An Unintended Consequence of Females in the Infantry?
There is a great deal of discussion going on right now concerning whether or not women should serve in designated ground combat roles. Should women be infantry soldiers or not? Articles such as that posted at American Thinker by Elise Cooper present numerous pros and cons, but, as with most such writings, the comments by readers are almost uniformly negative. Most of those responding cite various problems that will arise if the Obama administration insists on pushing through this politically correct social experiment. And most of those problems they cite are quite likely to occur in the opinion of this old combat infantryman.
However, there is another problem that I foresee: senior female officers have pushed this issue of women serving in combat because they see the lack combat duty and combat command in their military résumés as an impediment to further promotion. They may be correct. But just because that is true in their situation, it does not mean that it will be so for female junior officers or enlisted personnel serving in infantry units. The reality may just be the opposite.
The lowest leadership position in an infantry platoon is that of fireteam leader -- usually a junior NCO, corporal, or sergeant (and, too frequently in the real world, a specialist fourth class). The fireteam usually consists of the leader and three or four lower-ranking soldiers. To get that first leadership promotion to fireteam leader, a soldier must demonstrate performance that his superiors believe sets him apart from and above those other members of the various fireteams in an infantry platoon and company. While many criteria go into promotion decisions, such as intelligence and can-do attitude, leadership ability is the most sought-after quality.
And that holds true all the way up the promotional chart. For once a soldier has been singled out by his superiors as worthy of being a fireteam leader, from his very first day on the job, his performance is being observed to see how well he leads his team and how well he stacks up against the other two or three fireteam leaders in his squad, as well the three or four fireteam leaders in each of the other two to four squads in his platoon. That competition for promotion never ends, and the importance of the ability to lead only increases with each step up.
And therein lies the rub for young women aspiring to serve in direct infantry roles. Even the most ardent liberal proponents of women in combat will generally concede that it will be a rare female soldier who possesses the same physical strength as her male counterparts. The most important quality for promotion down at the ground level where the infantry operates (it is called ground combat, after all) is leadership, and that leadership means out-front physically leading, setting the example for soldiers operating at the very limits of their physical endurance. How is a physically weaker female soldier going to meet that leadership requirement?
As any infantryman can tell you, superior physical strength generally equals greater endurance. So if a female soldier lacks the strength and endurance to set the example for other soldiers, how is she to get promoted? Having spent six years in the infantry, serving from private to staff sergeant, I can tell you that being able to set the physical pace and set the proper example is essential 24/7 in leading soldiers. They have zero tolerance for weakness, physical or otherwise, in their superiors, and they are quick to exploit it. It then becomes a short path to disciplinary problems -- and poor discipline is, in and of itself, the shortest road to poor unit cohesiveness and combat performance.
If, as we can anticipate, the Pentagon insists on socially promoting females in infantry units on a gender -quota basis, regardless of their ability to lead from the front, then we at some point in the future will have ground forces that have a sizeable portion of their leadership positions filled by people who were promoted without possessing the full ability to lead their subordinates. That will systematically redefine and degrade the role of unit leadership. In a future ground war, then, this nation will be at a disadvantage when engaging forces where the principle of strong, physical leadership has been maintained.
I mentioned senior female officers complaining of a lack of combat experience. Since we do now have female field grade officers commanding battalions and higher in combat zones, they had to arrive at their commands via promotion through support units, where female ability to compete with male soldiers is not dependent upon physical strength. However, under these new rules, many of them would begin their careers as second lieutenant/platoon leaders in an infantry company, where they must compete against the other, mostly male, lieutenant/platoon leaders in their company as well as all the lieutenants in the several other companies constituting their battalion. Since many junior (male) infantry officers are recruited from college athletics programs, this promotion-physical leadership discrepancy could become even more pronounced for female officers. Rather than facilitating female promotion in the senior ranks, this move could result in female officers being weeded out early in their careers because they simply lack the ability to physically lead.