I'm grateful to Solomon for drawing attention to a post on the USNI Blog by a reserve Marine Lieutenant-Colonel (who happens to be a woman). Her remarks should be seen in the context of the relief from command of Lieutenant-Colonel Kate Germano USMC 'for cause' - but the 'cause' seems flimsy in the extreme to this combat veteran. Frankly, I endorse every word she said, and I believe most fellow veterans, of whatever nationality or service, would agree. Solomon also provides links to views on the issue of women in combat by Col. John Ripley (USMC, retired) (read more about him here) and General Robert H. Barrow (27th Commandant of the USMC, retired) (read more about him here).
Let me state my own position in the simplest possible terms.
I believe that women are not strong enough to engage in ground combat alongside men, given the nature of the physical demands imposed by that environment.
Note that I say nothing about mental, intellectual, emotional or spiritual issues. Those are, in my opinion, matters for consideration in each individual. Women are often at least as strong as men in those areas, if not stronger. My concerns are purely and simply physical. That's not a level playing field at all. We see this all the time in civilian hiking or mountain-climbing activities; women routinely carry packs weighing less than two-thirds of those of the men with whom they're walking. In the same way, women normally compete with other women in most physical sports, because most women can't compete with most men on equal terms. No-one turns a hair at these realities, so why should it be any different in the military? Consider:
- When your foxhole buddy is injured, you may have to hoist him over your shoulders in a fireman's lift and run several hundred yards to get him to safety. Under severe fire, you may have to lie next to him and drag him across rough, unyielding terrain (perhaps littered with obstacles like bushes, rocks, hollows, etc.) for a similar distance. This requires a certain level of strength and endurance. In my experience, I have never yet met a single woman who appeared to possess that strength and/or endurance.
- When lifting artillery shells and carrying them to the cannon, soldiers routinely have to lift and carry up to a hundred pounds apiece - sometimes more. (As an example, a M982 Excalibur 'smart' 155mm. artillery round, currently in service with the US armed forces, weighs 106 pounds.) Carrying one of these is bad enough. Carrying a dozen of them in rapid succession can exhaust a man (ask me how I know this!). Carrying them hour after hour, hurrying from gun to ammo supply and back again, unloading fresh supplies from trucks, never stopping to rest . . . it's enervating to a degree that only those who've experienced it will understand. I absolutely cannot believe that any woman could keep up with her male counterparts under such circumstances.
- When humping supplies, it's normal for soldiers to lift bulky, unwieldy, heavy packages at least as heavy as artillery shells, and often have to lift them over their heads to load them onto trucks or other transport. Again, over an extended period I don't believe that most women could sustain such demands for strength and endurance.
- When on patrol, it's routine for soldiers to carry loads up to (sometimes in excess of) 100 pounds, all day, every day, for extended periods. Once more, I submit that most women would find this impossible for extended periods.
I have nothing against the skills, courage and willpower of women. I've seen women outperform men in disaster situations, because they were able to retain a mental toughness and balance and focus that far exceeded that of their exhausted, terrified menfolk. I have the highest respect for those qualities . . . but they aren't enough in combat. Combat defines its own requirements. The physical standards established in the past by armed forces all over the world are based on combat experience. Those responsible for those standards knew what they were going to face, and they trained their soldiers accordingly. To reduce those standards in the name of political correctness is not only ludicrous, but actively dangerous to our combat troops - because when they should be fighting, they'll be too busy rescuing those among them who can't keep up, and who in consequence will slow down the entire unit - possibly so much as to derail its assigned mission altogether.
I accept that in situations where physical exertions are not as extreme (e.g. flight, service aboard ships, etc.), women can perform as well as men, and do so at present in the US armed forces. In my military science fiction, I have women in combat positions; but my ground combat forces use exoskeletal body armor that boosts the strength of the wearer by up to ten times, and provides endurance to the user limited only by the power supply and its battery pack. That negates any issue of greater or lesser strength (although fitness and agility remain of the utmost importance, of course). However, we're not dealing with a mythical or fictional future here. We're dealing with present reality.
The politically correct madness that's currently driving the 'women in combat positions' agenda appears to ignore this reality. In some cases, those behind it are suggesting that existing military standards are flawed, based on outmoded ideas, and not really in tune with actual combat requirements. To such idiots I can only say: "Show me your own combat experience and military service. Show me that you've learned the hard way what's involved in combat. Then, and only then, I'll listen to you. Until then . . . " (insert profanity as required).