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yourspecialkid
The Reality That Awaits Women in Combat
January 24, 2013 at 10:53 PM

 I thought this was a very good oped..from today's WSJ

By RYAN SMITH

America has been creeping closer and closer to allowing women in combat, so Wednesday's news that the decision has now been made is not a surprise. It appears that female soldiers will be allowed on the battlefield but not in the infantry. Yet it is a distinction without much difference: Infantry units serve side-by-side in combat with artillery, engineers, drivers, medics and others who will likely now include women. The Pentagon would do well to consider realities of life in combat as it pushes to mix men and women on the battlefield.

Many articles have been written regarding the relative strength of women and the possible effects on morale of introducing women into all-male units. Less attention has been paid to another aspect: the absolutely dreadful conditions under which grunts live during war.

Most people seem to believe that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have merely involved driving out of a forward operating base, patrolling the streets, maybe getting in a quick firefight, and then returning to the forward operating base and its separate shower facilities and chow hall. The reality of modern infantry combat, at least the portion I saw, bore little resemblance to this sanitized view.

Reuters

U.S. Marines rest in an amphibious assault vehicle.

I served in the 2003 invasion of Iraq as a Marine infantry squad leader. We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 Marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other's laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems.

The invasion was a blitzkrieg. The goal was to move as fast to Baghdad as possible. The column would not stop for a lance corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or even a company commander to go to the restroom. Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.

Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade's face.

During the invasion, we wore chemical protective suits because of the fear of chemical or biological weapon attack. These are equivalent to a ski jumpsuit and hold in the heat. We also had to wear black rubber boots over our desert boots. On the occasions the column did stop, we would quickly peel off our rubber boots, desert boots and socks to let our feet air out.

Due to the heat and sweat, layers of our skin would peel off our feet. However, we rarely had time to remove our suits or perform even the most basic hygiene. We quickly developed sores on our bodies.

When we did reach Baghdad, we were in shambles. We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.

Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation's military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?

Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex.

Despite the professionalism of Marines, it would be distracting and potentially traumatizing to be forced to be naked in front of the opposite sex, particularly when your body has been ravaged by lack of hygiene. In the reverse, it would be painful to witness a member of the opposite sex in such an uncomfortable and awkward position. Combat effectiveness is based in large part on unit cohesion. The relationships among members of a unit can be irreparably harmed by forcing them to violate societal norms.

Mr. Smith served as a Marine infantryman in Iraq. He is now an attorney.

A version of this article appeared January 23, 2013, on page A15 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Reality That Awaits Women in Combat.

Replies

  • yourspecialkid
    January 24, 2013 at 10:58 PM

     I think it is important we remove the emotion of "I am woman hear me roar."  Women have proven time and again they are as strong and capable as men.  When you are in a war there is a lot more to it than just being strong and capable...it is these things we have to consider.

  • Tatiana7
    January 24, 2013 at 10:59 PM
    Very interesting. I'll be reading this to my Ret Army Captain in the AM.

    He sincerely feels women in combat is not a good idea. I would imagine this would be why. (the story as described)

    We are vulnerable simply by bleeding every month. Not that we are not strong but they can't stop for a tampon change.
  • PurdueMom
    January 24, 2013 at 11:02 PM

    Since our military is voluntary, I see no problem with allowing women in combat since they will be going voluntarily.  It may take a while for men to be comfortable with women as comrades or members of a combat unit, but they'll get over it.  They'll have to.

  • PurdueMom
    January 24, 2013 at 11:04 PM

    There are hormones that can prevent periods for months.  Just a thought.

    Quoting Tatiana7:

    Very interesting. I'll be reading this to my Ret Army Captain in the AM.

    He sincerely feels women in combat is not a good idea. I would imagine this would be why. (the story as described)

    We are vulnerable simply by bleeding every month. Not that we are not strong but they can't stop for a tampon change.


  • Sekirei
    by Sekirei
    January 24, 2013 at 11:09 PM

    Why is everyone throwing a shit fit about this? 

    Women have been in combat.. since the beginning of the Iraq war.. not voluntarily, mind you. They were in non combative MOS', but, they were in fire fights, they were taken as POWs... 

    now, everyone is upset, because some words were changed, that allows them to be infantry.. where they would get more physical training. But, no matter what anyone thinks, modern military women will join in direct combat. Even if their MOS is simply cook or translator or mechanic. 

  • Tatiana7
    January 24, 2013 at 11:11 PM
    Yes, I know. And extreme physical conditions can derail periods as well.

    Quoting PurdueMom:

    There are hormones that can prevent periods for months.  Just a thought.

    Quoting Tatiana7:

    Very interesting. I'll be reading this to my Ret Army Captain in the AM.



    He sincerely feels women in combat is not a good idea. I would imagine this would be why. (the story as described)



    We are vulnerable simply by bleeding every month. Not that we are not strong but they can't stop for a tampon change.


  • Aamy
    by Aamy
    January 24, 2013 at 11:14 PM

    I still think women should be able to serve on the front lines if they want to. And as a former military member, you dont think women had to undress, dress, shower with in sight of other women ???? Ummm its called a shower BAY for a reason. 

  • terpmama
    January 24, 2013 at 11:16 PM

    While an interesting point of view... I'm willing to bet that the women who serve are aware of what they are signing up for.... Many women who work in traditional male jobs (police, fire fighters, emt...) just become "one of the guys"... Yes they have to prove themselves a bit more than the others but they are no longer seen as women (sexually) but as part of the group. Also many of the same arguments were made when African Americans started fighting too.

  • chloedee
    January 24, 2013 at 11:25 PM
    I can see what he's getting at, but considering that defecating inches from someone's face violates just about every societal norm in a setting outside of combat, I'm not sure this effectively argues his point.

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