Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Female Army Rangers

Love My Rifle More Than You

I should start this by saying I have never served in the military, never had a shot fired at me in anger and only once or twice had armed men threaten me, and in those instances, they were trying to escape past me, not kill me. 

Friday, the first two females to pass the grueling Army Ranger school will be anointed Rangers.

They may never serve among Ranger combat soldiers in battle because at least some influential male officers oppose this.
I have to hear the argument from male generals and grunts about not allowing women into the males-only combat teams and trying to understand the objections,  I have to extrapolate from my own experience, which may not actually be a reliable guide. 

I can also draw from what little I know of history.
She Beat Us

I have listened to  North Vietnamese generals interviewed after the war,  and heard their analysis of the American soldier: Americans were not very good fighters, too slow, too weighed down by heavy equipment, too loud, too easy to see coming and too clumsy.  The 6 foot 220 pound American soldier was simply not as nimble as the 135 pound Vietcong soldier, who wore black pajamas, carried an AK47 and a pouch with a little rice and rat meat and could fire, fade back into the jungle and disappear.  

I was reminded of that today, when I heard an American soldier, a woman,  who said she weighed 100 pounds at 5'1" and she said she had accompanied American Rangers and other Army regulars on patrols where she was supposed to be interviewing women in Afghan villages, but she carried a rifle and came under fire just like the big boys and she did well. 
She said the major argument against undersized, under powered women was they cannot carry the same load of heavy equipment male soldiers can. She said there were male soldiers who were smaller than she was on patrol with her, and they could not carry much more load than she could, but nobody tried to exclude them.  She said wars are different now. Lugging a 50 caliber machine gun up a hill is not what you typically need to do now. You carry a light M16 and move fast.
Could Kill Guys Who Could Carry More than She

Fact is, our army of big, brutish Americans were beaten by an army of undersized Vietcong, both women and men, mostly under five feet tall and they fired their weapons, killed our much larger, more intimidating soldiers very efficiently, despite the size difference. 
Not Big, Just Lethal

I doubt the importance of being physically overpowering is all that important in most warfare,  as we are about to do it. Being smart and deceptive and being able to see the trap is probably more important.

But saying the argument of the physical inferiority of female strength is not persuasive is not to say I'm sold on the idea of women in forward combat units. 

I've seen what having women on the front lines in the hospital wards has meant. It's been a mixed blessing.  Women civilized the delivery of health care in important ways. They dissipated the locker room atmosphere in the on call rooms and on the wards and they faced down the naked misogyny I witnessed among the almost exclusively male hospital interns and residents. 
But, in their insistence that the experience of the intern be made more humane, they also diluted the hard core ethic of the intern, who came to work no matter what and who stuck it out by the bedside of the patient no matter how bad a migraine he had, no matter how many times he vomited or shook with rigors.  

Maybe, in the final analysis, a willingness to ask to be relieved from duty is good for patient care at the hospital.  Pediatric coverage in the hospital is actually designed for absences by pediatric residents, who get sick with such regularity, catching the viruses their sick little patients give them, they actually have "sick call" where a resident is scheduled to fill in for someone who feels too ill to go to work. We never had that in the Department of Medicine and the surgeons certainly did not.
They Beat The Boys From Paris Island 

I well recall the Emergency Room staff at Georgetown looking pretty pale and drawn and one of my favorite ER docs,  a wisp of a woman,  smiling wanly one dark hour in January saying, "We are sicker than 80% of the patients we are seeing here in the ER."  One of my colleagues had a child by C section on a Monday and was back on the wards in her spot in the rotation the following Sunday, which most people thought was crazy, but she was determined to show the flag and to pull her load.

But now,  out in the "real world," (i.e. outside the university hospital) we see women physicians working 3 days a week, four or six hour days, retiring from practice at age fifty, with what adds up to years off,  for pregnancy and child rearing. 

 Women, with many exceptions, tend to be simply less committed, less dedicated to their patients and more likely to place their own children first and their patients second. They are more likely to say they cannot take the patient to the operating room because they are too tired, or have been up too long.  You don't see them come in as often at 3 AM, not as much as you see male doctors rallying to the flag at that hour.   

I'm not sure if there's a correlate in the armed forces, but if something similar happens in the armed services, we should hear about that.  

There was the story Kayla Williams told in "Love My Rifle More than You," about the sergeant driving the truck convoy in Iraq for 8 hours straight,  who refused to stop for two minutes so the female soldiers could pee.  The male soldiers, of course, could pee into plastic bottles while the trucks were moving but the female soldiers could not do that for anatomical reasons. There was no tactical reason the convoy could not stop for 2 minutes, but the sergeant wanted to drive home the point women do not belong out there with the men in combat zones. What he proved, to me at least, is he is a sadist and an idiot. You can bet those Vietcong soldiers accommodated their female comrades.  

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