What is the new change concerning women in combat?

Last week, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lifted the military’s official ban on women in combat, which will open up hundreds of thousands of additional front-line jobs to females in the military. Under the new policy, women may soon be able to volunteer—or be assigned—to infantry, artillery, and other front line combat units.

Each branch of the military will have to come up with an implementation plan in the next several months. If a branch of the military decides that a specific job should not be opened to a woman, representatives of that branch will have to ask the defense secretary for an exception.

Haven’t women already been serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Technically, no. While women are allowed to serve in air and sea combat operations and are allowed to serve in certain units that expose them to danger and harm (800 women have been wounded in the two wars and more than 130 have died), they are not allowed to serve in the artillery, armor, infantry, and other such combat roles. During President Bill Clinton’s first term, the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum on the “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.” The memo defined “direct ground combat” as:

. . . engaging the enemy on the ground with individual or crew served weapons, while being exposed to hostile fire and to a high probability of direct physical contact with the hostile force’s personnel. [It] takes place well forward on the battlefield while locating and closing with the enemy to defeat them by fire, maneuver, or shock effect.

Despite this rule, in February 2012 the Defense Department opened up 14,500 positions to women that had previously been limited to men and lifted a rule that prohibited women from living with combat units.

If women can meet the same physical requirements, shouldn’t they be allowed to serve in combat jobs?

The DOD has lifted the requirement without any evidence that females in the military can meet the same physical requirements as their male counterparts. The military has only recently begun to perform evaluations to make the determination of whether women could qualify for combat jobs.

For instance, last year the Marine Corps admitted two women to take part in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course, a course in which about 25 percent of men don’t make the cut or voluntarily drop out. One of the woman volunteers washed out on the first day because she was unable to complete the program’s introductory combat endurance test. The other woman was dropped from training a few days later due to unspecified medical reasons. The Marine Corps wants to test at least 90 more women in the course before making any decision about women serving in infantry roles, but so far those two women are the only one’s to volunteer for the training.

The military is unlikely to find a sufficient number of qualified women because of the physiological differences between men and women. Comprehensive tests in 1987 and 1990 at Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island found that 45 percent of female Marines could not throw a live grenade safely beyond the 15 meter bursting radius. And as Mackubin Thomas Owens notes:

The average female soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine is about five inches shorter than her male counterpart and has half the upper body strength, lower aerobic capacity (at her physical peak between the ages of 20 and 30, the average woman has the aerobic capacity of a 50-year-old male), and 37 percent less muscle mass. She has a lighter skeleton, which means that the physical strain on her body from carrying the heavy loads that are the lot of the infantryman may cause permanent damage.

In the Marine Corps Gazette, the professional journal of the Marine Corp, Captain Katie Petronio wrote an article titled, “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal”:

I understand that there are female servicemembers who have proven themselves to be physically, mentally, and morally capable of leading and executing combat-type operations; as a result, some of these Marines may feel qualified for the chance of taking on the role of [Infantry Officer]. In the end, my main concern is not whether women are capable of conducting combat operations, as we have already proven that we can hold our own in some very difficult combat situations; instead, my main concern is a question of longevity. Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?

As a young lieutenant, I fit the mold of a female who would have had a shot at completing [Infantry Officer Course], and I am sure there was a time in my life where I would have volunteered to be an infantryman. I was a star ice hockey player at Bowdoin College, a small elite college in Maine, with a major in government and law. At 5 feet 3 inches I was squatting 200 pounds and benching 145 pounds when I graduated in 2007. I completed Officer Candidates School (OCS) ranked 4 of 52 candidates, graduated 48 of 261 from [The Basic School], and finished second at [Military Occupational Speciality] school. I also repeatedly scored far above average in all female-based physical fitness tests (for example, earning a 292 out of 300 on the Marine physical fitness test). Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.

Won’t women be excluded if they can’t meet the physical requirements for combat jobs?

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, acknowledged on Thursday that commanders must justify why any woman might be excluded and, if women can’t meet any unit’s standard, the Pentagon will ask: “Does it really have to be that high?”

Importantly, though, if we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high? With the direct combat exclusion provision in place, we never had to have that conversation.

The decision to open combat jobs was not made because anyone in the military believed it was necessary to enhance military readiness. Rather, the rule change was a politically motivated decision to advance the abstract notion of “equality.” Because of this most critics of the change fully expect the military will be forced to do what the U.S. military has always done to expand opportunities for women to serve: resort to gender-norming.

Gender norming is the practice of judging female military applicants, recruits, and service members by less stringent standards than their male counterparts. This has been the standard procedure for most physical requirement in the military for the past several decades.

For example, men in the Marine Corps are required to do pull-ups for the semi-annual fitness test while women perform a flexed-arm hang, in which they hold themselves above a chin-up bar for 60 seconds. In 2014 a new change will require women to also do pull-ups, but gives them a higher score for the same pull-ups as their male counterparts.

To get a perfect score on the fitness test a young male Marine would need to perform 20 pull-ups, 100 abdominal crunches in 2-minutes, and run 3 miles in 18 minutes or less. For a young female to get a perfect score she only needs to perform 8 pull-ups, 100 abdominal crunches in 2-minutes, and run 3 miles in 21 minutes. A Marine who was only able to complete 3 pull-ups, 75 crunches, and 3 miles in 30 minutes would fail—if he were a male. The same score would be a passing score for a female Marine.

Other physical requirements are also less stringent. In recruit training, male Marines must complete a fifteen-mile march carrying a forty-pound pack and weapons in five hours, while women must march ten miles with twenty-five pounds and no weapons in three and a half hours. (Infantry officers carry an average of about 70 pounds of gear on their body in combat and can march for miles. That weight can nearly double when Marines are carrying crew-served weapons, such as mortars and heavy machine guns.)

“Two decades ago, the U.S. Military Academy identified 120 physical differences between men and women,” says Owens, “not to mention psychological ones, that resulted in a less rigorous overall program of physical training at West Point in order to accommodate female cadets.”

Don’t women serve in combat already in other countries?

Women are allowed to serve in front-line combat positions in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Eritrea, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, North Korea, Poland, Romania, and Sweden. However in most of these countries women make up a tiny percentage of actual combat forces. For example, while the French infantry is theoretically open to women, in practice they make up only 1.7 percent of combat troops. And in Israel, it is reported that the Israeli Defense Force often doesn’t accept women for units for which they are eligible and evacuates women during combat situations.

None of these countries can be adequately compared to the United States or used as a model for gender integration. Despite having standing armies, most of those countries rely on the U.S. for their national security. Their military readiness is questionable and it is unlikely they could defend against a foreign threat without the aid of American forces.

Will women now be forced to sign up for the Selective Service and be eligible for military conscription (i.e., “the draft”)?

Most likely. At a Pentagon press conference on Thursday Secretary Panetta admitted that females may soon be included in the Selective Service and qualify for a potential draft should one be ordered by the president. Panetta said he didn’t know who ran the Selective Service, but whoever does will “have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.”

Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness, said the new rule will affect “unsuspecting civilian women, who will face equal obligations to register for Selective Service when a future federal court rules in favor of litigation brought by the [American Civil Liberties Union] on behalf of men.”

At least one Congressional representative, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), has proposed reinstating the draft for both men and women.

Why is this issue a concern for Christians?

Not all Christians will agree, of course, but complementarians and other gender-traditionalists will have serious reservations about the wisdom of allowing women in combat. Even some of those who hold an egalitarian view of ecclesiological issues may not think it is prudent for our sisters and daughters to join our sons and brothers on the front lines of the battlefield.

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood issued a resolution in 1997 that outlines some of the concerns:

The moral justification for military combat service is the duty to protect vital national interests, of which the most vital and most essential is the welfare, security and good order of families; and so moral justification for combat service is derived from, and is thus essentially linked to, the divinely assigned role and responsibilities of self-sacrificial male headship of the family (Eph. 5:23-24); and

WHEREAS, Intentional rejection of the connection between male headship in the family and the male protective role that defines and justifies service as a soldier in military combat necessarily strikes at the complementary nature of male and female relationships established in the order of creation, and unavoidably undermines the order, structure, strength and stability of families within any society that determines to ignore, deny or erase this gender-based distinction; and

WHEREAS, The pattern established by God throughout the Bible is that men, not women, bear responsibility to serve in combat if war is necessary (Gen. 14:14; Num. 31:3,21,49; Deut. 20:5-9,13-14; Josh. 1:14-18; 6:3,7,9; 8:3; 10:7; 1 Sam. 16:18; 18:5; 2 Sam. 11:1; 17:8; 23:8-39; Ps. 45:3-5; Song of Sol. 3:7-8; Isa. 42:13)

Additionally, there are potential religious liberty and family concerns that Christians should be aware of and prepare to address. For instance, young mothers and women who are not pacifists but who object to serving in combat may not be able to receive exemptions from future military conscription. As Lydia McGrew explains:

We should understand this: It is not possible to make a claim to be exempted from registering for the draft on conscientious grounds. The law is quite clear that those (currently only men) who would apply for CO status should they be called up must nonetheless register. The issue of whether their request for exemption would be granted is thus deferred indefinitely, and they would simply have to be ready to mobilize their arguments for a conscientious exemption within a matter of ten days (!) if a draft should be called and their name should be chosen.

To bring this home a bit, consider the fact that in the current all-volunteer force women have been sent away from their small children. In some cases women have their young children with them overseas in government-run daycare. In Brian Mitchell’s invaluable book he even describes one pilot who did her pilot runs in between breast-feeding an infant. So you, if you are the relevant age, or your daughters, or your wife, could be given the choice of taking a baby to a foreign country to be mostly cared for by the government or of leaving the baby behind without its mother. If the father were also unlucky enough to be called up, the children could be left in effect orphaned. My recollection is that we have had cases like this, with both parents sent abroad leaving the children behind, in the all-volunteer force.

Women who object to serving in the military for gender-traditionalist reasons would also therefore have to make it clear that they object to “alternative service” that, if they had children, would require them to leave their children. This, too, arises from the unique nature of the objection—an objection not to war but to feminism.