Women In Combat
Facts From A Closet
Occasionally I have written that placing women in physically demanding jobs in the military, as for example combat, is stupid and unworkable. Predictably I've gotten responses asserting that I hate women, abuse children, cannibalize orphans, and can't get a date. A few, with truculence sometimes amplified by misspelling, have demanded supporting data.
OK. The following are from documents I found in a closet, left over from my days as a syndicated military columnist ("Soldiering," Universal Press Syndicate). Note the dates: All of this has been known for a long time.
From the report of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces (report date November 15, 1992, published in book form by Brassey's in 1993): "The average female Army recruit is 4.8 inches shorter, 31.7 pounds lighter, has 37.4 fewer pounds of muscle, and 5.7 more pounds of fat than the average male recruit. She has only 55 percent of the upper-body strength and 72 percent of the lower-body strength An Army study of 124 men and 186 women done in 1988 found that women are more than twice as likely to suffer leg injuries and nearly five times as likely to suffer [stress] fractures as men."
Further: "The Commission heard an abundance of expert testimony about the physical differences between men and women that can be summarized as follows:
"Women's aerobic capacity is significantly lower, meaning they cannot carry as much as far as fast as men, and they are more susceptible to fatigue.
"In terms of physical capability, the upper five percent of women are at the level of the male median. The average 20-to-30 year-old woman has the same aerobic capacity as a 50 year-old man."
From the same report: "Lt Col. William Gregor, United States Army, testified before the Commission regarding a survey he conducted at an Army ROTC Advanced Summer Camp on 623 women and 3540 men. Evidence Gregor presented to the Commission includes:
"(a) Using the standard Army Physical Fitness Test, he found that the upper quintile of women at West point achieved scores on the test equivalent to the bottom quintile of men.
"(c) Only 21 women out of the initial 623 (3.4%) achieved a score equal to the male mean score of 260.
"(d) On the push-up test, only seven percent of women can meet a score of 60, while 78 percent of men exceed it.
"(e) Adopting a male standard of fitness at West Point would mean 70 percent of the women he studied would be separated as failures at the end of their junior year, only three percent would be eligible for the Recondo badge, and not one would receive the Army Physical Fitness badge ."
The following, quoted by Brian Mitchell in his book Women in the Military: Flirting With Disaster (Regnery, 1998) and widely known to students of the military, are results of a test the Navy did to see how well women could perform in damage control -- i.e., tasks necessary to save a ship that had been hit.
|Test||% Women Failing||% Men Failing|
|Before Training||After Training||Before Training||After Training|
|Stretcher carry, level||63||38||0||0|
|Stretcher carry/up, down ladder||94||88||0||0|
|P250 pump, carry down||99||99||9||4|
|P250 pump, carry up||73||52||0||0|
|P250, start pump||90||75||0||0|
|Remove SSTO pump||99||99||0||0|
|Torque engine bolt||78||47||0||0|
Our ships can be hit. I know what supersonic stealthed cruise missiles are. So do the Iraqis.
Also from the Commission's report: "Non-deployability briefings before the Commission showed that women were three times more non-deployable than men, primarily due to pregnancy, during Operations Desert Shield and Storm. According to Navy Captain Martha Whitehead's testimony before the Commission, 'the primary reason for the women being unable to deploy was pregnancy, that representing 47 percent of the women who could not deploy.'"
Maybe we need armored strollers.
My friend Catherine Aspy graduated from Harvard in 1992 and (no, I'm not on drugs) enlisted in the Army in 1995. Her account was published in Reader's Digest, February, 1999, and is online in the Digest's archives.
She told me the following about her experiences: "I was stunned. The Army was a vast day-care center, full of unmarried teen-age mothers using it as a welfare home. I took training seriously and really tried to keep up with the men. I found I couldn't. It wasn't even close. I had no idea the difference in physical ability was so huge. There were always crowds of women sitting out exercises or on crutches from training injuries.
"They [the Army] were so scared of sexual harassment that women weren't allowed to go anywhere without another woman along. They called them 'Battle Buddies.' It was crazy. I was twenty-six years old but I couldn't go to the bathroom by myself."
Women are going to take on the North Korean infantry, but need protection in the ladies' room. Military policy is endlessly fascinating.
When I was writing the military column, I looked into the experience of Canada, which tried the experiment of feminization. I got the report from Ottawa, as did the Commission. Said the Commission:
"After extensive research, Canada has found little evidence to support the integration of women into ground units. Of 103 Canadian women who volunteered to joint infantry units, only one graduated the initial training course. The Canadian experience corroborates the testimony of LTC Gregor, who said the odds of selecting a woman matching the physical size and strength of the average male are more than 130-to-1.
From Military Medicine, October 1997, which I got from the Pentagon's library:
(p. 690): "One-third of 450 female soldiers surveyed indicated that they experienced problematic urinary incontinence during exercise and field training activities. The other crucial finding of the survey was probably that 13.3% of the respondents restricted fluids significantly while participating in field exercises." Because peeing was embarrassing.
Or, (p. 661): " Kessler et al found that the lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the United States was twice as high among women " Depression, says MilMed, is far commoner among women, as are training injuries. Et cetera.
The military is perfectly aware of all of this. Their own magazine has told them. They see it every day. But protecting careers, and rears, is more important than protecting the country.
Anyway, for those who wanted supporting evidence, there it is.