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.