Panetta throws open doors to combat for women

| January 23, 2013

The LA Times reports that, on his way out his own door, Leon Panetta opened the door for women to serve in combat-related jobs.

The groundbreaking move recommended by the Joint Chiefs of Staff overturns a 1994 rule prohibiting women from being assigned to smaller ground combat units. Panetta’s decision gives the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believe any positions must remain closed to women.

A senior military official says the services will develop plans for allowing women to seek the combat positions. Some jobs may open as soon as this year. Assessments for others, such as special operations forces, including Navy SEALS and the Army’s Delta Force, may take longer.

Yeah, well, whatever. If history has taught anything, the services had better keep the standards for combat jobs regardless of sex. As I’ve always said, the bullet isn’t forgiving and doesn’t discriminate. I’ve also said that I’ve known women who could handle the job, but they’re not all suited for it – I’ve known men who weren’t suited for the job. I see lots of women on Facebook celebrating this ill-considered decision, but none of them are currently in the military. If we’re doing this to make the military better, fine, but if we’re doing it just to beat our collective chest and show how just we are, then that’s how a lot of body bags are going to get filled.

I’ve never subscribed to the theory that women in combat will distract from the job being done, but rather I’ve opposed this because the sociologists will force square pegs into the round holes, with a hammer, if needed. But, I’m sure between allowing the gays to serve openly and allowing women into combat jobs, the recruiters must be amazed at the target-rich environments in which they’re operating. Yeah, that’s sarcasm.

Thanks to everyone who filled my inbox with the news while I was typing this.

Category: Military issues

Comments (99)

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  1. 77 11C20 says:

    # 49 You can roll the base plate, try humpping the bridge, now thats fun 😉

  2. Green Thumb says:


    Roger that.

  3. Rik says:

    This has absolutely nothing to do with women desiring to have the opportunity to go into combat. It has everything to do with some women wanting to be four-star generals and admirals. To support the vanity of a few, we’ll sacrifice much. You Americans voted for this. And you will pay for it.

  4. Ex-PH2 says:

    Man, the testosterone fog is getting thick in here.

    Can someone open the windows and let in some fresh air?

    Yeah, thanks!

    I will only say that ground and classroom classes are not the same as field conditions. Theory is great, but practical factors outweight theory, and any of you who have been in live fire know that. You aren’t going to be running over smooth terrain or working under perfect/ideal conditions. You’re going to be working in shit up to your little pink snouts, freezing to death or boiling, dying of thirst, scared silly, homesick, and wondering how come you can’t get mom or dad to send you the socks you asked for, while someone is taking potshots at your sorry head. So you’d better hope that whoever is next to you, whether male OR female, is dedicated to getting done the job of killing off the opposition and surviving, especially if some nasty person half a mile away just put a live round through your ass.

    That’s all I have to say.

  5. Green Thumb says:

    Do you think “hygiene” products would start coming in MREs?

  6. Ex-PH2 says:

    What? Wetwipes? >)

  7. Green Thumb says:

    How about LRP rations?

  8. YatYas says:

    F’ it, the military needs to do away with separate living quarters and heads. Make everything co-ed as well as jobs and start requiring women to register for selective service.

    This is about the few not what’s best for the military or country.

  9. Green Thumb says:

    I get you Ex-PH2, but that jock itch gets rough after 40 miles with a 100 lb ruck…

    Not to mention body armor, weapon, ammo and personal gear and pogey bait (gummy worms)…

    No offense, just saying….

  10. Stacy0311 says:

    @54, excuse me for relying on personal experience but it’s the only kind I have. After 13 years in the Corps (infantry go figure) and 14 year in the armor community, having BTDT and got several t-shirts, I have yet to see a female that could hang in the infantry or armor. Humping a ruck or busting track isn’t something that can be accomplished by executive fiat. Not testosterone fog, but the cold hard atmosphere of the real world. MCCRESS, TCGST and Tank Table VIII don’t care about equal opportunity and promotability.

  11. CC Senor says:

    @55 During Desert Storm they came in sundry packs. No tobacco products, though.

  12. Just Plain Jason says:

    In other news Hillary was quoted as saying, “I already accepted full responsibility, why are you people blaming me?”

  13. Ex-PH2 says:

    @60 — You’re saying basically the same thing I said. I don’t think it matters who is humping a ruck, it only matters that whoever is dragging that thing is able to do it. Upper body strength is something that is acquired, not inborn — acclimation through constant exposure and increased loads.

    But if the person in question doesn’t want to do the hard physical training to get to that point, and politics/fiat are more important than common sense, the entire business of infantry/combat training becomes nonsense…which is why I said that it does not matter who is firing the weapon, it only matters how accurate the shooter is.

    Personally, from the viewpoint of not knowing 40 years ago what I know now, I would not ask for combat training now even if it were offered to me with incentives. And it isn’t the abrasive delivery of DIs or the conditions in the field. I just don’t want to get my stuff all shot up. You have to want it to be successful at it.

    This is just a smokescreen of appeasement and not much else.

  14. Tman says:

    Told y’all.

    It was never if, but when, and the time is now.

    Just hoping infantry units are not co-ed. Whole can of worms thurr.

  15. Hondo says:

    Ex-PH2: the gender differences in physical strength and cardio capability are due to more than exercise/training/willpower. Biological differences simply make males generally bigger, stronger, and possessing higher CV endurance than women. Don’t believe that? Take a look at pro sports.

    For most occupations in the military, the gender difference in physical potential for strength and endurance is immaterial. For a few, however, it makes a huge difference.

    My concern here is not that a tiny fraction (I’d personally guess far less than 1%) of women in the military will actually want to be in these specialties and will actually be able to “hang with the guys”. If they can do the job, OK, that’s fine.

    Rather, my fear is that some senior political appointee or politically ambitious GO in a key position will look at the initial numbers (high failure rates in early training for same, exceptionally low numbers of bona fide qualified females) and will turn to his subordinates and say, “These numbers are a problem. Fix it.”

    It takes millenia to change human genetics significantly. So I’m afraid I know exactly what the fix will be: a new set of gender-normed physical standards for those specialties and training programs, or a lowering of physical standards across the board. The second-order effect of that fix will be lowered combat capabilities in specialties that are critical for combat. The third-order effect will be an increased number of body bags coming home during our next war.

    I’ve not personally watched that many flag-draped coffins start their final trip home – I’d guess somewhere around 15 or 20, but I didn’t keep count. But that was more than enough, thanks.

  16. Mike says:

    Don’t worry gents there’s a timetable! The gubment har it allllllllll under control! Just like the deficit!

  17. Ex-PH2 says:

    You’re preachin’ to the choir, Hondo.

    Some women will want it, they won’t whine or ask for special this and that, they’ll take it seriously and they’ll be quite good at it.

    Others will be assigned to it, whine and complain, do lousy, make a mess of it. (That applies to men, too, you know. 🙂 )

    It’s just appeasement, nothing else.

  18. Ex-PH2 says:

    I know we discussed women in firefighting before. Here is a Tribune article about women firefighters, who make up about 2% of the entire Chicago firefighting population.

    The contention in this suit is that the actual requirements are kept secret, so I don’t know if it’s whining or what, but I do not give a personal rat’s ass about ‘family traditions’ where my safety is concerned. This is especialy true since the warehouse fire on South Ashland that was a 5-alarmer, worst fire in years, revived itself after the pumper trucks left.

    My suggestion is that the testing requirements are published, that training and requirements remain the same for men and women, and those who can’t pass them don’t go into combat. You pass or you fail. Period.

    End of analysis.

  19. Stacy0311 says:

    so will there be a huge rush of women clamoring to join the combat arms just like there was a huge rush of LGBTs to the recruiting offices when DADT was repealed?

  20. Twist says:

    I’ve noticed that the silence on having women sign up for selective service is deafening.

  21. Ex-PH2 says:

    Oh, I’m sorry, Twist. I always thought women should be drafted right aong with men. Why shouldn’t we be sharing the load?

    As for a rush to join combat arms, I seriously doubt it. Duckworth was a pilot, not a soldier. There are plenty of women already in combat zones.

  22. Hondo says:

    Ex-PH2: if I recall correctly, in the Army Aviation is considered one of the combat arms branches. The aircraft – and their crews – get shot at regularly.

  23. Twist says:

    @71, I was talking about the women that brought the lawsuit. I need to articulate better.

  24. Ex-PH2 says:

    Hondo, you’re right — my mistake. They have gunners and they aren’t on the ground.

    @73 – Lawsuit? Oh, fill me in on that!!

  25. Ex-PH2 says:

    Is that the lawsuit to lift the ban on women in combat?

  26. Twist says:

    @75, Yep. I believed we discussed that on here a while back.

  27. Ex-PH2 says:

    OK, thanks!

  28. BK says:

    Great piece, and great discussion that follows it.

    I’m going back in time, in my mind, from 2011 to the early 1990s when I first went in.

    12 click movement to contact lanes, with full rucks until we hit the ORP, on Fort Campbell’s evil back 40, at night. Full combat load with the M60. I stopped growing at 5’8″ and have never weighed more than 165lbs. Put Alaska by snowshoe or 12 clicks of walking up and downhill on soggy basketballs into the mix, carrying the same load, and even the platoon lanes took on some epic, Wittgenfeld-esque “trail assassin” ambience.

    Fast forward to when they disbanded even the Guard LRSD and the light infantry/airborne types end up with the leg tossers. The last 6 years of my service I think I didn’t walk with a full ruck more than 100meters. Sure, the ladies make it through the 12-mile affair at Air Assault school, but as retired CSM Purdy once famously opined, they should shoot *all* graduates in the leg with a 22 before the march before they ever dare call that the 10 toughest days in the Army.

    All this low-intensity conflict focus in GWOT has perhaps fooled the American public into believing that automation is the great equalizer on the battlefield these days. Indeed, if an infantryman is sitting behind the FBCB2 in his Stryker, or working the head-space and timing on his M2, he’s a different animal than a light fighter, and I don’t see why a woman couldn’t do any of that stuff. But at some point, direct, force-on-force is going to be required again, if it’s not already, and with a President that seems to believe we don’t even issue bayonets anymore, given my puniness, even with all my aggression, I’d still worry about squaring off against a larger enemy. I’d win, because that’s what we do, but when we start mixing genders on MMA and boxing and start seeing how that works out, I’ll be a lot more sanguine about gender integration.

    And then again, maybe it’s an antidote for my sense that combat service roles have always been a combat liability (see Jessica Lynch, 1 ea). Maybe by inculcating the same warrior spirit into the female of the species, we can de-sissify the REMFs. I doubt it. If only they’d go with the Israeli model, and adopt it and use insulated standards and specific applications of said units. Our civilian government, though, will not suffer anything but full, and deleterious to combat-effectiveness, equality, because, after all, this is hampering promotions for the ladies.

    I can’t count the number of times I pissed in a crouch on a security halt, humped a ruck weighing nearly as much as I did, or hacked my way through permafrost to dig a fighting position. Until Panetta and company fully assess what being a warrior really entails, and not just use metrics established by mounted patrols out of FOB Liberty, they have no business moving forward.

  29. Twist says:

    @78, Ahhh the good ole back 40. Every time we rucked in from Angel’s gate I swear that the water tower had wheels on it and gremlins would keep pushing it away from you and you would never reach it. I also can’t count how many times I rolled my ankle on baby heads in Alaska. I do remember CSM Purdy saying that about the .22 and thinking WTF.

  30. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    @1. The Selective Service aspect, previously settled, will again be resurrected. Presently, registration affects only males 18-35(?). Why are women excluded? Because the law excludes them. However, laws must pass constitutional muster and the blanket exemption of females may now be unconstitutional, thanks to this policy change. Of course, it will require a new challenge, based upon the Due Process, equal protection argument. This was previously done, as you might guess, and the Supremes upheld the constitutionality of the exemption. But the reason they did so is key. The majority said that the purpose of a draft is to secure combat troops and since women are exempt from combat, their selective service exemption is constitutional. I think you see the problem. Stay tuned.

  31. Ex-PH2 says:

    Here’s my side of it.
    That photo of me in my light blues was taken in 1969 right after I got my second class crow. Besides what I did at NPC, I was also schooling and showing horses on my own time. I was in a 6-section duty roster, which meant that every 6 days, I stood duty on the quarter deck in that building. When I was out at the stable where I was training for horse shows, I was either helping the guy who owned the place, an ex-SeaBee, build a barn for new boarders or working with a bunch of different horses 5 hours a day during the week and ll day on weekends. That meant helping the man’s wife, who ran the business, by cleaning stalls, hauling bales of hay or bags of peanut shell bedding and bags of feed into the main barn. The hay bales weighed, on average, 90 pounds. The bags of peanut shell bedding weighed 105 pounds. The bags of grain weighed between 75 and 125 pounds. To save time, we loaded things into wheel barrows at the storeroom, and unloaded them where they were supposed to go. The hay bales were up above the stalls and were carried, not dragged, over to the hole in the floor to dump flakes of hay into the hayracks.
    That was in addition to dealing with obstreperous horses that didn’t want to let you pick up a hoof to clean it, or stand still in the cross ties. I also helped build jumps for the local hunt club that I belonged to.
    It takes physical strength to do all of this and I was used to it. I had been doing stuff like that since I was 10.
    So could I have run through all those infantry requirements back then? Probably, but I was used to doing that kind physical hard work. I did it all the time.
    When I was going through RTC(w) at Bainbridge, all of us walked everywhere we went. Ditto, Photo “A” school at Pensacola. I used to do 60 mile bike rides when I had the chance.
    The point is, most young women who go into any kind of physical training in the military now are not used to it before they get there, they don’t have any kind of prep work before they go in, and that is why they don’t do well. They simply aren’t prepared for it.
    And I don’t care if they ran marathons before they went to basic. Running a marathon is done with the lightest load possible to increase your time. People who train for marathons sometimes do train by running with weighted backpacks, but the weight in their backpacks is far less than the weight in a full military field pack plus uniform gear and Kevlar vest, and they aren’t carrying weapons with them, either.
    You can’t comapre a marathon runner to someone geared up for the combat field, any more than you can compare a man in steel plate armor with a sword and shield to a man dressed for fencing with an epee.
    If you want to know what a real comparison would be, pick up a full set of chain mail armor some time. Just lift it. It’s quite heavy, around 75 pounds of steel links. However, if you wear it all day long, along with a knightly sword with weighs several pounds by itself, plus the shield you’re supposed to carry, you get used to carrying all that weight with you. It’s distributed over your body, and you get used to carrying it around. However, if you have to carry it around as an item in a shopping bag, it is a whole lot heavier.

  32. LL says:

    Two simple points:

    1–ABSOLUTE equality, as in physical standards, physical requirements, etc.

    2–The military needs to get a handle on this shit. If it means holding a “this is how birth control works” briefing twice a year, then so be it. In the modern age of Sandra Fluke and “free birth control,” especially for active duty females, there is NO EXCUSE for “unplanned” or “accidental” pregnancies. Period.

  33. Hondo says:

    Ex-PH2: You might be surprised at what a soldier going into combat today wears in terms of equipment and weaponry. weight wise.

    – The basic IBA vest and accessories? Somewhere around 33.5lbs.
    – Kevlar helmet and cover? About 3.5 lbs
    – Ammo: varies; more is usually better. Figure 10 lbs between that and other stuff in the pockets
    – Other gear (either worn or typically hung off the IBA vest and accessories when not worn) (ammo pouches, gloves, D-rings, field dressing and holder) – figure another 5 lbs, min
    – Camelback (2L): about 5lbs filled.
    – M16: a bit over 7 lbs, unloaded ; more if they’ve got the grenade launcher variant or a machine gun

    Add that up, and you’re talking close to 70 lbs. And that doesn’t include boots, socks, skivvies, or uniform. Figure another 7-10 lbs for that.

    And remember: that doesn’t include a rucksack and its contents. An Infantryman’s ruck can easily weigh 80 lbs or more. It will be “or more” if you’re a RTO or on a mortar crew.

    Add the two, and you’re talking over 150lbs of stuff.

    And unlike knights in “days of old”, soldiers generally don’t have a squire that carries their gear for them when they’re moving out on foot.

    There are many reasons people in the Infantry don’t stay in the infantry. One of the most common is that they break down physically and no longer can stay in the infantry.

  34. Hondo says:

    LL: your point 1 is sound, would work, and I’d have no problem with it if it were to be implemented. Unfortunately, from what I’ve personally seen from the last 30+ years of gender integration in the military, I’ll be absolutely shocked if that’s what happens. Don’t bet the farm.

    Your point 2 is similarly sound, would also work, and I’d have no problem with it either. Unfortunately, that would conflict with the “right to reproductive freedom” (or some such). So we ain’t gonna see that, either.

  35. Ex-PH2 says:

    Hondo: OK, so, I’ll wear 2 sets of chain mail. And carry a sword.

    I’ll be impervious to bullets.

  36. 68W58 says:

    Hondo-an aid bag can weigh 40 pounds or so as well, just sayin’.

  37. Ex-PH2 says:

    My water main just thawed and you’re only interested in discussions about condiments? I finally have (some) water again, and you want to talk about habaneros. OK.

  38. Hondo says:

    Ex-PH2: hey, you’re the one who chose to live up near the Great Mistakes. Melt some snow. (smile)

  39. Ex-PH2 says:

    Oh, hey, I called Steve the plumber who sent his red-headed son and coworker and they got the main line free of ice. That’s all I care about. The wind chill Monday night was near -28F, but I have water again. I will never give in.

  40. OWB says:

    Couple of things on this.

    This is a great move if the result they are looking for is to reduce the number of women in the military. Those who have no interest in combat may have difficulty deciding to reup if there is a chance of their being sent there.

    Speaking of which – what is the likelihood of women being assigned to combat posiitions against their will? Sure, you go where you are assigned, but when the rules change after you sign up, individuals adversely impacted certainly can have a negative reaction to it. Every woman now serving is doing so with the understanding that she will not see combat, however that is today defined. It will be a deal breaker for most of those women if they can now be forced to do what they were exemoted from doing when they enlisted.

    These are real women. Of the thousands that I served with over the years not a single one wished to hold an infantry, or other combat eligible, job. Yes, I knew air crew as well. And yes, some of them took fire, but they were not assigned to aircraft whose primary duty was to engage with an enemy.

    This is just one more in a continuing series of assinine decisions made by idiots. Unfortunately, they are causing real people to die as a result.

  41. Joe Momma says:

    1. Yes women have indeed contributed to our nation’s greatness. However; the operational side – combat arms – of the military is the pointy end of US foreign policy, it’s not a petri dish for political correctness sociology studies. Our heroes at arms are not there to exhibit complete gender equality, they are there to make the enemies of our great nation assume room temperature at the earliest opportunity. Ergo, IF – a big if – they could do the deed requiring extra support or lowering the standards and yes, squeeze the trigger when it counts, these political bozos might have an argument. However, in 24yrs of active duty I have never seen any non-Y chromosome human who could pass muster.

    2. What will the political correctness say about their decision the first time a woman is captured and shown abused in unmentionable ways and murdered on al jazeera? God forbid such a thing, but the potentiality exists come day one.

    Food for though my brethren…

  42. Joe Momma says:


    … “IF – a big if – they could do the deed WITHOUT requiring extra support or lowering the standards and yes, squeeze the trigger when it counts, these political bozos might have an argument”.

  43. headhuntersix says:

    Look at Hondo’s post. This is where the discussion begins. I don’t care about cardio bunnies who can run all day, that doesn’t matter. I weight 220 lbs at 5’9. With basic load, weapon, basic load for the 9mm and anything extra I bring, I weight about 280lbs. The average guy can’t drag me, pick me, let alone a female. Ok so forget that…anybody here ever break track on an M1, pull a sprocket, load a main gun round. As a Tanker, my loader better be able to hump rounds…how about just open a skirt. Abd Dempsey just sat there and took it..again!

  44. Casey Klahn says:

    I knew women in the military who were better leaders than myself, brooked less BS, and generally were fine soldiers. That being said, all of the schools I went to and the billets I held (Infantry) had nice, fat, wash-out rates for the men.

    I’ll go farther. I also spent a great deal of time in the mountains after my service, as a climber and a guide. It is a very exacting arena, and not a forgiving one. I knew many women who were very buff and savvy. But, not as many women as men, not by a long shot. Those who wanted to lead on the pointy end of the rope were severely absent when the time came. It just wasn’t in their make-up. Yes, there were some.

    Every man here present who served in the military knows that docking a big ship, stowing supplies, humping 155 mm ammo, mortar baseplates, HMG tripods, butt loads of ammo and water cans…I’m getting tired just thinking of all this, is hard work. Not hard – brutally hard. Listen to Charles Durning talk about his D Day experiences on You Tube and picture your sister exiting into 60 feet of ocean water with the guy on either side getting killed.

    There are some women loggers, but you gotta be kidding me if you think they can pull their weight as a rule.

    Of course we all know there will be monkeying with the standards. That alone should give you pause. Thanks, Mr Panetta and Mr Obama. Dumb asses.

  45. LL says:

    @Hondo #84

    “Unfortunately, that would conflict with the “right to reproductive freedom” (or some such).”

    And this is what amuses me the most. I’ve seen the argument. I’m pretty damn sure the enemy does not care about your reproductive rights or hell, even your right to live. Here’s the thing, you have a small outpost with 8 men. Now you have a small outpost with 7 men, 1 woman. She gets knocked up, but not in the immaculate conception kind of way. To be fair and equal, BOTH parties get disciplined, sent home, kicked out (and I personally think both parties should lose any and all benefits). In the end, the big picture, there are 6 guys left at the outpost, 2 soldiers short, and that right there is the problem.

    If you want the “choice” to fight on the front lines, to be a grunt, then you better damn well be making the “choice” where you absolutely WILL NOT get pregnant.

    My 2 cents.

  46. Hondo says:

    LL: agree pretty much 100% with your latest comment.

    But what you propose just ain’t gonna happen. Politics guarantees that.

    What will happen is that both will possibly be disciplined for violation of orders (consensual sex between unmarried couples was technically prohibited in 2007-2008, and may still be prohibited in-theater today). The gal will be sent home to have the kid. The guy will serve out his term in-country, and if disciplined probably not have the option to continue his career. And the outpost will be 1 soldier short for the duration.

  47. EMDFL says:

    FWIW – I spent most of time in the NG… in an AdMin company…that was about 40% female.
    We had 14 GP medium tents and 10 GP small tents to put up every time we went out to the field on a problem. Nothing was quite as interesting as watching six or seven females trying to erect the center poles/ridgepole on a GP medium, let alone load the folded tent onto the back of a Duce.
    Can’t say the women didn’t know their jobs, but the physical side was a whole ‘nother thing. And yes we did have the same ones getting preggers every year just in time for our two week deployment.