Women in Combat Roles: Why Arguments Against It Are All Bunk

Let’s get something straight: the courage and commitment of women Marines are not an issue.

From helo pilots to up-gunners to crew chiefs to running convoys, women Marines have participated in more combat in Iraq and Afghanistan than in any American war – and they’ve performed admirably.

But Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta’s announcement (to allow women on the front lines) opens the worlds of infantry, artillery, and armor to women for the first time, and the commentators, blogs, and discussion boards are extremely unhappy; "using the military to push social engineering," is one of the more polite phrases used. Are they correct?

Let’s get something else straight: if this is the law of the land, I have no doubt the Marine Corps will enthusiastically – and properly – lead the way in implementing women in combat arms MOS’s (Military Occupation Specialists).

However, most of the TV and web comments refer to hygiene, sex, and the chivalry of a male Marine putting himself at risk to assist a female Marine. These arguments are non-starters; hygiene’s an issue for every Marine in a Helmand village, a Marine is going to defend either his brother or sister Marine with equal valor, and somehow I don’t think any Marine fighting in Fallujah thought about stopping for a quickie.

But at the same time, the differences in physical strength between men and women are more pronounced when carrying an 80 lb. combat load through the fields and canals outside of Marjah, or carrying and ramming 135 lb. artillery shells all day and night at An-Nasiriyah; are women able to do so?

Last year, the Marine Corps opened the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) to women; two applied and both dropped out. No knock on them; IOC has an approximate attrition rate of 25% with male recruits. It’s difficult for a reason; combat is exhausting and difficult and it’s better to discover in Quantico than RC SW who can make it and who cannot.

So long as the standards in boot camp, MCT, and IOC remain unchanged, what is the harm in allowing women to qualify (or not) for combat arms? It’s not "social engineering," but rather "equal opportunity,” and that is a huge part of the American way the Marine Corps has been defending since 1775.

But standards are important; in 2009, 2nd Battalion 8th Marines were engaged by Talibans down in the Helmand’s Fishhook where the fighting was hand-to-hand. That’s not the time to find that reducing training standards was a mistake – the Taliban certainly hasn’t cut back on theirs.

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Andrew Lubin

I'm an author and foreign policy-defense analyst who writes on current military operations, international relations, and serves as an advisor to the Truman National Security Project. My work appears regularly in such professional magazines as “Leatherneck”, “The Gazette,” “Jane’s Defense Weekly," and the Huffington Post. I served as the military consultant to Stephens Media Group for their “Valor Series” and wrote for PS's “Regarding War” and U.S. Naval Institute’s “Proceedings.” I'm a member of the Marine Corps Combat Camera Association, and have 14 embeds with USMC in Afghanistan, Haiti, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Asia, and Beirut. I'm producing "Bootsteps," a documentary re: Marine ops in Afghanistan, for PBS. My first book, “Charlie Battery; A Marine Artillery Battery in Iraq” won the 2007 Gold Medal for best Military Non-Fiction from the Military Writers Society of America, as well as Best Memoir from the University of Virginia’s “Festival of Books.” I'm a co-author of “Saluting American Valor” along with “Uncle John Salutes the Armed Forces”, which was nominated in 2009 for “Best Anthology” by the Military Writers Society of America. My latest book, “Keep Moving or Die; Task Force Tarawa at An-Nasiriyah” is due out next year. I've appeared on ABC, CNN, CBS, FOX, and Patriot Media, and is a regular guest on VFW’s “The National Defense,” In November 2004 I was the Military Analyst for WPVI (ABC) Philadelphia during Fallujah-2. I've spoken at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School, the Clinton School, the Thunderbird School of Global Managment, Villanova University, and other universities in the US and Canada. I'm a graduate of Allegheny College, and the Thunderbird School.

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