The Veteran’s Perspective – Women in Combat – Fairness is Very Elusive

By Elmer Ellsworth and the Veteran’s Perspective

We have been asked to provide our Veteran’s Perspective on President Obama’s decision to direct the US Military to open all military specialty skills to women (meaning women will now serve in all direct combat positions). We are putting on our Kevlar for this one as we expect some shots to be coming back our way regardless of what we say!!

Many Great Women Warriors – Today’s post 9/11 Veterans have learned first-hand that the true medal of a warrior is measured based on that individual’s actions and inactions. Nothing more, nothing less. What a person looks like and where they come from has no bearing on their ability to perform as a warrior. Women have proven themselves as equal and deserving members of the military team. But, to be clear, when assessing this issue one must look beyond the unique and inspirational instances at the extreme high end of the spectrum and focus on the capabilities of the “average” soldier.

Combat Roles Are Different – It is one thing to be in a role that may be required to fight to defend ones’ self / unit but it is completely different to be in a combat role. The jobs requiring soldiers to close with and destroy the enemy require much greater lethality and speed of execution as well as a very different “attitude.” Units that exist solely to seek out and kill the enemy experience much higher stress, higher casualties, greater risks and in the end are the basis upon which battles are won and national security objectives are achieved. This is a very significant issue, not just a minor change.

Standards Must be Standards – Combat veterans understand the importance of establishing and maintaining clear and firm standards for training and readiness. It is too early to comment intelligently on the military’s plans for implementing Ash Carter’s directive because the details of such plans are not yet known. At this point we can only assume that the military will stand firm on not allowing separate standards for women. We are also left to only assume that the military has a plan for dealing with the possible scenarios that could require the Marine Corps and Army to rapidly field large numbers of units.

BUT, Fairness Cuts Both Ways – Men do not always get the choice of the military specialty skill that they are assigned. There have been many men who have been forced to serve in combat roles even though they qualified to serve in other non-combat roles which they preferred. So, the big question is, will women now also be required to serve in combat roles when the needs of the military so require – that is to say, even when they DON’T want to? If not, then we just created a new fairness issue because women will be allowed to CHOOSE when they serve in a combat role while men may be given NO CHOICE. The fact that President Obama has NOT ordered all women to register as their male counterparts must do is evidence of the fact that this fairness issue is NOT being addressed.

Real Factual Issues Involved – Make no mistake, regardless of the benefits of allowing qualifying women to serve in combat roles there could be very serious ramifications in terms of casualties and losses in combat. The recent Marine Corps tests and evaluations found highly qualified women Marines performed slower and less effectively than male marines with lower qualifications. Most experts on this topic believe that at a minimum the Marine Corps study raises serious issues. To this point, there does not appear to be any substantive non-political response to these concerns.

Also Concerns Impacting Unit Readiness – Any adult, particularly teachers or parents of young adults, should understand how difficult it can be to get a group of 18-22 year olds to remain professional, focused and engaged when co-ed hormones are involved. Civilians may not fully appreciate that in a combat unit less than maximum focus during training and diminished unit cohesiveness absolutely results in poorer performance in training which in turn results in poorer performance in combat.

NEVER Play Politics with National Security – In the end, we are concerned that this move only exchanges one “fairness” issue for another. Furthermore, until there is scientific evidence to demonstrate that the proven physical differences between men and women do NOT result in lower combat performance, we believe this decision is based purely on politics. Sometimes change for change’s sake is dangerous. And, from a Veterans’ Perspective, we will never approve of political agendas driving national security decisions because it is our brother and sister veterans who end up paying that bill.


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