Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Women in combat? Not so fast, says this woman!

I was pleased to read an excellent article in the Marine Corps Gazette by Captain Katie Petronio.  Here's an excerpt.

As a combat-experienced Marine officer, and a female, I am here to tell you that we are not all created equal, and attempting to place females in the infantry will not improve the Marine Corps as the Nation’s force-in-readiness or improve our national security.

. . .

Who is driving this agenda? I am not personally hearing female Marines, enlisted or officer, pounding on the doors of Congress claiming that their inability to serve in the infantry violates their right to equality.

. . .

I understand that there are female servicemembers who have proven themselves to be physically, mentally, and morally capable of leading and executing combat-type operations; as a result, some of these Marines may feel qualified for the chance of taking on the role of 0302. In the end, my main concern is not whether women are capable of conducting combat operations, as we have already proven that we can hold our own in some very difficult combat situations; instead, my main concern is a question of longevity. Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?

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). Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.

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. Regardless of my deteriorating physical stature, I was extremely successful during both of my combat tours, serving beside my infantry brethren and gaining the respect of every unit I supported. Regardless, I can say with 100 percent assurance that despite my accomplishments, there is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside as their combat load and constant deployment cycle would leave me facing medical separation long before the option of retirement. I understand that everyone is affected differently; however, I am confident that should the Marine Corps attempt to fully integrate women into the infantry, we as an institution are going to experience a colossal increase in crippling and career-ending medical conditions for females.

There's much more at the link.  Very highly recommended reading.

I have the highest possible respect for women in uniform.  They're indispensable.  However, they are not, and never will be, men in disguise.  As a combat veteran, I can tell you that having to hump extraordinarily heavy gear through intense heat, deep mud, freezing cold and the like will debilitate you faster than you would believe possible.  Combat under such conditions becomes an ordeal far beyond my ability to describe it.  Only the fittest and strongest will be effective under such conditions.  I take nothing away from the real abilities and strengths of women when I respectfully point out that nature has not endowed them with the same strength and physical power as most males.  It's not discriminatory to point that out . . . it's the truth.

I applaud Captain Petronio for stating the truth so forthrightly and directly.  However, I suspect that in our politically correct age, she'll have a hard time getting those in power and in authority over her to acknowledge the truth of her words - let alone do something about implementing saner policies!



Unknown said...

Interesting discussion of this going on over at The Spearhead:


Tom Stedham said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
perlhaqr said...

Wait, is this a joke?

This issue is being pushed by several groups, one of which is a small committee of civilians appointed by the Secretary of Defense called the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS).

Seriously? Seriously?


LabRat said...

Errrrr... the Spearhead is a rather infamous internet-misogynist hub. Their topics of discussion range from "Women: do they belong in combat?" to "Women: has there been one born that wasn't a life-sucking whore since 1900?".

As to the article: By all MEANS, let's do the research, because that's just sane. The physical effects of long-term combat stress is a subject that needs more research for MALE soldiers, let alone women.

That said? One woman's experience is anecdata. Some soldiers just flat experience cascading physical breakdown in combat field conditions, and because almost all of those are men, almost all of them have been men. Being bigger and more powerful doesn't necessarily equate to being more physically durable; among various results of physiology research that has been done includes teh greater capacity of women to work at close to their maximum capability for longer before breakdown (this is actually for a strikingly straightforward reason), greater capacity to work at temperature extremes before physical breakdown, and vastly lower likelihood to succumb to rhabdomyolosis, a sudden and rather lethal breakdown in response to too much intensity, too fast.

Does this mean they are in fact as tough or tougher than men in combat conditions? No. That is not known, at all.

Do the research.

Anonymous said...

Captain Petronio is a good captain, but I'm afraid she was one of the unlucky ones. Having two tours under three different female commands I can say no two people are created equal, let alone women. Trust when I say for every combat capable woman there are 4 unable to handle war. Regardless, that one does the job as good as any man in command.