Expert: Women In Combat May Need Different Training And Standards

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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RAND Corporation senior political scientist Agnes Gereben Schaefer said Friday women in combat roles likely won’t make up more than low, single-digit percentages, since women aren’t really interested in these positions and couldn’t meet the standards anyway.

“We also looked at lessons from foreign militaries, and one of the major things especially with the Marine Corps work—initially they came back to us and said, if we’re going to do this, we have this goal of very large numbers. And we emphasized to them nowhere in the world are we seeing large numbers,” Schaefer said at a Council on Foreign Relations event on the future of the military and gender integration.

“Low-single percentages, those are the types of numbers we’re talking about,” Schaefer added. “And in the special operations community, that’s even smaller. And so, we emphasized to them, if you’re trying to define success in this integration process, and you’re defining that based on numbers, you’re setting yourself up to fail because the likelihood is so small that you’re going to be able to recruit those large numbers.” (RELATED: Marine Corps Plan Says Women Won’t Have To Do Any Pull-ups)

Schaefer listed two main reasons for why the military is unlikely to bring large numbers of women to combat roles.

The first was simply that women weren’t really interested in these positions, and the second was that even if they were interested in moving into combat roles, they couldn’t pass standards.

“That may not be the case here. It may be different,” Schaefer said as a caveat to the research, which she admitted focused mostly on implementation of integration, as opposed to looking at the drawbacks.

But given agitation from outside groups to achieve equal demographic representation in the military, officers have sounded the alarm that pressure to lower standards is inevitable.

“The short answer is no, there are no quotas, and there are no goals,” Juliet Beyler, Principal Director of Force Resiliency at the Pentagon, said in response to concerns about physical fitness.

“The number of women who want to do this is small, and the number of women who can pass the standards is even smaller,” Beyler said at the event. “Equal opportunity does not mean equal participation.”

Yet, there is the intractable problem of physiological differences. And the method by which foreign militaries ameliorate higher injury rates among females is to change the equipment females wear and to change training. Schaefer pointed out that it’s possible to train women over a longer period of time and to gradually build up the intensity, which gives them a chance to build up their core and upper body.

According to Schaefer, this helps to somewhat reduce female injury rates, but moderator Kimberly Dozier, contributing writer at The Daily Beast, quickly stated, “But that is slightly changing training and standards.”

“It is. It is,” Schaefer admitted. “So there’s a trade-off there.”

As a result of remarks from Schaefer and Beyler, the CFR event is unlikely to mitigate concerns about different training and different standards, which may come into play to reverse much higher injury rates among women. Despite pledges and promises from military leadership that standards will change only to accommodate changes on the battlefield, a high sense of distrust has been hard for officers and enlisted servicemembers to shake.

The informal Dempsey Rule, which states that if a woman can’t pass a standard, the services must take on a strong burden of proof to justify that standard, has been referred to as just one of the methods the military bureaucracy may use to give women an easier shot.

Others have pointed to a report produced by the Military Leadership Diversity Commission in 2012. This report stated that “diversity metrics” should be achieved in combat roles. Many have interpreted this phrase as a call for a de facto quota system.

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