My Not-So-Rigid (nor Articulate) thoughts on Females Integrated in Combat Units etc...
Ok, here we go….
Over the past few years I’ve been watching this whole evolution of females in combat units, SOF training, integration, etc. play out at a new level. And most recently, I’ve been peppered w/ a lot questions about it, yet am still trying to wrap my head around what I actually think of it all, as there are so many different points to consider and different lens through which to view it -- to include my own personal lens of 2015 vs. mine of a decade ago. It’s been such a polarizing topic…both in the media but more significantly to me while at the “campfire” at work amongst friends lately. It’s been interesting to see who is pro, con, and/or indifferent…a few surprises along the way. And we’re not even talking full integration, we’re just talking a training selection course. Notably, the older guys seem less threatened by it, as do the guys with daughters (assuming these guys would be gung-ho to have their daughters approach them one day and say Daddy I want to be like you! …just my hunch.) The younger guys, especially the ones who got out after just a few years, seem to be the most irate. Hrmmm.
Bottom line: Personally, I think it's bad-ass that these girls want to further dig in their boot-heels to defend/represent/lead their country as well as have more direct options to ultimately go kick some ISIL ass! Good for them! Get some! The greatest issue of contention seems to be blurred.....the 'dropping of standards' and the 'female gender integration'. In my mind, they're separate issues.
The ugly caveat elephant: as long as standards aren't dropped. Were standards dropped at Benning? I don’t know, I wasn’t there. (The whole issue of “standards” is an interesting one already and one that annoys the heck out of me already. I hated hated hated that we had separate gender standards in the army. I was embarrassed for max’ing the PT test as some of the events were so drastically different than that of the males. Of course, I never maxed the run portion of the male standard, though it was still my goal. But I’d still beat most of the dudes. Did that make me less? Did it make them less? No. We all put out, cards fall as they may. Some of the military standards are lame (Sit-ups…really?! One of the dumbest “exercises” ever. Not functional nor relevant really….and I’d hope that more relevant standards are instilled at some point, but that’s an entirely separate issue and I digress….)
Bottom line here: standards at RS are what they are. I surely hope they remained the same this year, and I surely hope everyone was held to the same standard. Can I personally carry/drag a 250-lb dude? Nope. I’m guessing I could do the rest (well, maybe not this year w/a crap-knee haha not haha). But, for instance, if I can’t carry ol’ injured buddy comrade Eli and all his gear out of harms way, then well, I’d be screwing us both, and for the topic at hand: out of selection. Not negotiable, not waiverable. Rightfully so. Is it important to be able to carry your buddy off the field? Heck yes! Can a 120 male soldier carry his 250-lb comrade off the field? Probably not. Is it important to be tactically A-game? Heck yes. Standards should be maintained. Once standards are proven, we can then rely on our individual strengths to contribute 110% to the mission, to the team.
Retired SOF member J. Carpenter wrote an interesting piece which is worth a read (Female Ranger School Grads: A Post 9/11 Army Ranger’s Perspective). He reminded us that the only people who really know what happened during this recent class are the classmates, those who shared the daily burdens. And, that goes for any team, any event, training or real. The fact that these girls had to bear the weight of ALL females though is a little unfair. Guys wash out all the time, it happens. Everyone’s not cut out for it; it is what it is. But when it happens, the guys’ entire gender doesn’t come crashing down nor get criticized for it. These girls had to represent their entire gender...that’s a lot of pressure. Looks like at least a few of them did a'ight for themselves (not to mention all the mental crap/pressure likely going on in their heads along the way). F’n eh! At least they were busy and likely didn’t have the time to worry about the naysayers!
What I personally hope for these girls is that they choose to move forward with professionalism and not get trapped into some politicians agenda nor public relations campaign; that they hold their heads up and drive-on knowing that they're not going to always be able to please everyone (hey that's life!); and that they figure out a way to fully contribute to the mission while maintaining their femininity (not try to turn into guys). The hardest part I think to overcome is the dynamics within the group. I’ve seen it go both ways. In 2015, it might be harder to gain the respect from the team-guys, but once earned, it’s f’n solid. I’ve witnessed this first-hand with some girls earning their integration on teams. But I also realize that we remain humans and that yes genders are wired a certain way, in general. Can we overcome it? I don’t know. Should we try? Well yeah duh. (I love that these girls are more interested in contributing to the world this way rather than via bikini-clad selfies on instagram; to each her own!)
Would I personally want to go through selection (BUD/s, Ranger school, etc.)? Now, 2015? Hardly. That ship has sailed. But when I was a stubborn gung-ho 25-year-old, yeah probably. I had a lot I thought I needed to prove to myself, to others. And frankly, I would’ve likely done it simply because people would say I wasn’t allowed or because they thought I couldn’t. And frankly let’s all admit, it’s also the main reason most young 20-year-old bucks do it too. Most of us, at age 20, know little about the big world, haven’t seen anyone die, haven’t learned anything about the big picture — rather we’re mainly driven by wanting to be part of an elite “tribe”. And this young urge to fight, to prove, to inflate those lats….it’s what makes the world go ‘round! When we’re 20 we think we’re invincible, we run to the fight.
I’ve been watching the responses from a lot of people to include so many of my friends/teammates/colleagues. It's been interesting. Very polarizing and emotional. I get it. And frankly, I'm torn about the topic myself. While my road isn’t exactly the same, for the past 20 years, I've often been the only female in such a group — both in the military, tactical settings, as well as out. In training and downrange. I’ve received the welcome wagon from some open to let me prove myself, as well as from some who were nearly drooling to watch me go down in flames and doing everything to sabotage it from the start. Wasn't always easy. It took me a while to learn that I’d rather be a little embarrassed for failing at something than of dealing with the shame of not trying at all due to fear of public failure of trying.
Most notably, shortly after 9/11, I attended some pretty high-speed tactical training with a dozen or so guys who were mostly from the elite SOF community, with me being the only female (EO selection? haha). Our hands were raw after just a day or two on the range — A LOT of rounds and weapons were being slung. Admittedly, I was learning a lot. One of the mid-level knuckle-draggers was clear from day one that he didn’t want me there. Whatever. The choice wasn’t his and our eventual assignment wasn’t in his purview. I figured I had two options — learn what I could while I was there or let his suck-attitude wear into my confidence (which could adversely affect the confidence/skills I might eventually have to rely upon once down-range). Occasionally, we had some drills on the range during which we’d pair off two students to compete against each other. I figured I might as well volunteer myself to “compete” against him — if I lost, I’d be ok with that as he had signifincant experience over me; if not, well, I pushed myself against a solid operator and maybe learned a thing or two (talk about adding stress to the mindset!). I had nothing to lose. But these thoughts went through my head. And through his head as well (I later learned). Point being, none of this should’ve been going through our heads. We all should’ve been focused on the mission at hand — how to accomplish the task, how to improve our skills, and how to help our buddies’ improve theirs. Why were so preoccupied with the gender crap? Was it because it was such a new wrench in the program? Or is it human nature? To me, this is where the main challenge lies for us all. I don’t know the answer, if there is one.
Once women are more integrated in the community, will we still all think this way? I don’t know. Human dynamics are powerful, and some are deeply engrained. And personally, I think that’s a good thing. As long as we recognize that. I love that we all bring some different things to the table. But it’s taken me decades to figure that out. I don’t want to be a dude…god love em all, couldn’t imagine life without em. Would I want to fight alongside a group of them vs. a group of females. Today? Yes, of course. In general, most girls aren’t wired to want to fight; neither are some boys. That’s fine. They won’t make selection. They won’t even hold an interest in it.
But, once someone (male or female) recognizes their own intent to fight, to wear the uniform, to risk their lives, and eventually makes selection, then it’s a different ballgame. This integration is new territory, new for all of us, and we don’t have to embrace it nor even fully understand our thoughts on it, but I do feel that we should respect those trying to contribute with their own blood.