Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2013, 6:00 am

Women in combat wise experiment?

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By Col. (Ret.) Dave Shaver

When Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta dropped the bombshell of women in combat units, I was stunned that more work and studies had not yet been completed, but then again, I guess certain subjects can be studied to death.

In the Infantry units I served, women were relegated to limited rear echelon jobs. As time passed after the Vietnam War things slowly changed, which included more and more combat service support jobs for women in the logistics functions of supply, maintenance, transportation. More jobs for women opened up in combat support jobs such as signal (communications), military intelligence, engineers, aviation and others This trend has continued with more Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) opportunities opening up for women. But is it right to declare that women are now eligible to serve in front-line Infantry, armor and special forces units?

Some would argue that the military is being used for social experiments, and that is not right. But if the military shouldn't be used in such a way, would we have integrated the military as directed by President Truman in 1948? The fact is that we have used the military for many social experiments. Many have worked. Some have failed. And the jury remains out on others.

Women left their own Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1978 to serve side by side with their male counterparts. That worked far better than all critics at the time thought it would.

I'm still not comfortable with other experiments such as allowing gays to serve openly. We already have a sexual assault problem in the armed forces -- over 19,000 complaints last year. Will we be adding same-sex assaults to that number in the future?

Same sex soldiers in uniform, kissing and holding hands in public on the way to gay marriages in uniform seems like a very stark social contrast when you consider our potential enemies punish such homosexual displays with death in much of the world, including Islamic nations and, more recently, such activities have been absolutely condemned in Russia. That's a lot of folks who say we are not right in making these social experiments part of our culture.

During the Iraq War, I wrote a column about a young female military police sergeant who saved many American lives by killing a horde of enemy combatants and winning the Silver Star.

It's not that I'm challenging the heroism, courage, reliability and competence of females in combat. They have been doing their jobs well for a long time. My concern is a two-pronged question of physical ability to handle the heavy lifting required by the many chores necessary to conduct infantry/armor operations, and of how we are going to prescribe the close combat personal hygiene tasks which must be performed in front of the opposite sex on the forward battlefield.

In the end we will find solutions to these issues which we cannot see today. Perhaps we don't have to change our training standards, as some would point out. Perhaps the way we fight will change with or without training standard modifications to accommodate female soldiers in these up-front, out-front units.

In any case we will have to make a few other changes outside of the Department of Defense. If women are allowed to serve in combat infantry units, they will logically have to sign up for the draft. Wow! What a cultural change!

Chivalry seems to only exist among our older generations today, so getting rid of gentlemanly displays of respect for ladies will probably disappear entirely with this new equality.

I hope not, but it's not my army anymore. I wish those serving today all the luck in the world. I will remain skeptical that the current, cultural, experimental changes we have made lately within our military will help us win the next war. In the interim, cheers for our next Amazon warriors!
Col. Dave Shaver is a retired U.S. Army officer and former tenured faculty member of the U.S. Army War College, where he held the General MacArthur academic chair of research;