By Mark Wachtler
May 14, 2015. Quantico, VA. (ONN) American women have been proving their mettle on the battlefield front lines since the Revolutionary War. But they weren’t officially accepted into front line units until 1994, and then only in non-combat rolls, as if that exists on the front line. In 2013, the last restrictions against women were lifted and a two-year experiment allowing them to try out for elite Special Forces began. With two test programs concluding in the last 30 days, the results were not what observers envisioned, on either side of the argument.
Women have been accepted into the US Military, and even front line combat rolls, but not the elite Special Forces units. Image courtesy of GoArmy.com.
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Women in the military
During the first Gulf War, many of us remember the debate about letting women fight on the battlefield front lines. The fact was, as supply drivers, medics, pilots, and the like, they were already fighting on the front line, only without official recognition or appreciation. Since then, American women have been slowly integrated into combat rolls. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the final exclusion was lifted and the Pentagon began pilot programs allowing women to try out for America’s elite Special Forces units.
At the time, two schools of thought emerged. Many veterans argued against letting women into Special Forces, insisting that the military would lower its standards to accommodate females. And that, they warned, would lower the quality of the nation’s most important military units. On the opposite side of the argument, those supporting gender equality in the military insisted women were just as good as men, if not better, and they would have no problem completing the physical requirements required for entry into the Special Forces. As it turns out, both sides were wrong.
Marine Corps Infantry Officers - women 0 for 29
One month ago, the Marine Corps Times reported, ‘The two-and-a-half year period in which the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course became gender-integrated for research will end without a single female graduate.’ According to USMC spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs, the final tryout included 90 men and 2 women. 9 men and both women failed to complete the grueling ‘Combat Endurance Test’ portion of the course.
According to the report, ‘By July 2014, only 20 female officers had attempted the course. Only one made it through the Combat Endurance Test, and none made it to the end.’ The author confirms that the Pentagon hoped to attract 100 female Marine Corps Officers into the pilot program. But in the end, only 29 had tried out. This isn’t the end of women in the Infantry Officer Course however. Female intelligence agents are also required to take the grueling test as part of their own training.
Also of note is that a separate, less stringent Marine Corps combat test, proved more successful for female Marines. The Infantry Training Battalion Course at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina accepted 358 women into its test program during roughly the same period. Of them, 122 graduated fully.
Army Ranger School - women 0 for 8
Less than a week ago, the Army Times published the results of a similar gender-integration pilot program, this time from the elite US Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA. At the end of this phase of the two-month-long Ranger School course, only 115 of the 224 soldiers remaining from an initial class of 400 moved onto the next phase - the difficult Mountain portion of the test. Of the 224, 8 were women, with none of them graduating from the phase. All but 35 are expected to re-enroll and attempt to complete the phase again, as is standard practice for most Ranger students who fail to complete a portion of the test on their first attempt.
The report quotes Col. David Fivecoat, Commander of the Airborne & Ranger Training Brigade explaining of the 99 soldiers who failed the latest test, “The vast majority failed several opportunities as a squad leader or team leader to lead a patrol successfully.” The publication goes on to explain, ‘The women are part of a one-time, integrated assessment of the storied school. The assessment is part of a wider effort to determine whether and how to open combat-arms jobs to women, and it is a first for Ranger School, which until now has been open only to men.’
The results from the Ranger pilot program, the Marine Corps program and other tests of the full integration of women into US military combat rolls will be submitted to the Secretary of Defense for evaluation. The Pentagon is expected to make an official recommendation to Congress and the President in the summer of 2016.