In a debate on Fox News Sunday, Air Force Col. Martha McSally characterized the exclusion of women from combat this way: “So that’s like saying Pee Wee Herman is okay to be in combat, but Serena and Venus Williams are not going to meet the standard.”
Granted, McSally, who was the nation’s first female combat pilot, was engaging in hyperbole, but you get the point.
The Pentagon announced last week that it’s going to gradually lift the ban on women serving in combat, as long as they measure up, said Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“If members of the military can meet the qualifications for a job—and let me be clear, I’m not talking about reducing the qualifications for the job—if they can meet the qualifications for the job, then they should have the right to serve, regardless of creed or color or gender or sexual orientation,” Panetta said.
One critic of the shift is Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin. He said in the Fox News debate that he’s most concerned about mixing the sexes in close-quarter infantry units. He argued that harsh living conditions for mixed gender units are “not conducive to readiness.”
That’s a straw man argument since women have been at or near the front lines for years. 152 women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and another 900 have been wounded. One of the earliest casualties of the Iraq war was West Virginia’s own Jessica Lynch.
Combat veteran and former prisoner of war Sen. John McCain supports the Pentagon’s decision.
“I think women are obviously prepared to serve side-by-side with men in combat,” McCain said on ABC’s This Week. “I just want to emphasize, though, there should be the same physical and mental standards for anyone to perform certain roles and functions in the military.”
America appears ready for the change. A new Rasmussen Reports Poll finds that 59 percent of likely voters “now feel that women in the military should be allowed to fight on the front lines and perform all the combat roles that men do.”
It’s less clear about how the country feels about women registering for the draft. However, if women are going to be equal with men in the foxhole, then they should also have the same draft status.
Now, this does not mean women are automatically going to be members of Seal Team Six. The physical demands of elite fighting units are such that physiological differences will make it extremely difficult for women to make the cut.
Panetta says the policy change is about equal opportunity, not equal outcomes. There’s no room for social experiments, though critics charge that’s exactly what’s happening here.
The country’s security depends upon the readiness and capabilities of our fighting forces. Soldiers should be measured as individuals. The country is best served by those who bring courage, discipline, motivation, leadership and physical and mental toughness to the job, regardless of gender.