Saturday, December 8, 2012

Band of Brothers, or Band of Siblings?

Below are a couple of views on women in combat - the first from a retired male Army general whose daughters were both Army officers and attached to combat divisions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the second from a reserve female Marine Major who served in Iraq. The general acknowledges that there may be women qualified to serve in combat without physical or mental limitations, however he identifies a "band of brothers" effect that is necessary for success in close combat situations. The major doesn't address this idea, but instead debunks myths of physical and mental ability of women to serve in combat situations. Essentially, there are few disagreements between the two opinions because they do not address the same issues, and in fact the general would probably agree with most of what the major says. But the major fails to address the key to survival - what Marines would call esprit de corps

The band of brothers effect is something to be considered because it is the intangibles that always make the difference in any competitive situation. For example, two soccer teams may have equal advantages in size, speed, skill, and training - but what will make the difference for the winner and the loser? Usually it is something that cannot be taught - it is something that develops between players over time and through exposure to challenging situations. This relationship enables players to dig deep in the face of adversity and to continue to press on even when the game looks lost. Commentators call it "having heart" and frequently cite players' trust in one another. This type of relationship may be capable of developing between men and women, but there is much anecdotal evidence to say that, on the whole, it does not. Even though this is an intangible quality, its importance can not be diminished. To ignore it is to intentionally weaken our national security.

From retired Army Major General Robert Scales
To be sure, women soldiers may be fit, they may be skilled and they may be able to “hang.” Many have proved with their lives that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. But our senior ground-force leaders, as well as generations of former close combat veterans from all of our previous wars, are virtually united on one point: The precious and indefinable band of brothers effect so essential to winning in close combat would be irreparably compromised within mixed-gender infantry squads.
The major doesn't address the band of brothers effect, and instead focuses on concrete abilties, which are no so much at issue. Unfortunately she undermines even these arguments:

While it is indisputable that the average man has more upper-body strength than the average woman, women have different physical abilities that enable them to offer unique capabilities in combat. 
Different physical capabilities that aren't suited to the required task are not a positive. There is a reason upper body strength is necessary in these situations.
Distance running is one such arena, and it’s relevant because combat can be as much about physical endurance (sustaining activity over time) as physical strength.
While women may excel at distance running in some instances, which may relate to endurance, this ability to out run the enemy will only be called into use if all else fails.
Women also tolerate hot and humid racing conditions better than men because of their smaller body size, according to a 1999 article in the European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology.
So, even if we can rationally accept that smaller body size is an advantage, what if women have to be deployed to cold, arid, mountain areas?
If anything, the presence of women might improve rather than detract from the service of men. My unit sergeant major, an infantryman, told me once that the presence of women made the men complain less — they didn’t want to appear weaker in front of female counterparts who weren’t complaining.
So, now we need to notice that women are present? Isn't the whole purpose of purging these barriers to allow women to be treated as equals in every way? But she saved the best for last: 
If men — or women — have the gallantry to save a fellow soldier’s life in battle, it’s because that is what we are trained to do. It’s no drawback; it is part of our greatest strength as a fighting force. And if a woman, or a man for that matter, can’t carry the wounded, the corpsman or another soldier will be close behind to help.
This statement alone is so undermining of the argument, it is just laughable and embarrassing to anyone trying to seriously address the situation. Soldiers and Marines don't train to count on anyone else being there to help. If that's the fallback, we are in more trouble than ever.

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