During my time in the USMC (1986-1990) the term WM (Women Marine) was used to identify female members of the Corps. For many, the term was referred to as “Waste of Money.” This was generally because women weren’t allowed in combat, and combat was the general mission and purpose of the Corps. Women did not exist within line companies. They were placed in support positions, generally admin or technical work. This didn’t mean that women were really a waste, that was simply the mentality of some who envisioned combat as being the only real function of the Corps. In point of fact, having WMs serve in non-combat positions allowed the men who would normally serve in those positions to serve in line companies instead.
Now it’s 2013, and the ban on women in combat has just been lifted. For many, the ban has seemed illogical and ineffective. For others, it made perfect sense – mainly from the perspective of physical strength, but also from the perspective of gender inequality, and perhaps some form of a male genetic predisposition to protect the fairer sex from potential death, dismemberment, torture, and rape.
Statistically, there exists a subset of women who are physically equal to the capabilities of men. Personally, I rarely saw them. I spent a year on temporary duty working side by side with WMs in an admin capacity entering data and tracking reports. When we went out for PT (daily) the routine we normally followed in the line companies was completely toned-down in order to let the women keep up. WMs were allowed to perform pushups using their knees instead of their feet. They weren’t expected to do much on the pull-up bars. Our usual torturous runs were limited to a few miles instead of eight. Coming from a line company, I watched most of them struggle, even with this more limited regimen.
Putting women in line companies will require changes. Segregated barracks and facilities for one – as we Americans still hold to the view that men and women showering together and living in the same room isn’t something we should be doing. Personally, I think that’s still good, given the personality types I encountered. This has always seemed a primitive limitation to me – that nudity is such an issue with our culture – but it is what it is, and we are a primitive people still. Allowing women in combat strips another layer of that primitive mentality, but we have a long way to go in regards to a gender-neutral psychology. It comes in small jumps, and this is one of them. Men and women are treated differently. We appear to like it this way as a society, or it would have changed long ago. It’s not just social convention either, men and women statistically migrate into roles they select. A part of that changed yesterday. Other countries allow women in combat and allow gays to serve. Now we join that club, and it will take some time to adjust our operations and our perceptions. We gain this enlightenment and its benefits at a cost to some minds, and no cost to others.
Sometimes physical limitations don’t matter. We think of weapons and some people get the idea that a gun doesn’t require much physical effort to operate. It doesn’t to fire, and many WMs excel at marksmanship, but running over a battlefield with a pack on does, and climbing cliff faces does, and humping a mortar plate, or carrying a large automatic weapon with ammunition does. Where these limitations don’t matter as much are in mechanized situations such as tanks, artillery, aircraft, and drones. This is where I see women playing a role first. Women can now be combat pilots. They’ll serve in artillery crews. They can be tank operators. And they’ll operate in this capacity in the combat theater with the intention that they’ll be killing the enemy with the same pre-programmed hardcore mentality as the men.
As for women being in those “boots on the ground” infantry situations, I think we’ll see that too. Some women can do it. Some want to do it. Now they can serve right alongside their male counterparts. And any woman who wants that role would surely have the grit for it, or they wouldn’t be trying, and they wouldn’t make it through the training. I wonder how long it will be before we see a married couple working together on the battlefield in a combat situation, or if that will even be allowed? So the world turns.