Skip to comments.Women in Combat: Study Recommends Ending Military's Last Male Bastion
Posted on 01/19/2011 11:11:11 PM PST by neverdem
Heather Pfleuger -- an exuberant, all-American, girl-next-door -- was transformed when she arrived in Afghanistan. She'd shrug into her body armor, strap on her helmet, yank on gloves, goggles and scarf, and slide down behind her turret-mounted Mark-19, a 40mm grenade launcher. From there, she could kill an armored vehicle and everybody in it a mile away.
When she whooped with glee and led a convoy outside the wire, local Afghan fighters, hard men who'd faced down the Russians and the Taliban, fell respectfully silent.
"Specialist Pfleuger can hit anything," her squad leader. Sgt. Kevin Collins, told me proudly. "I feel sorry for anyone who gets in her sights."
That was nine years ago, when Pfleuger was deployed to eastern Afghanistan with the 511th Military Police Company. At the time, I wrote a story boldly asserting that with women like Pfleuger easily accepted in the ranks, doing well at war and liking it, the argument over women in combat "is over."
It wasn't over. In fact, it's about to heat up again. A study commission chartered by Congress is poised to send up to Capitol Hill a recommendation that the last remaining barriers to women those that formally exclude them from infantry, armor and special forces -- be removed.
Those "close combat" troops -- roughly 14 percent of the military -- are the ones that most jealously guard the all-male cohesion and camaraderie they insist makes them effective in the chaos and stress of long-term exposure to combat.
Never mind that some 200,000 women like Pfleuger have served in wartime Iraq or Afghanistan, that 134 have been killed and 721 wounded in action. With women attacking insurgents with strike fighters and helicopter gunships, machine guns and mortars, riding shotgun on convoys through IED territory and walking combat patrols with the infantry, the Defense Department and the military services have labored mightily to define just what it is that women cannot volunteer to do.
That hasn't been easy, given that in today's wars there are no front lines and no safe rear areas, as the saga of Army Pvt. Jessica Lynch aptly demonstrated (a 19-year-old supply clerk, she was captured and hospitalized by Iraqis after her military convoy got lost in 2003 and her truck crashed during an ambush).
The Army has tried to block women from joining units that "engage an enemy . . . while being exposed to direct enemy fire, a high probability of direct physical contact with the enemy's personnel, and a substantial risk of capture."
That seems to precisely define the situation of Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, an MP, who won the coveted Silver Star for her actions in a firefight in Iraq in 2005. When the convoy she was escorting was caught in an ambush, she leapt out and attacked an enemy trench. Then, with her squad leader, she cleared two trenches, killing three insurgents with her rifle. At the time, she was 23 years old.
Getting the award for heroism "really doesn't have anything to do with being a female," she told reporters. "It's about the duties I performed that day as a soldier."
A group of female Army cooks apparently felt the same way. They were deployed to Iraq where they discovered all the cooking was done by civilian contractors. Instead, they were pressed into service as infantry and came home proudly wearing the highly prized Combat Infantryman Badge, earned only by participating in a firefight with the enemy while a member of or assigned with infantry or special forces.
That's a piece of evidence cited by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission, the group of retired senior military personnel, academics and other civilians whose recommendations on lifting the barriers will be published this winter.
Despite the boots-on-the-ground reality that women serve well and honorably and bravely in combat, what looms ahead are months of contentious congressional hearings and hot-tempered talk show shout-fests and angry op-eds, just like the season of "Don't Ask Don't Tell" of 2010. And this time, the pivotal House Armed Services Committee is led by GOP conservative Buck McKeon of California, who opposed allowing gays to serve openly in the military.
As with the "Don't Ask" debate, the argument will come over whether the presence of women, in small units that must operate for extended periods under fire, would be disruptive.
Would women if any actually volunteered for and could qualify for an infantry unit -- actually break its tight cohesion and cripple its fighting spirit?
"There's a growing number of women out there who have served 'outside the wire' on combat missions," said a woman who served on active duty in Iraq as an Army intelligence officer. "We carried a full basic load of ammunition and fired the SAW [squad automatic weapon, a light machine gun], .50-cals [heavy machine guns] and M-4 [rifles]) to protect our fellow man and to defeat the enemy," said this young officer, who asked not to be identified by name because of her current job. "We have endured the same harsh living conditions as men, where hygiene isn't exactly a priority," she said.
To insist that gender goes unnoticed in such small units would be "inane," she said; there is a "familial" relationship among the soldiers. "Those who serve for the sake of serving and take pride in their jobs do not feel threatened by sexual orientation, race or gender," she said.
In basic officer training, this young woman was offered the chance to take the physical exam for acceptance into Ranger school, the Army's legendarily tough commando course. She and two other women aced the test even though they were barred from attending the male-only school or to join Ranger units.
"The truth is that very few women and few men can meet or exceed the desired standards of an Army Ranger," she said. "But some can, and they should be given the opportunity."
In its brief for lifting the barriers, the commission cited research that it said found no negative impact from allowing women to serve in close-combat units. It cited a RAND study which found that "gender differences alone did not appear to erode cohesion." The study was published in 1997, well before women began taking a larger role in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
That and similar studies are "wrong!" said retired Army Maj. Gen. Robert Scales, a combat veteran, historian and former commandant of the U.S. Army War College. "They simply don't understand the nature and character of close combat . . . the 'Band of Brothers' effect," he said recently on Fox TV news.
Scales, an expert on small combat units, said in fact there is no research that settles the question, and that allowing women into such units, in wartime and without knowing how it would affect combat effectiveness, would be risky.
"I've studied this for three decades," Scales said. "The bottom line is nobody knows -- the elements that make up cohesion in a firefight simply aren't known. And to rush into this, in my opinion, could damage cohesion."
And so the battle is joined. Stay tuned.
This should be an automatic no. When we look at all the hand-wringing the DBM does over each serviceman killed in cobat (despite the fact that the DBM hates the military!), imagine how bad it will be if a female gets killed in combat!!
War is not someplace to send women. It’s bad enough that we have to send our young men. Unfortunately for those women who might think this is a good idea, not all of life’s activities are intended to be co-ed!!
Tampons are perfect for puncture wounds, specifically bullet wounds in combat. We always carried a few.
The Amazons of legend cut off one breast to prevent interference with archery. I wonder if these women would accept comparable sacrifices.
Here is the test. Put them in their own brigade with no men to do the heavy lifting. We'll see how long the notion of a new frontier remains.
Exactly, battling women in military is a last mean to consider as an only last term of national survival if only most of the men are wiped out already.
On ships a lot of stuff gets moved by hand. Subs take all their supplies on board by hand, and while it may seem mundane loading 4 months of food on board is a lot of physical work. In the squadron I was with the only time the Ordnancemen got out any power equipment to load a plane was when they were putting on 2000 lbs. bombs. Everything lighter than that was done by hand. If you have women doing those jobs you are going to need a lot more bodies.
Have one question..on a tank..where and how will the female crew member take a leak from the tank..when field conditions do not permit dismounting the vehicle.
The dreaded words “I have to go to the bathroom”. Well this is not a car..a truck, the base camp..or a convoy...
Put them in the infantry..airborne..but no tanks.
I respect these women that made their mark in combat, sounds like they kicked ass. Having said that, I don’t think they have a place in front line units. We don’t need to see raped and tortured pows. We don’t need to see any more mangled female soldiers than we have to. Hell I’d prefer gays getting shot up before women, and I’m no supporter of gays in combat.
I don’t recall where I had read it, but there was this report about some country in Asia having experimented with this, one time. After a war, they decided to disband the female combat units, based on the recommendations of a post-war inquiry report. What they found was that men in combat lose morale to a much greater extent when they witness female comrade casualties, and on top of that, overall casualties in those units were higher because the male troops would lose focus by attempting to provide cover to their female comrades.
Perhaps someone here can find the actual report and post it.
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The problem is, they can’t carry a man on their back and they can’t do prolonged marches/work that involves their upper body.
There are exceptions though. The Deck Gals of the Navy’s AOE fleet could do it but they wouldn’t be able to run fast and they may not be distinguishable from men.
It is one thing to sit in a turret, aim and shoot. If that vehicle rolls though, are they going to be able to carry the male solder that is critically wounded.
There used to be a saying, “The army is only as strong as it’s weakest solder.” Well the Democrats are doing a good job of destroying it. Some of the Army General’s are complicit.
“”The truth is that very few women and few men can meet or exceed the desired standards of an Army Ranger,” she said. “But some can, and they should be given the opportunity.””
Well another thing, so we have to rearrange the entire military for a “few” women that can actually do it. \\\mine mine mine, me me me, I I I, sounds familiar
It is the Democrat Mating Call.............
Ther was a time when female military combat pilots were mocked.
“Angel of death
Her gunship cruised low and loud over northeastern Afghanistan, a mix of milkshake-brown flatlands, grassy valleys and boulder-strewn mountain slopes. On Capt. Allison Blacks monitor aboard an AC-130H Spectre, the region below was a flickering sea of night-vision green.
It was mid-November 2001. As an evaluator-navigator with the Air Forces 1st Special Operations Group, Black was plotting routes, communicating with ground forces and identifying targets in the darkness below. Just days before, the Afghan capital of Kabul had fallen to light-and-lean Special Forces teams relying on Air Force fighter jet and gunship strikes. They were aided with intelligence from the Northern Alliance Afghans with their own vendetta against the Taliban.
Now the target was a smallish province along the northern border. Bearded American soldiers, relying on the Northern Alliances knowledge of local terrain and Taliban habits, were moving covertly through the surrounding hills on horseback.
For weeks, the Army detachment had lived with Northern Alliance Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a hulking and prickly haired war veteran thrilled to watch American air power cripple his Taliban foes.
Just 16 hours after Black landed at Karshi-Kanabad Air Base in neighboring Uzbekistan, she had been shuttled to her first-ever combat mission. It was off to a choppy start. Although the crew had successfully destroyed a bank of rocket launchers and several Taliban trucks, they were forced to evade anti-aircraft fire that pelted the Spectres steel belly.
All they needed was a high-caliber [anti-aircraft] system to present a problem, Black said. We were definitely on edge.
Dented but intact, the gunship flew on. Operational Detachment Alpha 595, from the Armys 5th Special Forces Group, lit up Blacks radio as her plane neared its encampment. With Dostums help, the troops had learned of a nearby safe house packed with more than 200 Taliban and al-Qaida fighters.
Black began to chart the course. When her voice crackled over the soldiers field radios, Dostum was delightedly incredulous. A woman? Sent to kill the Taliban? He couldnt believe it, Black said. He thought it was the funniest thing.
The Spectre neared and its cannons erupted. Unaccustomed to the Gatling guns mechanized snarl, the fighters confused the airstrike with a ground assault. Militants scattered into the fields, seeking cover in ditches and vehicles, although Black could see their heat-signature silhouettes from her console by the cockpit.
Dostum, hidden with the Army detachment several miles away, said the Taliban also believed a high-powered laser pointer used by Spectre operators to identify ground targets a sparkle, in Air Force spec ops speak was a death ray that turned everything it touched to flames.
As the hailstorm of munitions continued, Dostum grabbed his walkie-talkie, switched to the Talibans unsecured frequency and relayed to them the sound of Blacks chatter coming through Army radio.
He used the female pilots voice to taunt them as they bled.
He said, America is so determined, they bring their women to kill the Taliban. Youre so pathetic, Black said. Its the angel of death raining fire upon you. After circling the safe house environs many times striking militants after theyd regroup in threes and fours the Spectre had just enough fuel to return to Uzbekistan. The crew had expended all of its ammunition: 400 rounds of 40mm cannon shot and 100 rounds of 105mm Howitzer rounds. Black contacted an incoming gunship sent to finish off the remaining militants with a fresh load of ammo.
In those few hours, Black had become the first female AC-130H navigator to shoot in combat. Six years later, shes a combat-medal-wearing mother to two sons, ages 6 months and 2 years, and she expects to return to Afghanistan in early 2008. She estimates the total number of human targets eliminated on that first tour at more than 250 enemies.
Im so proud to represent women, and proud to represent the gunship community, but its very humbling, she said. Here I am, Captain Black, getting all this attention for something myself and 12 other folks did.
Although her gender was used to rile the Taliban, Black said its never proven a liability with her crew. I never have to worry about it, she said. Everybody I care about knows who I am. They know what Allison Black is about.
>> If this dumb idea gets approved...
Some who would rather not may lose that provision to avoid combat.
Chivalry in the West is dead. Perhaps that began with Roe vs Wade.
This sounds like a load of BS to me. I have a very hard time believing a CIB would be awarded to cooks, let alone female cooks. Can anyone verify this?
Let me know when she can carry an AC-130 load on her back and I’ll give her kudos.
Female combat pilots - it’s just not the same thing.
How long before the only people barred from Military Service will be White Straight Males?
I would fully expect all military personnel to fulfill the physical requirements for combat.
When females were first allowed to be Navy combat pilots, there were women killed while trying to hit the boat. They’ve come a long way since then.