Saturday, February 2, 2013

Women and Combat

Today's New York Times has an article about efforts to lower standards soldiers must meet to qualify for combat, in order to allow more women to qualify.  There is always the strong suspicion the "qualifications" for combat soldiers have little to do with today's battlefield. Why should today's soldier need to have upper body strength to do 20 pull ups? Does every combat soldier have to be able to do every combat job? Having said that, Mad Dog has seen, ever since Title IX became law, some women at the gym, on the fields, on the courts, and in the swimming pools who are every bit as powerful as most men, and if the Army and Marines are finding women cannot pass the pull up test or the running tests, Mad Dog would say they are testing the wrong women. 

The one thing Mad Dog hasn't seen addressed is the scenario described by Kayla Williams, where the convoy was moving 12 hours without stopping and the men in the trucks could urinate into bottles, but the women were in agony, and for some reason even a three minute pause was deemed untenable.  So the women had to simply pee in their pants. 
Not having been in combat, or in Desert Storm, Mad Dog has a difficult time imaging how a three minute pee stop in the midst of an 12 hour trip could undermine the success of a military operation, but if the Marines say it is so, Mad Dog will stipulate it may be. In that case, appropriate urine bottle equivalents might be developed for female urination. If they can do it for space travel, why not military travel?

But Mad Dog suspects the refusal to stop had more to do with male Army sadism and an attempt at putting down women than it had to do with military necessity. 

The fact is, Kayla Williams, who did not have her infantryman's combat badge, was riding along in that convoy, carrying a gun, as much a target of hostile fire as any of the men riding with her. She was there to interpret Arabic. They really needed her, but they would not stop to allow her to pee. In fact, in today's asymmetric wars of occupation, there are no front lines and the image of charging up a hill carrying a 50 caliber machine gun and 60 pounds of ammo boxes rarely pertains, as far as Mad Dog knows.  But then again, Mad Dog has never been to Afghanistan.

Personally, Mad Dog is humbled every morning at the swimming pool, as young women steam by him in the pool, hit the wall with a flip turn which propels them back in the other direction, fifteen meters down the lane and disappear in a cloud of bubbles. Mad Dog may be able to do more pull ups than those women, but Mad Dog would be happy to have them in his foxhole any day.  Mad Dog has been passed in road races by women, has played on hardball teams with women. The women who can compete with the men are exceptional women, but that is what the Army should have.  The few, the proud, the brave, or whatever their slogan is.

It is true, Mad Dog believes, most women cannot compete in certain ways with the strongest men. Watching girls compete in wrestling is the only example Mad Dog can bring to mind which illustrates gender differences, even across the whole spectrum of female athletic prowess. Before puberty, girl wrestlers do just fine, often by using leg power to defeat shoulder power. After puberty, there are simply no women wrestlers who can compete  with the upper 80% of men. They simply do not progress past the first one or two rounds of high school or college tournaments. They can beat the weaker males, but cannot beat stronger, quicker males who are  fueled by testosterone. The question is, is today's  battlefield more like a wrestling match, mano a mano, or it is more like a video game? 

The best women's basketball, football, hockey and rugby teams might defeat weak male teams, but in combat will they be fighting weaker teams? Are any of these assertions, even if true, relevant to the 21st century war?

The Army women Mad Dog has met have, for the most part, are not been physically exceptional.  They tend to be ordinary women with physical power well below the average male. But they may be able to shoot the wings off a fly at 50 yards and they may be great at operating a computer to find an enemy on the other side of the hill. 

There is a certain amount of gung ho rah-rah which the Army claims is essential to killing efficiency. That sort of phony toughness is not seen in the Israeli army, which has had women for years. The Israeli army seems to be a pretty effective killing machine. Mad Dog suspects the Israel army has succeeded by fighting smart rather than by fighting as blow-hard macho men with big chests and broad shoulders. 

Mad Dog realizes  Full Metal Jacket, the movie, is fiction. But is based on Short Timers, a book written by a Marine about his Vietnam tour of duty and his training for it.
Watch the scene where a 100 pound Viet Cong woman with an AK-47 dismembers a mean-green-killing-machine Marine platoon with stealth, marksmanship, determination and courage, and you will see what Mad Dog means.  Of course, as Mad Dog has said, he has never got any closer to real combat than paint ball and the Emergency Room. 

On the other hand, you do not have jump off a cliff to understand the experience and the outcome. What Full Metal Jacket was all about was phony toughness. It depicted, in great detail, the misguided theory underlying the training of combat Marines. The theory goes something like this:  The most effective warrior is a physically intimidating person who will kill on command without hesitation, in face to face combat, after storming across a field and up a hill. The fact is, soldiers today may not do much storming up hills carrying sixty pounds of ammo.  The nature of the battlefield in Afghanistan may be different from Vietnam or WWII.  History is rife with examples of officers insisting on the wrong tactics, based on the last war and getting their men killed. Soldiers died in heaps during the Civil War because officers believed the qualities which won prior wars still applied to 1861.  What the officers had not adjusted to was the rifled barrel and 1861 artillery. 

You need different tactics and different qualities in your soldiers to fight the war involving new weapons and tactics.  

Do we still need Captain America and Rambo to defeat the insurgent with his Improvised Explosive Device? Does today's soldier, carrying a plastic rifle, patroling the dusty streets of some Afghan village need to be able to do 20 pull ups? Or does she need to be able to assess the looks in the eyes of villagers and know when to pull the trigger?


  1. Mad Dog,`
    As Leon Panetta stated, women have already been fighting and dying alongside men and it's time the mililtary's policies reflected that. I agree with you that front line combat has changed over the years and the ability to accurately assess a potentially lethal situation has become more important than brute force. So, yes, men are physically stronger, for the most part, than women but that hasn't precluded women from serving alongside them in situations that were combat in every way but what they were termed. ( and I'm sure you'd readily agree that women are, overall, more intelligent so it balances out don't you think....)

    Hopefully these changes will lead to a greater recognition of women's military accomplishments and an end to women being passed over for promotions due to lack of combat experience. It should also ,one would expect, lead to a decrease in situations like the one Kayla Williams found herself in on the 12 hour convoy. I agree with you, despite my lack of combat experience as well, that that was more an example of bullying than combat necessity. More women in positions of authority throughout the armed services should go along way in improving the lives of female soldiers like Ms. Williams. In the end though, it remains difficult to be truly excited that one's daughter has the same opportunity to be killed on the front line as one's son...

  2. Maud,

    Yes, it's one of those situations you wonder why women would want this honor.
    On the other hand, who am I to speak for 20 something women?
    But if you are exposed to the same risks, you ought to be eligible for the same benefit.

    Mad Dog

  3. Many military women serve in environments with primitive sanitary conditions or none at all making feminine hygiene difficult. Some restrict fluid intake, which puts them at risk for heat stroke / dehydration. Others hold their urine for long periods of time, which leave them prone to urinary tract infections. Others resort to using layers of perineal pads, bottles, plastic bags or even cans to urinate in.

    GottaTinkle! - an easy-to-use, re-usable, hand-held, travel-sized female urination device (FUD) that gives women and children the ability to pee standing up, is a great solution. Unlike other FUDs, GottaTinkle! is not a funnel or cone designed to make you "pee like a man". Funnels and cones are awkward to use, prone to leaking and leave you feeling wet. GottaTinkle! is a simple, hygienic, urine-collection device that allows women and kids to simply pee into disposable baggies and toss out.

    Please take a look at the following YouTube video -