Women in Combat?

By Raoul Lowery Contreras

Should women be allowed in American fighting units that do the fighting on the ground? Or should they be restricted to non-combat roles?

The question has been asked before when American Blacks were not permitted to serve in combat and were restricted to non-combat roles of kitchen help, serving officers and handling supplies.

Blacks were not even permitted to join the United States Marines, for example, until 1942. Even then, they were segregated into an all-Black Boot Camp at Montfort Point far from the infamous Parris Island.

Despite President Harry Truman’s 1948 Executive Order to integrate the American military, it responded with some resistance. Vietnam was the first integrated war and race riots and conflicts occurred on aircraft carriers, on the streets of American cities and on American military bases in America and overseas. Finally, the First Gulf War and the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan produced an American integrated military that could and did fight wars with minimal racial conflict.

Then came the subject of same sex military problems and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” That passed. Then came the current problem of women in combat.

Women mostly served in non-combat roles in Iraq and to some extent in Afghanistan. Women who came under fire were allowed to fight back. They served in auxiliary functions to combat infantry units and in prison guard and military police functions but not in combat arms units like motorized infantry in the Army or reconnaissance units of the Marines or in Marine Infantry battalions.

It was a former Army 2nd Lieutenant, Congressman and White House Chief of Staff and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta who ordered studies in the military to look at the question of women in combat units.

This issue is important to the entire country for several reasons: The majority of Americans are women; there are women who insist it is their right to serve in combat because otherwise they are denied “equal opportunity;” women claim they are qualified, and women claim that as an all-volunteer military, they should have full “equality” and, lastly, arguments against their service reminds every one of the arguments against Blacks in combat units, thus those arguments are specious and gender-bias based, many women claim.

The issues are political balanced by unequal physical (dis) qualifications.

The issue is important to Hispanics for various reasons: Hispanics are one in five (20 percent) of American Combat Arms (Infantry, Armor and Artillery) which is a higher percentage of their share of the population; Hispanics serve ably and with great distinction in infantry units, thus exposure to women alongside them in combat poses a peril many are not willing to accept.

Can a five-foot tall 100 pound Hispanic woman pick up and carry or even drag a hundred-seventy-pound wounded infantryman and carry him to safety hundreds of yards away? Can that same 100-pound five foot tall Hispanic woman carry a combat pack of 100 pounds up and over mountainous terrain and then carry a wounded soldier to safety? Can an integrated infantry unit perform its killing duties efficiently with speed when women are in it? There are many, many questions like these that the United States Marine Corps looked at in the process of conducting a $36 million study earlier this year.

The study results have caused a Washington scandal. President Obama’s Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus rejects the study’s conclusions that women do not perform well in combat infantry positions. Specifically, “integrated” combat units with women do not perform at the same level as all-men units. This is true at the fire team, squad, platoon, company and battalion levels which is how the infantry is organized.

Secretary Mabus declared the study to be “biased” a charge that has infuriated Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) himself a former Marine officer who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written the Secretary of Defense demanding that Mabus be fired for questioning the integrity of Marines that conducted the study.

The Marines that already have the smallest percentage of women do not recommend women in combat. Why? Perhaps their experience tells us why.

Could women have done what World War I Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels wrote of the Marines at France’s Belleau Wood:

” …Fighting day and night without relief, without sleep, often without water, and for days without hot rations, the marines met and defeated the best divisions that Germany could throw into the line…Time after time officers seeing their lines cut to pieces, seeing their men so dog tired that they even fell asleep under shellfire, hearing their wounded calling for the water they were unable to supply, seeing men fight on after they had been wounded and until they dropped unconscious…Without water, without food, without rest, they went forward…The marines, who for days had been fighting only on their sheer nerve, who had been worn out from nights of sleeplessness, from lack of rations…” won the battle.

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Contreras served in the United States Marine Corps (R)

-photo from www.Discovery.com-