And Then There's Maude, the Infantry Grunt!


The Washington Times–of all places!–reports on the cutting edge of women's lib:

"Female Soldiers Eyed for Combat," reads the headline to a story that outlines how women may finally get to something other than lead Abu Ghraib prisoners around on leashes.

The Army is negotiating with civilian leaders about eliminating a women-in-combat ban so it can place mixed-sex support companies within warfighting units, starting with a division going to Iraq in January….

The problem is a 1994 ban signed by then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin that excludes women from land combat units. Mr. Aspin added an additional restriction. Women could not serve "where units and positions are doctrinally required to physically collocate and remain with direct ground combat units that are closed to women."

Les Aspin? Now there's a blast from the past.

Whole story here.

Wasn't there a Partridge Family episode in everyone gets drafted through a bureaucratic screwup and it turns out Shirley and Laurie are much better at the traditionally male activity of killing people in combat? If I'm remembering right, this is the one where Reuben dies in a tiger cage and Danny sells Keith's partially eaten K-rations to a couple of teenage fans.

Maude theme lyrics here. Tantalizingly partial (yes, yes, God will get me for that) audio here.

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  1. Sure, Gillespie, you remember Les Aspin…Somalia? No armor for ground troop protection? Black Hawk Down? Islamic Radicals believe America is a “Paper Tiger?”

    Then Les unfortunately dies and Clinton, shockingly, blames the whole thing on the former SecDef!!!

    Clinton had just the right number of dead ex-advisors to pass things off on…i.e., Vince Foster was ultimately responsible for the illegal FBI files theft because it was conveniently “discovered” that the dead guy hired Craig Livingstone!!!

    We also don’t have to bring up Reno’s “defend Clinton at all costs” Waco statements.

  2. Seeing as how Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, I’ve always thought that “she was a sister who really cooked” was an unfortunate choice of words.

    Where’s your Messiah now, Joanie?

  3. “Female Soldiers Eyed for Combat,”
    Does this give new meaning to “combat”?
    And foxhole?

    Jennifer, It’s a little late to asking Joanie.

  4. Given the more realistic training now being given to support units, this might not be a bad idea after all.

    BTW, the primary reason that most pragmatic commanders balked at including females in combat units is the demonstrated propensity of the “social engineers” to lower the standards to make the demographics come out “right”. Initially [mid-80’s] much was said about how the inclusion of additional females would not lower standards. Then they mostly flunked out in Basic Training, so the standards were “adjusted” to “get the percentages up”. That turned out to be a stunning disservice to all concerned.

    Females are still held to a lesser physical standard, although 90% can make the tougher “male” standard if it is demanded and supported by proper training [personal experience as the demander]. The same pathological “tyranny of lowered expectations” used to apply to other areas as well.

    The Marines added a couple of extra weeks to Basic for women: they got lots of upper-body strength training [i.e. “give me 20, maggette!!”], unique “assertiveness training” with fixed bayonets and some counselling [“Pretend that dummy is really your abusive father, Marine . . . now CHARGE!”] Oh Boy, does it work.

    Who knows, the War on Terror, might see the full integration of women into the combat branches. BTW, documentaries filmed in Afghanistan clearly show female personnel working directly with SF teams [way up-country!] in civil affairs, medical, intelligence and police roles. The women at the well know things no male can ever hear, so we send the nice lady doctor/captain and her Afghan female translator down to have a chat . . .

  5. I miss Maude.
    Can we please have a cantankerous older female lead in a TV show? The closest thing we have now is Kathy Bates’ character from Six Feet Under (and we’re lucky if we see her twice a season) and Aeryn Sun from Farscape who is, frankly, too much of a babe to be counted as a curmudgeon.
    Most older women are relegated to “crazy old” or “sweet old” lady roles.
    I want someone like Diana Trent from Waiting for God verbally vivisecting all the pretty people on TV, preferably played by Dixie Carter.

  6. Nick,
    You will surely burn in hell for all eternity for position a registration required link. Shame shame shame.

    No sale. Of course intense training can raise the performance levels of female troops. But never have anything but a tiny fraction been able to score above the male median.

  7. While presented in an unfunny manner by Jennifer, Joan of Arc does provide an apt reminder that women can and have engaged in combat. I also suspect the strength required to fire an M-16 is less than that required to wield a longsword while wearing plate armor.

    The argument of keeping women out of combat for reasons of physical inadequacy strike me as disingenuous. There are women tri-athletes who are superb physical specimans, and I daresay in far better shape than many actual combat troops. Set a standard based on the realistic requirements of combat and then let anyone fight who passes muster. Anything else is just sexism on parade.

  8. Jose,
    There would be merit in your argument if all soldiers were soldiers period. It isn’t just physical requirements. (Carrying the M-16 isn’t good enough, you also have to carry bullets too, and the more you carry the more use you will be to your unit). The fact is that female personal are governed by an entirely different set of standards and are given special privileges. Men and women use to serve in separate services, it was a system that worked well. The fiction of a gender-unified military has cost us countless ways. Expanding that fiction to combat will cost us even more, but maybe it will finally force us to reconsider the wisdom of women in the military to begin with.

  9. Warren,

    What makes you believe that “the male median” is the appropriate cutoff for qualifying for combat postings? Do you think Napoleon had the median upper body strength for French males circa 1800?

    I believe that, politically, a grand bargain can be struck – no double standards in assignments, in exchange for no double standards in qualification levels (and appropriate metrics for measuring the physical requirements for combat postings – well into the 1990s, for example, upper body strength was being used as a qualification for being a weapons officer on an electronically-controlled two-seater fighter jet). There’s a lot of phony balogna on both sides that we could do without.

  10. “Men and women use to serve in separate services, it was a system that worked well…Expanding that fiction to combat will cost us even more, but maybe it will finally force us to reconsider the wisdom of women in the military to begin with.”

    So which is it, chief? Did the system work well, or do we need to reconsider its wisdom? Were we better off with the hundreds of thousands of women in uniform in World War 2, or were they a drag?

  11. joe,
    I’d be happy to accept women if they were treated in all ways like men. The same way the military was racially integrated. However, women don’t even were the same uniform (a trivial thing but symbolic of the greater problem).

    When I was in the Navy I resented their preferential but I was terrified of actually having them in the work place. Being accused of harassment (like being accused of just about anything in the military) meant you were guilty till proven innocent. I saw several guys get restriction, extra-duty, and half pay solely on the word of one woman. In one case I personally knew the bitch lied because he wouldn’t cover for her not doing her job.

    BTW upper body strength is of vital importance to fighter pilots. It enables them to continue flying when pulling high g-forces.

  12. First of all, Warren, that’s why I gave the example of a weapons officer. Though with electronic joysticks replacing hydraulic controls, I don’t know if your example is even valid anymore.

  13. Yeah well it’s not like that makes any difference. The weapons officer needs to fuction is combat situations too, and electronic joysticks are of no use if you can’t lift you fingers.

  14. Lifting your fingers is a pretty far cry from having to use your arm strength to overcome the Gs pushing the wing flaps the wrong way.

  15. Why are they bringing this up right now? Are they running short on men for the mission?

  16. There might be one very good argument for women in combat nowadays, though I can’t personally vouch for the truth of it:

    At the defense-industry consulting firm where I work, I was talking to one of the strategic analysts about the possibility of frightening Muslim terrorists with pig fat. After all, if they believe pigs are so unclean that they’d go to hell for touching one, wouldn’t that scare off any potential suicide bombers?

    The analyst told me that jihadists do NOT think they will go to hell if they are killed coming in contact with pig fat, but — this is the part I haven’t been able to confirm — he said they DO believe they will go to hell if they fail in their mission because they were killed by an infidel woman. Supposedly, this is why Bin Laden and Co. are so offended by the thought of American emale soldiers and fighter pilots.

    Does anyone know if this is true? If so, we could have the psy-ops weapon of our dreams.

  17. joe,

    You’re in rare form today. G forces make your arms and body heavier, and also cause blood to run from your head, an effect that has to be countered by core and leg strength. The difficulty of flying a plane under excessive centrifugal force has nothing to do with holding the, what, 5 pound flaps up when they become the equivalent of 40 pounds, considering they are already resisting the 500-1200 mph wind.

  18. I have a terribly sexist comment to make. . .but in a different direction. If we had more women in the armed services (in combat duty and otherwise), recruiting would be so much easier. Kind of like a “Ladies Night” for 3-6 years. Maybe a Hooters-style brigade?

    Seriously (yes, that means I was joking in my rude, male way above), I don’t see a real problem with women being involved in combat and direct combat support. If a duty requires superior strength or whatever, then the service in question can set criteria and test for it. Some jobs will be disproportionately held by men for that reason, but I imagine that some might also be held by women for the same reason (incidentally, I just saw something that suggested that women may have a higher G-tolerance than men). Now, I do have reservations about mixing men and women in combat units, but there are ways to deal with that.

    As for having the same standards of treatment for women, that rule would be eaten up by exceptions. A great example for combat is pregancy. It’s politically impossible for the military to mandate abortion (and probably even contraception or abstinence), so a woman could conceivably (sorry) get pregnant to avoid combat. They also probably shouldn’t be forced to shower with the men–stuff like that. Why must women become “men” to fight?

  19. Jennifer

    There was a story going around in the ’70s that Egyptian soldiers fought particularly fiercely in the ’67 and Yom Kippur wars because the Israelis had female combat troops and the shame of being defeated by women was just too great.

    I believe this story came out around the same time that there was more talk of women being recruited, and was presented as an argument against. It occurred to me later that this might be an urban legend.

    However the fact that a strategic analyst told you something similar does give it some credence. These guys may make mistakes but I doubt they just make stuff up.

    However, I also find it easier to believe it about nutcase jihadists than about the secularist conscripts Egypt fielded in the ’60s.

  20. Isaac-

    “These guys may make mistakes but I doubt they just make stuff up.”

    Well, I’d agree with you in most cases, but this guy. . .it’s not so much that he LIES, so much as that he’s been known to exaggerate in the past, putting a good story at the top of his priority list. Which is why I don’t know about this.

    I mean, wouldn’t the military know about this? And, even supposing the military were too sexist to allow women to actually do things, wouldn’t they at least have started an advertisiing blitz to make it *appear* as though women were responsible for most terrorist casualties?

  21. Jennifer,

    “Black” propaganda (falsehood) that is discovered to be false is much less effective (in fact counter-productive in that it reduces the enemy’s willingness to believe anything you say) than “white” propaganda (truth carefully deployed, as by our presidential candidates). That’s why PSYOP messages are supposed to be approved at high levels. (see US Army PSYOP doctrine)

    Now, if you want to talk about using freed slaves or helots like in the old days, I’m with you.


    The Israelis pulled women out of direct combat roles not because of their abilities, and not because of their affect on the enemy but because of the affect of female casualties on Israeli males (both in the IDF and without). (see van Creveld)


    No one believes that some women can’t be Rangers or SEALs. It’s just that most women can’t be infantrymen, cannon-cockers or tankers. (Any moron can drop a bomb from 40,000 feet. In fact robots will be the only pilots sooner than you think.) As long as humans practice sexual reproduction some differences between men and women will remain biological and not socially constructed.

    A race of genetically engineered hermaphroditic (or sexless, your choice) warriors, would solve the problem. Maybe.

    Old Fan,

    The concern is not at the edges (pilots, CA/PSYOP, SF, etc.) but in the line platoons. If you’ve bought into the “transformation of war”, maybe it won’t be an issue to have full sex integration. If we ever have to raise a big army again, knowing what’s going on down at the well is not going to help an infantry platoon seize an objective or a tank platoon assault through the breach.

    And yes, I am a “legacy warrior”.

  22. My approach is still quite simple and effective… set a reasonable standard and allow anyone who passes to service in combat units. There are women who are phenomenal athletes. I know that if “the bar” is set low enough to fill combat ranks with men, some women will also make the grade.

    If some women can perform well enough to meet the standard, then what is the justification for an all-male military? Or only men in combat? If a woman must work harder to overcome inherent physical limitations to pass the “combat” test, then doesn’t it stand to reason she may make an excellent soldier?

    Women will be integrated into the SUPPORT COMPANIES of brigades!!! Not women in combat, women as truck drivers, women as nurses, women in clerical roles…. The current rule is that women may not serve in brigade or below echelons (Army-Corps-Division-BRIGADE-BATTALION), because there is the risk of combat at this level. The Army is proposing changing the LEVEL of women in the Army, not opening up additional MOS’ (Military Occupation Specialties). There will not be women 11B’s (Light Infantrymen) or women in the 13-series (Armour-Cavalry IIRC), merely that women may now serve at the brigade level, in existing combat support or service support MOS’.
    I personally think women ought to be integrated at the battalion level, women could serve, I think-bearing in mind I’m not a soldier- in any of a number of roles at the combat battalion level, in Battalion Intelligence Shop, as Battalion Adjutant, Battalion Communications Officer, in Mess units, the Battalion Aid Station, in supply or maintenance platoons. Women do not have the strength or endurance to serve in positions where lifting and walking are VITAL. Women should not be grunts or Armour crewmen (my friends can regale you with stories of the wonders of ‘breaking track’), women shouldn’t be Forward Observers-if they have to keep pace with the infantry they support, women should not be Combat Medics (sometimes the medic is the ONLY person available to lift the wounded and women-in general- are not strong enough for that)
    Finally, someone brought up women triathletes. I think that illustrates the COUNTER-POINT very well. A top women triathlete may be able to outrun ME, but she does not our compete her top male counterpart. Women can not make it into SEALS or Delta Force or a host of units because they can’t compete with the men, physically. Now any number of jobs don’t require physicality, to include maintenance (no one man handles the turret, engine, or transmission from a tank-they use a crane), but emphasize brains, intelligence, medicine, maintenance, supply, etc. Women can and should be allowed the opportunities to participate in these areas, to include areas within the Forward Edge of Battle Area.

  24. JDM, the resistance in moving the wing flap is not from the weight of the flap, but from the resistance of the hydraulic fluid. Even with exactly the same weight of the wing flap, it is easier to move a stick designed to signal electronics to push against the hydraulics, than to move a stick that operates the hydraulics mechanically.

  25. Joe L,


    But what about the 1% of women who CAN meet the standards for basic infantry? You keep talking about “women” in the aggregate, but should the mean and median of all women be relevant to the question of whether PFC Jane Smith can or cannot meet the standards? I don’t believe they screen male recruits based on the median of all men.

    Also, it is my understanding that an officer cannot get into a combat command position unless he came up as a combat officer. What about women who have a Napoleonic gift for waging battles, but weigh 98 pounds?

  26. Joe L.,

    You are mainly correct, although women have served in brigades for a long time now, just not in tank and mech battalions (but in forward support battalions, brigade HQs, MP platoons, etc.) There were always problems with this because only men could be in the battalions’ medical platoons, maintenance platoons and mess sections and so the FSBs had almost all female medical companies, etc. The new brigade organization almost demands that women be in the battalions because of the problems of managing personnel.


    Please give up the female pilot thing – soon there won’t be any pilots at all.


    Why don’t we talk about how many men we can get out of combat? Seems more humane.

  27. Actually NO, not the REGIMENT, in the Army EXCEPT for 160th SOAR and the Cavalry Regiments, the Regiment is purely administrative/ceremonial/heraldic… the 1/67th Armour Battalion is merely the 1st battalion of an armour “regiment”… the regiment has no tactical or support functions. It is merely the repository of unit history and has been since the 1960’s and the Army’s ROAD reorganization.

    PRIOR to the New Look and ROAD the regiment was a tactical and administrative organization, for infantry… the 116th Infantry was three battalions, and support units, when paired with support units it became the 116th RCT (Regimental Combat Team). But since the introduction of the tailorable brigade concept in ROAD, the brigade has taken the regiment’s place, a brigade being a variable number of combat battalions and support units. That may change with the reorganization the Army is currently undertaking, reemphasizing the Brigade and making it’s structure more permanent.

    As to the top women in combat argument I can accept it, IF FORCED TO, but the Army generally makes its rules for the 95th percentile. That is 95 % of the personnel can serve in armour, the tanks are designed to accommodate them. That being the case, the average man is still stronger than the AVERAGE women, and in line units-full of average people (don’t tell my friends I said THAT) men will still out perform women, in general. I fear we will run into problems with a 95 percentile rule for men and a restrictive rule for women, i.e.. “You only allow triathletic women into the 82nd Airborne, but you allow a larger range of men”. The answer would be the triathletes are the only ones that can keep up, but I don’t expect Patricia Ireland or Pat Schroeder to buy into that.

    For me, bottom-line armies “Kill people and break things” they aren’t there for social engineering. Black men, Hispanic men, white MEN can all do the 11B thing and doing that well is all that’s important. I really don’t care to advance the cause of sexual/gender equality, IF it costs combat effectiveness. As a cautionary tale to that, I throw up Laura Holmgren the Navy’s first female F-14 pilot and first female F-14 pilot to die whilst flying. She oughtn’t have been in that cockpit and she darned near killed her RIO too. The Navy’s “need” for female pilots got one women killed, got one service member nearly killed and cost the US a $30 million dollar-plus aircraft.

  28. Well Joe, I am sorry that it will be difficult for a owmen to become Chief Of Staff of the Army or a Corps Commander, not being in line for most combat jobs, BUT them’s the breaks.
    Women can serve in Aviation,a nd though I am morally opposed to PILOTS-Hurrah for UAV’s-there is some chance for combat commands at battalion and brigade level and hence for the shot at higher commands that are usually held by combat commanders, Division and Corps.
    Certainly women can rise to Genral rank in the Army, combat support and service support units come as general ranks, too. In fact, one of the heroes of the Second Gulf War (90-91) was Pagonis, de facto J-4 of CentCom. His was a position that cold easily have been held by a women and a position thta was absolutely vital to the US success.

  29. “JDM, the resistance in moving the wing flap is not from the weight of the flap, but from the resistance of the hydraulic fluid. ”

    Terrific argument, thought’s actually from the pressure of your hand against the stick…

    The problem with G forces and flying has nothing to do with the weight of the flaps under Gs, but the weight of the pilot’s arms (leaving aside blackout.) Servos, hydraulics, whatever don’t help move your arms, so the hydaulics do not become signifigantly harder to operate under Gs aside from that.

  30. fabius conctator, I can not tell you how much my friends and I are PRAYING for the day of the pilot to pass… Large Egos, Large Watches, Large Mouths, UGH! We so hope that the X-45 UCAV becomes the next major aerial combat vehicle.

  31. Cripes! Look, is hydraulic fluid subject to G forces during intensive accelerations? Of course it is! If you want to push the hydraulic fluid the “wrong” way, it becomes harder. Is that really such a difficult concept for you to grasp?

  32. I did a brief search, but was unable to corroborate this… a male aquaintance I knew in college had served in the Navy before school, and claimed that women have more endurance for submarine duty (the kind where you cruise below surface for months on end), assertedly both psychologically and physiologically in dealing with the higher atmospheric pressure.

  33. The weight of the hairs on the pilots hands become heavier too, but I’m not positing that they make a signifigant difference in flying a jet under heavy G.

  34. Too bad the military coalition didn’t inlclude Brazil, then we could ask for a unit of Amazon Women.

  35. Trainwreck:

    Historically, the “Amazon women” of Greek legend were from the Black Sea. The Amazon River was named in their honor by confused Portuguese explorers. Recently, graves of mummified women have been found along the Black Sea coast with weapons buried alongside them, indicating that, like many legends, there was truth at the bottom of it.

    Women of the Germanic tribes, and many other primitive societies, had weapons and fought alongside their men. Think about it: given the consequences of defeat in primitive warfare, do you think the women would really sit and watch and wait for the outcome of a raid on their village? You made use of everyone available and hoped for the best.

    I have read that between one and three percent of the mercenaries in the Middle Ages were women. Women managed to get into every American war until the Spanish-American War, which was the first one in which physicals were given to recruits. Presumably, they fit in by suppressing their urge to nurture.

  36. I still say your position, Joe L., is basically sexist. (By the way, ease up on the CAPS LOCK key; we can hear you just fine.)

    The point is not what the “average” man or “average” woman can do. One hopes to find and field combat troops who are above average. The most fair way to do this is to set a fair and objective standard for combat service. Hold every soldier to the same standard. Anyone who passes, regardless of gender, gets to ruck a pack.

    Now, if men are generally stronger than women, one would expect men to find it somewhat easier to pass the physical strength parts of the test. I presume upper body strength is pretty much the only element of the test where women would be a disadvantage. Certainly, women can shoot as well as men. Women are no less intelligent or capable of making decisions under pressure. As noted, women have fought for centuries. I see no reason to prevent them from bearing the same burden as any other solider willing to fight.

  37. Not sexist Jose, REALISTIC… IF I allow only SOME women into units, say 20% or fewer I but allow 70% of men in the Army will be hit with, “Discrimination, you only allow 20% of women, but 70% of men!” Simply put, it si pretty much an all or nothing situation, either a I allow inferior women in or I don’t.
    Also, actually it’s pretty much average people in the Army…”single men(women) in barricks… most remarkable like you”-to quote Kipling.
    And actually women don’t hike or run as well, and they are, overall, less strong than men. So, it’s not just the push-up that precludes women from at least some combat roles. The shooting can be the least of it, certainly there are female MP’s that are doing an outstanding job in Iraq.

  38. “. . . that women have more endurance for submarine duty (the kind where you cruise below surface for months on end), assertedly both psychologically and physiologically in dealing with the higher atmospheric pressure.”

    You might want to tell your friend that submarines maintain a standard 1 atmosphere inside when submerged – regardless of depth. Its what allows them the tactical flexibility of changing their depth (or surfacing)without having to worry about the crew succumbing to decompression sickenss.

    Joe L.
    It seems your arguement is less that one standard for all is *physically* unworkable and more that it will just have people who look only at the percentages crying discrimination.

    I’m in the Navy right now and I’ve had women working under me (move along, no pun here)on a few occassions (including one assignment where ALL of my subrodinates were women). I’ve found that there’s very little they can’t do if you tell them that they don’t get to go home until the jobs done. Its amazing how inventive people can get as quitting time approaches.

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