For the uninitiated, ‘combat arms’ refers to those branches of the Army and Marine Corps that are designed to do actual on-the-ground fighting – infantry, armor, artillery and the like.
The Military Leadership Diversity Commission was established as part of the 2009 defense appropriation act. The commission members are largely, but not entirely, current and retired officers and senior NCOs, and it’s job is pretty much what you would expect from the name. It recently released a report on how to improve the diversity of the armed forces. Here’s a summary; there are 20 recommendations, most of which look like standard political gobbledygook to me. The pertinent bit, for my purposes, comes toward the end in recommendation #9. Go read.
It came to my attention via this article from military.com. I get the newsletter.
Here’s some quotes.
“Based on 2003 data, the [1994 combat exclusion policies] keep women out of 9 percent of Army occupations and 8 percent of Marine Corps occupations.”
Guess what those occupations are:
“The importance of combat arms occupations in career advancement is reflected in the 2006 stats the commission referenced. While infantry, armor, artillery, cavalry and Special Forces make up just 7.7 percent of all Army career fields, 80 percent of Army general officers came from those occupations.”
I am of two or more minds. On the one hand, I don’t fault the logic that people, particularly minority groups, would be more eager to join up if they saw members of minority groups reaching the highest levels. I don’t necessarily endorse it, but I don’t fault it.
On the other hand, does diversity really have to be priority #1 all the time? Nothing against it in general, but maybe institutions like the military should have other things on their collective mind, know what I mean?
On the other other hand, the article also says this:
“‘The commission is not advocating lowering of standards with the elimination of the combat exclusion policy,’ the final report states. ‘Qualification standards for combat arms positions should remain in place.'”
Combat arms specialties tend to have much higher physical fitness standards than the military in general. It is possible for a woman to meet those standards, although it is more difficult for women than for men ( I read a study on that once). In the meantime there are already women seeing combat on a regular basis these days anyway:
“In 2005, Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester became the first woman since World War II to earn a Silver Star.”
And on the other other other hand, they say that amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics. Combat units work hard to build esprit de corps. That means training together, living together, playing together. It’s true that (some) women can meet the physical demands of infantry life, and that women deserve the same chance to rise in the ranks. But I expect that the social and psychological demands of said infantry life are going to be difficult to account for.
Bottom line, while it may not be fair, it’s as fair as it’s going to get. And, “Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos, whose forces would see the most dramatic changes with women moving into combat jobs, did not comment on the recommendations.”
I predict this is the last we hear of this.
UPDATE: Here’s a predictable and by-the-numbers critique of the report from the NY Post.