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Women In Combat Part 3

First Posted: Dec. 9, 2015, 1:24 a.m. CST
Last Updated: Dec. 15, 2015, 5:57 p.m. CST
The elite forces of the military are exactly that: elite. Not every male soldier, not every man, that tries out for the SEALS or Delta Force makes the cut. This year the US Army opened its storied Ranger School to women. 17 females started the rigorous training, and three West Point graduates became the first female Rangers to graduate from the school. The Ranger creed has always been “Rangers Lead the Way.”

The Praetorian Class.

The elite forces of the military are exactly that: elite. Not every male soldier, not every man, that tries out for the SEALS or Delta Force makes the cut. Attrition and drop-out rates among the various Special Forces training programs are notoriously high among male candidates. Following Gen. Boykin’s logic, a woman, portrayed as delicate and frail, in need of masculine protection, would be unable to compete in such a harsh and competitive regimen. In a PBS interview this year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, spoke of the opposition’s argument that integrating the genders reduces effectiveness and erode unit cohesion and morale. The secretary said, “And there were similar concerns,” with African-Americans, with gay service members with integration. The secretary added “at the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell, there were all sorts of concerns out, as people talked about it, that if you allowed gay service members in, that it would harm the unit cohesion.”

Of all the services, the Marine Corps is the most resistant to integration, and this year it’s highest ranking officer, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, asked for an exception to the 2013 decision to integrate all branches of the armed service and open the door for women in combat roles. According to Secretary Mabus, “The services put their recommendations in by October 1... I will point out that the SEALS are not asking for an exception here.” The implication being if a candidate passes muster, regardless of gender, and meets the training standards, a female could join the elite SEALs. The military establishments, as Secretary Mabus, pointed out had the same reservations and concerns about gays in the military. Eric Alva, a gay Marine veteran who lost a leg during combat in the Iraq War; Leonard Matlovich was an Air Force sergeant who fought with valor and earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star Medal in Vietnam; Iraq war veteran, Melissa Perkins-Fercha, served five years on active duty, during the September 11th attacks and in Operation Iraqi Freedom; and Kirstin Beck, a transgendered woman, served for 20 years in the U.S. Navy SEALs; these individuals and others debunked those claims. Beck’s service included SEAL Team Six, and Beck received multiple military awards and decorations, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his valor and courage.

Two popular Hollywood movies explored the theme of women in combat in the 1990s, and Vietnam Veteran and award winning author, Tim O’Brien, penned a short story, “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong,” about a “homegrown” girl travelling to Vietnam to visit her boyfriend soldier, and ending up an elite warrior hanging out with the Green Berets and Special Forces. “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” refutes the idea of women as one-dimensional beings who serve only to offer comfort to men. This is no longer the flighty fantasy of Hollywood liberals and feminists. Nor can detractors like Gen. Boykin and Gen. Dunford easily dismiss women as demure, delicate, one-dimensional beings who cannot handle the indelicacies of war. With the graduations of two female officers from the Army’s elite Ranger School this past summer, G.I. Jane becomes more a reality and less a fantastic notion, the stuff of science fiction, incomprehensible and unfathomable by the Pentagon and Senate’s cadre of old crows. After decades of doubts over the wisdom of sending the “weaker sex” to the front lines, according to Time Magazine, 1st Lieutenant Kristen Griest, and Captain Shaye Haver “demonstrated a squared-away countenance and can-do attitude that impressed both their fellow Rangers and commanders.” A third female graduate earned her Ranger tab in October. Major Lisa Jaster became the third woman – and first female Army Reserve officer – to earn the coveted black and gold Ranger tab. These women’s accomplishments are and demonstrated that they lived up to the creed of the Infantry, and the Rangers: “Follow Me” and “Rangers lead the way.”

Despite the historic accomplishments of these women, old crows, like Representative Steve Russell from Oklahoma, cry foul. Rep. Russell was a Ranger himself. Their masculine egos bruised by the prospect of women in their exclusive club. Rep. Russell was at the head of the outcry and demanded that the Army surrender training records to prove that the Army did not lower standards for the women. Websites like dailycaller.com as well as other veterans accuse the Army of giving the women ‘a pass’ by lowering training criteria and standards. Then Army Secretary John McHugh who was in Rep. Russell’s cross hairs, defended the Army's decision to open Ranger School and outlined data that was published in the Army Times.

The data released by the Army, showed female candidates (Lt. Griest, and Capt. Haver) performed just as well, and in some cases better than, their male peers. The Distinguished Honor Graduate for Ranger Class 8-15, which graduated Aug. 21, had an average score of 90/100 on peer evaluations, no spot reports or failed patrols. The Enlisted Honor Graduate had an average score of 83/100 on peer evaluations, no spot reports or failed patrols. In comparison to the honor graduate, the first two female graduates scored an average of 83/100 and 77/100, respectively, on their peer evaluations and received more total spot reports — both positive and negative — than the average male student in the sample from their graduating class. Three male candidates who graduated in that same class scored an average of 71-75/100 on their peer evaluations, failed two to three patrols each, received no positive spot reports and received up to four major negative spot reports. No female students were dropped from the gender-integrated assessment for medical conditions.

The criticism online and in social media has been so persistent that Major General Scott Miller, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, addressed the complaints during the August Ranger School graduation, calling out the “noisy and inaccurate" online critics. "Ladies and gentlemen, [Ranger Assessment Phase] week has not changed. Standards remain the same,” Gen. Miller said. “The five-mile run is still five miles. The 12-mile march is still 12 miles.”

The required weight of the students' rucksacks have stayed the same, "the mountains of Dahlonega are still here, the swamps remain intact," he said.

The Army on September 2015 announced that Ranger School is now open to all qualified soldiers regardless of gender. The first integrated class since that announcement kicked off Nov.2. The five women who started that cycle did not pass muster, not because of gender averages, but because they failed to meet the standards. Why is the Rep. Russell as outraged by the rise of Sexual Assault and Rape in the military? Or reforming the military justice system to address its short comings regarding rape and assault in the services? In response to Rep. Russell’s witch hunt, an informal cadre of female West Point graduates filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Representative’s military records. In Stars and Stripes, the Huffington Post, and other media outlets, a spokesperson for the group, Sue Fulton, said that the representative “like too many older men, have biases about what women are capable of.” Ms. Fulton told the Huffington Post that if the representative want’s to challenge the accomplishments of the two Rangers, his own record should also be up for scrutiny. After all, 3 male Rangers did score and perform below the two female Rangers. Rep. Russell’s criticism and accusations of the integrity of the female Rangers, not only belittles their tremendous accomplishments, but those of all women who have served in combat, like Sgt. Hester and Specialist Brown.

Those “doubts of sending the weaker sex to the front lines” in Washington and the Pentagon did not stop commanders in the field from sending them to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. Their blood is on the walls and dusty streets of such faraway places like Musa Qal’eh, Fallujah, Sangin, Salman Pak, Garm Ser, Helmand and Paktia provinces; names that 99% of the American population will never hear of or know about. And not just American women; but Canadian, Romanian, German, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, New Zealander, and Australian women have served in combat alongside our women. Another handful of nations, including Israel, have allowed women in combat roles. No amount of “white wash” from the old crows in Washington will wash away the blood spilt by women on their behalf. These detractors in the safety of their halls and chambers in Washington decry the sacrifice of women who have fought, and died, for their benefit and profit.

Despite its opposition, the Marine Corps employs all women “Female Engagement Teams” or FETs in Iraq and Afghanistan. Based on a 2006 model fielded in Iraq to open lines of communication with the female population, FETs often operate in forward areas. The team consists of two (female) Marines, sometimes enhanced by a female Pashtu interpreter and/or a female medic. In Afghanistan alone, FETs operated in 10 districts and 85 villages throughout the Helmand province, operating from 30 different forward posts, bases and camps. The Marine Corps is following in the footsteps of the Swedish Armed Forces who have sent women to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Swedish military say having women in combat roles, particularly those who've served in Afghanistan, has been positive for military operations. Swedish military women work well with local Afghan women, the Swedish military noted, and have been able to lead units to discover makeshift bombs before they exploded and locate suicide bombers before they could strike. The Germans boast over 800 women in combat units, including many who have served in the Afghanistan war. The Netherlands claim their armed forces benefit from teams comprised of men and women when it comes to crisis-response operations and peacekeeping missions. These findings were published in a comprehensive 2009 British Study on Women in Combat.

So if women are already in combat and over a 1000 have been wounded and another 139 have died in combat, why bar them from the very training that could possibly improve their chances of survival in a highly fluid and ever changing combat environment? Would not the denial of access to close combat training cause the very thing that Gen. Boykin and Sen. Hunter fear?...The reduction of combat effectiveness and degrading of morale and unit cohesion. Gen. Boykin in his own article admitted that women were already in combat and distinguishing themselves, so why bar them from the very training that could only increase their combat readiness and effectiveness. In fact, continuing the ban against women in the combat arms will ensure exactly the opposite: it will make our military weaker, divided and ineffective.

Army PFC. Jessica Lynch was the first Prisoner War of the Iraq war as well as in US history, and one of the first casualties of the Iraq invasion. On April 24, 2007, she testified in front of Congress that she had never fired her weapon, her M16 rifle jammed, and that she had been knocked unconscious when her vehicle crashed. In essence she lacked the proper and necessary training to survive in combat. Congress and the Senate have her testimony on record. In the 2008 PBS documentary, Lioness, Shannon Morgan, an Army mechanic who volunteered for missions dubbed ‘bug hunts,’ still struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder. Years after her tour ended she still suffers the trauma of ensuing firefights, including a harrowing battle while attached to a Marine combat patrol. “This may come as a shock to America, but we went on lots of missions,” says Morgan. “But if our government is going to allow us to play infantry, they should start training us for it. We pretty much wing it." S/Sgt Hunt echoed Morgan’s concern, in an interview with the Baltimore Sun, “The infantry operates together,” she said. “Then I get kind of dropped in on them, and I don't know what their operating procedures are. If 'X' happens, what is their reaction to it?” Allowing women access to close combat training schools and units will not degrade or weaken our military but make it stronger and more effective.

The idea that General Boykin and others put forth to the American people, that the modern battlefield is neatly compartmentalized and segregated like our armed forces, that somehow there is a “separate but equal” zone for women, a “Pink Zone,” with proper accommodations to meet their “feminine needs,” and that our enemy will respect those “civilized social boundaries” is pure fiction.

To assume their psyches are more fragile than men, and that men handle trauma better than women is also beyond fantastic. I submit the actions of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl and the Marines involved in the Haditha Massacre in 2005. These are examples that male psyches are not impervious to the strain of combat. As of September 2014, the VA reports that of 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars 20% suffer from PTSD – that’s men and women. PTSD is the third most prevalent psychiatric diagnosis among veterans using the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals. To assume that somehow men’s psyche is stronger or immune to combat trauma is a misogynistic myth.

Not allowing women access to the same combat training that men are given puts them at greater risk for injury and death. This is contrary to what the detractors of the 2013 directive are saying. Women are more at risk without the combat training men are allowed to have. Not one person inside the beltway can guarantee that a female warfighter in the rear or the “green zone” will be safe from an attack. Currently, the Marines who are part of the 3000 US troops still deployed in Iraq to support and train Iraqi security forces came under fire from mortar rounds fired by ISIS forces. These troops are officially ordered not to engage the enemy or be involved in ground combat, but the Pentagon has admitted that since January of this year U.S. soldiers and Marines at Al Asad air base in western Iraq have been coming under "regular" mortar fire from ISIS forces. Marines were sent to Lebanon in 1982 under the same premise, and over 280 Marines died from direct hostile fire or actions, to include the bombing of their barracks that killed hundreds of Marines, sailors, and soldiers.

Such “political” prohibitions are only binding to US troops and are impotent in the combat zone, in Lebanon, Somalia or Iraq, as enemy forces rarely abide by such prohibitions. In fact, as we have seen already, it has the opposite effect on the combat zone. US troops become more enticing targets. Our troops in Iraq being ordered not to engage in direct combat does not stop ISIS from targeting them. In 2005, a suicide bomber rammed a convoy of female Marines on their way back to Camp Fallujah. Three female Marines were killed and of the 13 Marines wounded in the attack, 11 were female. Prior to the attack, intelligence had received reports that the insurgents were planning a direct attack on femals US troops. Ignoring the reality of today’s combat zone is an example of how disconnected the Beltway Aristocracy and their pocket book generals are from the realities grunts and warfighters face in Iraq or Afghanistan. Such political prohibitions like the one above and the 1994 Ban on Women in Combat are designed to appease political rivals and constituents back home, and has no practical, strategic, or tactical efficacy in the combat zone half a world away, and further increases the danger to our own troops.

As Needed. Iraq Veteran and author Phil Klay laid out the numbers in an interview with USA Today, a little over two million Americans, men and women, have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. That’s less that 1% of the US population. About 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq and about 1,800 have been killed in Afghanistan. Some 633,000 veterans -- one out of every four of the 2.3 million who served in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have a service-connected disability, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Absent a draft, the ugly truth behind women in combat is that the US needs bodies to sustain the war for the Greater Middle East. Klay pointed out in his USA Today interview for Veterans Day that people in the military are such a small percentage of the overall population. Klay explained that he took his oath of office in 2005 and left the military in 2009. After he separated from the Marines, he would watch friends of his deploy over and over, and yet he would run into people here in the US who would say that Klay was the “first veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan that they had met.” In 2011, An Army Ranger, Sgt. First Class Kristoffer B. Domeij, who was on his 14th deployment to a combat zone when he was killed in Afghanistan when the assault force he was accompanying triggered a hidden roadside bomb in Afghanistan's Kandahar Province.

According to Department of Defense figures, there are more than 200,000 women in the active-duty military, including 69 generals and admirals. 167,000 women were in the enlisted ranks, and 36,000 women in the officer corps. That’s a lot of bodies. A fact that most people do not consider is that when you sign the contract with the recruiter there is a small clause in the contract that says that the person can be assigned to “any other duties as needed.” Lifting the ban is not just about women who are “willing to serve” in combat roles; it also means that the military can also shift “unwilling” women into combat roles “as needed” to replace depleted numbers. Something that has already been happening since 2003. To free up males for combat duty, women are assigned to FET and Lioness teams, or patrolling hostile areas and manning check points.

In the height of the war, the military had to extend enlistments to maintain sufficient personnel levels to sustain operations in the theater of combat. This policy was known as “Stop-Loss.” Stop-loss is the involuntary extension of a service member's active duty service under the enlistment contract in order to retain them beyond their initial end of term of service, and the Armed Forces Enlistment Contract states: “In the event of war, my enlistment in the Armed Forces continues until six months after the war ends, unless the enlistment is ended sooner by the President of the United States.” It has been in practice since the 1991 Gulf War. As recent as this year, the US Air Force invoked the Stop-Loss policy to refuse or deny personnel who are slated for deployments to be denied their request for retirement. Blogger and former airman Tony Carr first reported the change on his blog John Q. Public on Oct. 9. Carr said the new guidance tells Air Force human resources officials "to deny retirement requests filed by airmen who have been selected to deploy, which basically enacts a back-door conscription policy just one year after the Air Force voluntarily slashed 19,000 airmen from its workforce." So, as the Air Force appears to be reducing its ranks for the purpose of public appearance, it will involuntarily extend other personnel to compensate for the loss of personnel. It’s the old shell game. The Army also has a similar policy in place and reservists and National Guard personnel are also subject to Stop-Loss.



This article was written by Joaquin Rafael Roces. Joaquin is a Marine Corps Veteran, is active in his faith community, and has served as a Eucharistic Minister and Religious Education Instructor for over 15 years. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and recently became involved in the parish’s Youth Ministry. He has a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder and has been in recovery for three years. In 2015 Joaquin was trained by the National Alliance for Mental Illness to be an In Our Own Voice Presenter. Joaquin travels throughout Northern Nevada working with NAMI to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes by describing the reality of living with mental illness and sharing his recovery story. Through the In Our Own Voice presentations, people with lived experience with mental illness share their powerful personal stories.

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