Column: Opening combat roles to women a positive step forward

In this Dec. 3, 2015, photo, Vermont National Guard Spc. Skylar Anderson, the first female in the Army to qualify as a combat engineer, poses at Camp Johnson in Colchester, Vt. Anderson said she didn't know when she started the training course to become a combat engineer that she would be the first female to graduate. The military has opened up a number of combat jobs to women that were once reserved for men only. (Wilson Ring/AP)

The Pentagon started the process to devolve male-only careers in the military in 2013, and on Dec. 3, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter announced all combat roles would now be open to women, according to the New York Times. There are no exceptions to the combat roles included, from driving tanks, to firing mortars, leading infantry soldiers, as well as serving in Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry and Air Force parajumpers.

Besides the 93 percent male-dominated infantry, the Marine Corps have a culture that segregates recruits by gender for basic training. They even requested an opt-out of the yearlong study for this review citing that integration could hurt their fighting ability.

Unsurprisingly, Gen. Joseph E. Dunford Jr. the former commandant of the Marine Corps, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not attend the announcement. He, instead, issued a statement stating, “I have had the opportunity to provide my advice on the issue of full integration of women into the armed forces. In the wake of the secretary’s decision, my responsibility is to ensure his decision is properly implemented,” according to the New York Times.

Eloquently worded shade being thrown at the Secretary of Defense is the least of our problems. Paul Davis, an exercise scientist who did a multi year study of the Marine infantry told the New York Times that “the practical reality is that even though we want to knock down this last bastion of exclusion, the preponderance of women will not be able to do this job.”

Well, in reality, any human being who wasn’t properly trained would have trouble humping a hundred pounds, which is a defining physical requirement of the infantry, according to Davis. Many of us have trouble carrying our three-pound laptops from Hilltop Apartments to CLAS.

The keywords in this are “properly trained.” If the Marine Corps continue to segregate their recruits based on gender for basic training, then using biology to state that women are weak devolves into a rationalization provided by hypocrites. Lt. Col. Kate Germano who had overseen the Marines, noted the lower standards for women in basic training, according to the New York Times. Rather than using this as an argument to block women from combat roles, the use of more effective training that allows women to meet the set requirements can also be a welcomed alternative.

The argument to block an entire gender from roles in the military because the “preponderance of women will not be able to do this job” is not only an archaic ideal, but simply ridiculous. There was a time when women weren’t allowed to be educated because they were not seen as fit, yet now Davis implements many discoveries produced by women in his research.

Those opposing the integration of women into the military seem to have missed the part of Carter’s announcement where he clarified there would be no quotas to meet. He acknowledged that many elite infantry troops would likely be male-dominant simply because there is a physical difference between men and women based on the muscle mass that one is capable of acquiring. However, there are women who can meet the physical requirements set just as some men cannot. 

Just recently, two women graduated the Army’s intense Ranger School, according to the New York Times. These women met the same requirements as the men. The initial requirements for the school itself were: 49 push-ups, 59 sit-ups, and five mile run in maximum 40 minutes. Just as these two women passed these requirements and many more, there are many men in the military who did not. 

Some believe that full integration of women into combat roles would hurt our cooperation with allied nations where men are opposed to working with women. However, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have proven these are challenges that can be managed.  However, many of our allies have already taken the step forward with full integration of women into the military, including Israel, Canada, and several European countries, according to the New York Times

It’s important for the naysayers to understand the full integration of women into the military does not mean the lowering of standards in any way. It simply allows those who do meet those requirements to serve the roles they want to without a block solely because of their gender. Carter is actually be trying to create a better, more talented and strategic military with this move.


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.