Mr. Roberts and the New Navy

Posted on May 26, 2019


Ms. Roberts and the New Navy

While traveling last fall to Cadiz, Spain I ran across some American sailors stationed at the Rota Naval Base where their destroyers and other ships in the Navy’s Sixth Fleet were homeported. Cadiz and Rota share a huge bay open to the Atlantic Ocean and we chatted at the Jerez de la Frontera International Airport which serves the area.

He was an electronics technician on his way back home for a few weeks of leave to be in an old friend’s wedding back in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Like the nosy social scientist that I am, I picked him out, and a few other Americans, with short hair and neatly dressed from the motley crowd of other America and European travelers going hither and yon in the sun-filled land of Andalucia.

“You stationed at Rota?” I asked since I think we were sitting near to each other, waiting for our flights.

“Yeah, you Navy too?” he bantered back good naturedly.

“Well, a long time ago,” I answered.

“What did you do?”

“Well, since I virtually knew nothing of guns, growing up in cities, they of course made me Gunnery Officer.”

“Hah, Weps! Just like the Navy,” he laughed, “weps” being the more modern term for gunnery officer. Weapons officer sounds modern. Gunnery officer sounds like someone from the age of sail and cannons.

“And you?”

He told me the name of his ship and he worked in electronics.

“Lots of girls on your ship?” I asked.

“Yes, oh yes, more than half in my division are women.”

Wow, I pondered on that statistic. Half the ship, perhaps, was manned by women.

What a far cry from my day, when the only women we saw were chasing them in liberty ports in the Caribbean or Mediterranean, or coming home to wives, mothers, and sweethearts.

Going to sea in warships was men’s business.

Which brings me around to an article published in the WSJ with the unabashed title, “Women Don’t Belong in Combat Units,” by, not a grizzly old warrant officer turned political commentator, but a well-heeled lady named Heather Mac Donald, with impeccable academic credentials including Yale and Stanford.

She makes an astute argument for her case: “the Obama-era policy of integrating women into ground combat units is a misguided social experiment that threatens military readiness and wastes resources in the service of a political agenda.”

She argues, with compelling evidence, that combat readiness is seriously eroded in gender-integrated units. A study done in 2014-2015 by the Marine Corps lays out the issue clearly. In a series of comparisons between gender-integrated and male-only combat infantry units, the all-male units—sorry girls—greatly outperformed the integrated teams, whether on shooting, surmounting obstacles, or evacuating casualties.

Or as my trainer, Josh Curtman, asked me the other day, “who is going to drag or carry me off the battlefield after I’m wounded?” Josh is a sniper in the Alabama Guard and is about 6’5” and a body builder.

Female marines were injured at more than six times the rate of men during preliminary training. Only two women have passed the Marines infantry officer training course of the dozens who have tried.

The services have been forced to lower physical requirements to meet the demands of totally integrated units.

The affect on morale in the services has been mixed. Having women on board has most assuredly made a lot of men and women happy. When aircraft carriers return from long voyages of deployment, dozens of the girl swabbies go down the gang plank pregnant. This gives a new meaning to Love Boats.

The affect on “combat readiness,” a term used by the military to measure fitness for combat is, on the other hand, seriously diminished by women in the units.

A Marine officer in Afghanistan had his troops well disciplined, until four women were attached to the unit to reach out to the local women.

“The posts atmosphere changed overnight,” the commander recalled, “from a stern, businesslike place to that of an eighth-grade dance.” The officer “walked into a common room one day to find the women clustered in the center. They were surrounded by eager male Marines, one of who was doing a hand stand.” Boys will be boys.

Combat-unit cohesion is another term to describe combat readiness and women in combat units diminish combat readiness. Mac Donald notes that “the claim that female combat soldiers will perform as lethally as men over an extended deployment entails a denial of biological reality….”

Women can shoot back and defend themselves. Women engineers in Iraq and Afghanistan returned fire when attacked, but “performing well in incident-related combat is a far cry from serving in a dedicated ground-combat unit, with its months of punishing physical demands.”

You don’t need me to draw the obvious conclusions. It’s kind of like college or pro football. Other than an occasional kicker with a pony tail, it’s a man’s game. Likewise, ground combat. And the stakes are much bigger on any given day in a combat zone than even the biggest Super Bowl of the decade.

Published as “Combat is not for women” March 24, 2019 in The Tuscaloosa News.

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