenging AOs in the country. There were numerous occasions where I was sent to a grid coordinate and told to build a PB from the ground up, serving not only as the mission commander but also the base commander until the occupants (infantry units) arrived 5 days later. In most of these situations, I had a sergeant as my assistant commander, and the remainder of my platoon consisted of young, motivated NCOs. I was the senior Marine making the final decisions on construction concerns, along with 24-hour base defense and leading 30 Marines at any given time. The physical strain of enduring combat operations and the stress of being responsible for the lives and well-being of such a young group in an extremely kinetic environment were compounded by lack of sleep, which ultimately took a physical toll on my body that I couldn’t have foreseen.By the fifth month into the deployment, I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. My agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering my response time and overall capability. It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. At the end of the 7-month deployment, and the construction of 18 PBs later, I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment.
That's an extraordinary price to pay, and she isn't grumbling about it -- just being honest. Furthermore, she says, not only was it the months of rigour and strenuous demand, but the thought of sustaining it for decades, since her career would require only more of the same as she climbed the ladder.
Interestingly, a powerful comment was left below her article -- from another woman who did her best but couldn't overcome the hurdles with her fellow soldiers:
As a former Woman Marine, I strongly disagree with women in combat. Not because of the physical requirements, and not because women could not handle the job. When there are ratios of 100's of men to a few women, there are going to be problems. I experienced these first hand in the early 80's. Everyone knows what I am talking about. There are those men who will be angry, there are those who want to protect, and then there are those who want sex.
I think she has put in a nutshell the categories of men, since not all are chauvinists, not all are on the make. There are those who still have a particular regard for femininity. All three groups make the social experiment impossible in the end, even if the women are capable of doing the job. This is not like integration of different races, but the gender norming of two very differentlly-abled sexes.
Finally, regarding the argument that if women can meet the men's requirements, then why not let them give it a go? Because the requirements appear to be changing:
When a reporter mentioned that the Pentagon’s stance appeared to keep open the possibility that some occupational specialties would be off limits to females, Gen. Dempsey responded: “[I]f we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?”