In the January 2, 2014 issue of Time Magazine online, in a story by reporter Eliana Dockterman.1 “Marines Postpone Pull-Up Requirement for Female Recruits: After more than half fail test, the Marine Corps struggles to find fair fitness test for women pursuing combat jobs,” it was reported that the U.S. Marine Corps has postponed instituting its new fitness requirements for female recruits. The new requirement, which calls for a minimum of three pull-ups for women considering undergoing combat training, was found to be too-difficult for the typical female entrant. For now, the Corps will give female recruits the choice of completing three pull-ups or a fifteen second static hang – in lieu of requiring pull-ups.
The Marine Corps has argued that pull-ups replicate the same muscular strength required to carry munitions, climb walls and perform other military tasks.
However, according to spokeswoman Captain Maureen Krebs, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos has asked training officials to “continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed.” 1
“Gather new data”? Perhaps the Marine Corps should devote the time instead to figuring out to extricate itself from the ridiculous and illogical corner into which it has painted itself.
The politically-correct Pentagon-speak is getting so deep one needs boots to wade through all of it. What exactly does General Amos mean by the words “best opportunity to succeed”? Tell me, General – will a jihadist suicide bomber running toward a female Marine give her “the best opportunity to succeed” before blowing himself and her to pieces?
Ms. Dockterman, the author of the Time story, commented smugly that the Marine Corps was “struggling to find a fair fitness test for women pursuing combat jobs.”
Ms. Dockterman, do you think that passing a “fair” fitness test will matter when an enraged North Korean or Chinese soldier charges a female Marine, his bayonet fixed, intent upon running her through?
The statements of General Amos and Eliana Dockterman and others in favor of putting women into ground combat roles have an air of fantasy and unreality about them. One is reminded of the 1895 H.G. Wells science-fiction novel The Time Machine. Wells imagined a world in the distant future where humanity has diverged into two separate species – the weak and docile Eloi, who live a life of corrupt ease and banality on the surface of the Earth, and the Morlocks, who live underground by day, doing the dirty work of sustaining Eloi society, while at night preying upon them.
Those who support sending women into ground combat are Eloi; they have led a life of affluence and comfort for so long that they have forgotten the meaning of pain, suffering and privation – if they ever knew them in the first place.
The ugly truth is that war is a meat grinder – the ultimate in Darwinian survival of the fittest, the strongest, and the most-aggressive. This is nowhere more truth than in the cruel reality of ground combat.
Does it matter whether a Marine can do pull-ups? Do physical strength, toughness and aggression matter in 21st century warfare? The feminists and their allies in favor of putting women into ground combat often argue that the nature of warfare has changed sufficiently to make the traditional rules barring women obsolete. In modern high-tech war, they contend, the traditional masculine attributes no longer matter – and are no longer decisive. They could not be more wrong.
On today’s battlefields, raw strength, physical toughness and aggressiveness often provide the margin between accomplishing a mission and failing to accomplish it, between victory and defeat, and between living and dying.
In the First Gulf War, SAS (Special Air Service) Sergeant Andy McNabb and the members of his troop were inserted behind enemy lines to locate and destroy suspected Scud missile sites in a remote region of Iraq. Expected to operate on foot for extended periods behind enemy lines without resupply, each member of the team carried a ruck (pack) of two-hundred pounds in weight. Read that again; that is no mistake – two-hundred pounds.
Relatively few people (male or female) can carry over one-hundred pounds on their backs for any length of time – let alone two-hundred pounds; this author is aware of no woman who can manage that feat – yet the Obama White House and its allies insist that women belong in these most-elite of units. Skeptics might scoff that hundred pound-plus combat loads are atypical for the modern combat infantryman or special ops member. Think again.
Foot soldiers generally avoid carrying any excess pounds whenever possible; additional weight on a long-range recon patrol (LRRP) translates directly into more work, more pain and more fatigue. However, they do what is necessary to get the job done – and sometimes the mission calls for extremely heavy loads. Would-be “GI Janes” should know that – like their SAS counterparts – members of elite U.S. ground/special ops forces such as the U.S. Army Special Forces (“Green Berets”), Army Rangers, Delta Force, Marines/Marine Recon, and Navy SEALS, are often called upon to shoulder extremely heavy loads.
Contrary to popular belief, the basic combat load of an infantryman has not decreased over time; it has increased. Technological advances have made much of the equipment carried by today’s grunts lighter and stronger, but that is more-than-offset by the additional gear the modern infantryman carries – which now may include body armor with ceramic plates, as well as sat-com gear, laptop computer, laser range-finders/target designators, and all of the other tools used by today’s fast-movers – in addition to primary and secondary weapons, ammunition, explosives/grenades, first aid kit, shelter, camouflage materials, bed roll, additional clothing, and food and water. Crew-served weapons – such as mortars and heavy machine guns – and ammunition for them add additional weight.
Under the best of conditions, to be an infantryman is to be a beast of burden. That is not hyperbole. Current operations in Afghanistan provide a case in point. The Hindu Kush is one of the most-remote and inhospitable environments on earth in which to wage war; our military – which possesses unrivaled logistical capabilities – is sometimes reduced to getting men into battle in remote areas by using pack animals, horses or by walking them in. Why? Because the remote mountains and passes where the enemy – the mujahedeen – are to be found are often roadless and too-dangerous for sustained aviation operations. Many readers will recall the now-famous photos of Special Forces soldiers riding horses into battle against the Taliban in the weeks and months after the 9-11 attacks.
In such conditions, brute strength matters; toughness matters. Good intentions aren’t enough. Placing female personnel in ground combat in places like Afghanistan will get good men – and women – killed and maimed and will jeopardize the successful completion of the missions their units have been assigned.
In the old-breed U.S. Army and Marines, and – rumor has it – a few of today’s surviving hard-core outfits – a pull-up bar was hung outside the mess hall. No Marine or soldier was allowed to eat unless he did his ten or fifteen pull-ups first. No muscle, no chow. It was a bare-knuckles reminder that war isn’t a game and that it demands hard, tough men.
It is time for voters and military leaders – retired and active-duty alike – to demand that common sense and wisdom prevail. G.I. Jane can’t hang; America’s daughters do not belong in ground combat.
© Peter Farmer 2014
Family Security Matters contributor Peter Farmer is a historian and commentator on national security, geopolitics and public policy issues. He has done original research on wartime resistance movements in WWII Europe, and has delivered seminars on such subjects as political violence and terrorism, the evolution of conflict, combat medicine, and related subjects. Mr. Farmer is also a scientist and a medic.