Sunday, September 27, 2015

Women in Combat Units

Ray Mabus, current SecNav, has “made it clear he opposes the proposal from Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford and has recommended that women be allowed to compete for any Navy or Marine Corps combat jobs (Lolita C. Baldor,, September 19, 2015).” This was predictable and there is no practical value of railing against his decision. There is, however, a sound alternative to integrating women into mixed combat units.

We should form all-female combat units. The SecNav and others claim that women who meet standards are equal to the men who meet the same standards. Based on this assertion, the combat efficiency of an all-female unit should be equal to any all-male unit and any argument to the contrary would weaken their opening assumptions.

There are some very serious reasons for doing this:

·         There is an inherent protectiveness on the part of most men toward women and this could get men killed if they treat a female comrade any differently than they would a male comrade. While the frequency would be hard to predict, it is certain that this would happen at least occasionally in integrated units.

·         It is impossible in any mixed organization for attractions not to emerge between men and women and the bonding (especially if it is sexual) will be different than male-male bonding (unless this too is sexual). In addition, sexual harassment, while regrettable and criminal is pervasive in all of our society and will not be different in integrated units.

·         There is an inherent intimacy that is associated with the normal elimination of bodily waste. Men have a preference for privacy relative to other men and this is much more important for men in the presence of women and women in the presence of men. In live combat, this is near impossible.

Each of the above seriously impacts unit cohesion and unit effectiveness and all-female units are seen as the best way of addressing these concerns.

Over time, opportunities for promotion for women in combat arms would be available and increase proportionally as the number and size of all-female units increased. Further, female commanders certainly could be considered for command of company level and larger units comprised of all male platoons or a combination of male and female platoons so there would be no discrimination in the opportunities for promotion.

John R. Powers

Colonel   USMCR (ret.)

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