J. KARL MILLER: Armed forces could be negatively affected by women in combat

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:58 p.m. CST, Wednesday, February 6, 2013

For some time, I believed the most potentially debilitating social engineering project affecting combat readiness was the repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, thus enabling gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces. Over the objections of the two services most grievously affected, the Marines and the Army, "don't ask, don't tell" passed on.

The unit esprit, brotherhood and standards of morale, cohesion and good order of discipline were ignored.

However, upon debarking from a Caribbean cruise on Jan. 24, I learned of the most egregiously absurd example of social experimentation — Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's opening of all combat arms' Military Occupational Specialties to women. Panetta's "not everyone is going to be able to be a combat soldier, but everyone is entitled to a chance" is typical of one who has never faced the enemy "up close and personal."

This unwise act of piling "political correctness" on our military is the result of nonstop lobbying by feminist and progressive special interest groups with one thing in common — that of being too old to serve at all, much less in combat arms units. The notion of a lady "G.I. Jane" engaging in mortal combat with seasoned male soldiers is a pipe dream — a fantasy of the left's irrational agenda of total gender equality.

Call me chauvinistic if you must, but I don't even want to know a woman who would volunteer to occupy a foxhole, go for periods of up to 30 days without a shower and accomplish the most fundamental of hygienic functions alongside their male partners. I realize there are females who aspire to such a role and, just perhaps, are able to physically endure. However, their presence in an infantry squad would be disruptive and disastrous — desire and intent do not alter reality.

I am also privy to the fact that females have increasingly served in harm's way, particularly as pilots, but also with units in close proximity to front lines. Nevertheless, being shot at or shelled does not equal the rigors of infantry close combat — the requirement to close with (attack) and destroy (kill) the enemy and his will to fight.

The mission of the U.S. Marine rifle (and Army) squad, platoon or battalion is to locate and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver and/or repel enemy assault by fire and close combat in the cause of national defense or national interests. It has nothing to do with fairness, political correctness or gender equality in terms of promotion or command eligibility. Wars are won by the best trained, the most highly motivated, the strongest, the most fit and the most cohesive units — any distraction can and will be fatal.

A former commandant of the Marine Corps, General Robert Barrow, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam and a vocal opponent of women serving in combat, had this perspective: "They give life, sustain and nurture it — they don't take life and they should not be required to do so."

Today's feminists and other proponents of combat fantasy have falsely assumed that engaging enemy forces can be gender neutral, that males and females are interchangeable on the battlefield.

Additionally, those adherents of gender parity are clueless about the horrors of close combat and the absolutely miserable day-to-day conditions experienced by "grunts" in the field of battle. Contrary to popular opinion, wars are not now, nor will they ever be, decided by unmanned drones, special operations forces or the laser-guided gadgetry of pushing buttons.

All of those plus artillery, air and naval gunfire are effective solely as combat support for the "Queen of Battle" as the infantry is known, and no war has been or will be carried to decision without "boots on the ground" occupying the enemy territory.

Chief among the fears of those realists made uneasy by the Defense Department's decree is that the training, strength and endurance requirements for combat assignment will be "watered down" to accommodate females. All of the services have toed the line in attesting that this will not be permitted to happen; however, who among us is so naive as to believe the feminists who claim that equal rights demands a gender neutral composition of the armed forces will accept anything less.

The best illustration of this is a recent quote by usually moderate and bipartisan syndicated columnist, Kathleen Parker, in answer to General Martin Dempsey's statement that: 

"If 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?"

Parker wrote in response, "Translation: If women can't meet the standards, we'll just 'gender norm' them."

The only service that has not integrated its entry level basic training (boot camp) is the Marine Corps with its insistence of separate training units for men and women. Anyone who believes that the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force have not relaxed strength and endurance requirements to accommodate female recruits is either delusional or extremely gullible.

As one who has not only served in combat as an infantry unit leader but also has scores of close friends and acquaintances who have done likewise, I reject the notion that combat can be feminized or become a kinder, gentler method of fighting wars. The unintended consequences of such lunacy include denigration of combat effectiveness, unit cohesion, military readiness and that undefinable esprit and brotherhood peculiar to those who have served in combat units.

The Department of Defense decree of opening all Military Occupational Specialties to women begs an answer to two questions: 1. Why? 2. Will combat readiness/effectiveness be materially enhanced?

I believe the answers to be self-evident.

J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.

Like what you see here? Become a member.

Show Me the Errors (What's this?)

Report corrections or additions here. Leave comments below here.

You must be logged in to participate in the Show Me the Errors contest.


Steve Simmons February 6, 2013 | 9:29 a.m.

First of all Colonel I would like to make it clear that I agree with you. I have no desire to see women on the front lines of combat and I don't think it is militarily necessary. However, I feel you do the fairer sex a disservice by implying that women are not capable of such service. History suggests otherwise.

As I am sure you know, hundreds of thousands of women served bravely in the Soviet Red Army during World War II and many were decorated for their valor in battle. Women served as pilots, tank commanders, machine gunners and artillery crew. They excelled as snipers on the Eastern front. Women fought at Stalingrad, an unimaginable horror. Granted, today's military is unlikely to face a comparable conflict, particularly on home soil, so one could say that an extreme situation such as that faced by the Soviets in 1941-43 called for extreme measures. Yet women showed they were up to the task!

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice February 6, 2013 | 11:11 a.m.

Ugh. Where's Pogo when a little ol' gal needs him and why can't I quit humming the sound track of Lil' Abner?

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm February 6, 2013 | 12:02 p.m.

I fought along side many women in Afghanistan; including more than a few Canadian women in dedicated combat roles. The average women fought as effectively as the average man in my opinion.

As far as Karl's "argument"; it is the same tired garbage they used to fight integrating white and black soldiers decades ago. Much like the rest of his opinions on various issues, Miller is stuck in the 1950s.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith February 6, 2013 | 1:31 p.m.

Without agreeing or disagreeing, I'd like to point out some "economic" aspects.

Using only male soldiers as a model, you are more apt to rise quickly in rank if you participated effectively in combat. That applies to both officer and enlisted ranks. Higher rank means both higher pay and higher retirement pay.

A friend of mine, a 1954 graduate of MS&T in Civil Engineering, made career of Army Corps of Engineers, retiring as a brigadier general. So? So you can't rise much beyond that in the Corps. Four-star generals come from infantry, armor, special forces or airborne: units tasked for combat.

I've had more than a few people posit that the armed services are irrational. Well, isn't the act of war itself irrational? I wouldn't attempt to operate a civilian enterprise using only military rules, so why attempt the reverse?

A little bad humor. The person who wrote that "all men are created equal" probably never looked at a line of buck naked men standing in line for a military physical.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 6, 2013 | 1:31 p.m.

My personal sympathies side with "They give life, sustain and nurture it — they don't take life and they should not be required to do so." I tend not to argue with tens-of-thousands-of-years of biology and social organization.

However, I will neither argue against nor hinder a woman wishing combat assignments. I insist, however, that she (just like a man) meet time-established and proven standards for ALL abilities (physical, mental, and emotional) that will be required for such an assignment. I will not support dumbing-down of the norms based upon gender or anything else. You either do the job by these standards, or you don't get to participate. It's pass/fail all the way with no in-between.

If a woman (or a man) can meet those standards, I have few problems with this. Any that I do have are related to what I would think if my own daughter wished such a role...which, of course, goes full-circle back to my first paragraph.

(Report Comment)
Taylor Combs February 6, 2013 | 6:26 p.m.

While I have various issues with this argument in general, my biggest complaint is this: Why must you essentialize women to their appearance, even in this context?

"I don't even want to know a woman who would volunteer to occupy a foxhole, go for periods of up to 30 days without a shower and accomplish the most fundamental of hygienic functions alongside their male partners."

What does your comfort-level with a woman's hygiene have anything to do with her abilities as a solider?

Just because your idea of womanhood has been irreversibly altered by the marketing campaigns that tell us women's bodies are immune to bad smells, hairiness, or (heaven forbid!) normal bodily functions, doesn't mean she couldn't bear to be unwashed in a foxhole (luckily, far, far away from you).

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller February 6, 2013 | 7:49 p.m.

Mr Hamm,

You continue to post of your obviously wide span of military experience in the Afghanistan theater of battle. As a student of warfare and of military history, I do not recall any narratives of women in infantry units fighting alongside men in Afgannistan or Iraq for that matter. Perhaps you would be so kind as to enlighten me as to the time and place of those battles that I may add them to my historical collection? I assume you had an infantry MOS?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams February 6, 2013 | 10:35 p.m.

The nature of this argument (being that the good Colonel and maybe me are troglodytes), I did have a thought:

With respect to sports in academia, what the hell is the purpose of Title IX?

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking February 7, 2013 | 4:11 a.m.

I think the question that hasn't been asked here (and it's probably not one I should ask because I won't see the answer) is: Have the physical requirements for being a soldier changed? Is being a modern US soldier more about operating military technology than physical close-in combat? If so, we'd expect women could fill a wider role in combat operations without needing to meet traditional physical standards.

I understand that Israel's experience with women in infantry units is not favorable, mostly because it's a unnecessary distraction for both sexes.

I have no first hand knowledge or opinion of what I've written here, but just wish to put it out there for discussion.


(Report Comment)
Skip Yates February 7, 2013 | 6:55 a.m.

Well, there's combat and then there's combat. You are just as dead getting shot as an MP in a guard tower or riding in a vehicle that hits an IED as being shot on Hill 881. Around 140 women have been killed in the Iraq/Afgan conflicts and close to 800 or so wounded as a result of mostly "hostile" action over the last ten years or so. But, there are differences. Its been a long time (Vietnam) since we have had a platoon or company overrun (in an extremely harsh environment) and slaughtered by an organized, professional enemy army. Lest we forget!

(Report Comment)

Leave a comment

Speak up and join the conversation! Make sure to follow the guidelines outlined below and register with our site. You must be logged in to comment. (Our full comment policy is here.)

  • Don't use obscene, profane or vulgar language.
  • Don't use language that makes personal attacks on fellow commenters or discriminates based on race, religion, gender or ethnicity.
  • Use your real first and last name when registering on the website. It will be published with every comment. (Read why we ask for that here.)
  • Don’t solicit or promote businesses.

We are not able to monitor every comment that comes through. If you see something objectionable, please click the "Report comment" link.

You must be logged in to comment.

Forget your password?

Don't have an account? Register here.