• Thu, Jul 5 2012

Female Marine Says Women Aren’t ‘Created Equal’ For Military Combat…Only Based On Her Experience

The United States Marine Corps has taken a small step into officially integrating women into the front lines of combat. Plenty of female soldiers reported finding themselves fighting alongside their male peers in an unofficial capacity during the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, but women still haven’t been legitimately brought in to the infantry yet. But the Marines seemed to be on their way to changing that. They started allowing women into the Infantry Officer Course, which is a huge first step to equal participation for men and women in the Armed Services.

However, one Marine is nervous that the decision to allow women to fight in the front lines of combat is being influenced by women who haven’t actually served in the military recently, and therefore are unable to understand the physical toll of combat and how it would effect women. In a straight-forward piece for the Marine Corps Gazette, Captain Katie Petronio argues that females simply are made differently from men, and so we can’t expect their bodies to respond to long-term time on the front lines like men do. She explains,

“In the end, my main concern is not whether women are capable of conducting combat operations, as we have already proven that we can hold our own in some very difficult combat situations; instead, my main concern is a question of longevity. Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with integration?”

Can women handle the long-term pressure? Captain Petronio believes they can’t. And for her proof, she uses her own experience as a Marine. She entered the service at 5’3”, able to squat 200 lbs and bench press 145 lbs. She completed OCS (Officer Candidates School) ranked 4 out of 52 candidates. She was obviously an extremely fit and strong woman. However, her experience with the Marines has changed both her body and her outlook.

“Five years later, I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry. I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females.”

Now, I have to say, I have never been a member of the Armed Forces in any capacity. I do not have firsthand experience of the extreme conditions and unimaginable physical toll that Captain Petronio went through. She has all  my gratitude for the service she gave to this country. I don’t want to belittle or marginalize her experience or opinion at all. I have the utmost respect for the members of our military.

I guess I just read her piece and felt like it was unfair for one woman to say that every female Marine would encounter the same problems she did. It seemed unfair for her to declare in her headline that the sexes “aren’t created equal” based solely on her own experience. While I realize that I haven’t gone through her ordeal, I don’t think we can assume that every woman handles physical stress and pressure the same way. Some women’s bodies breeze through childbirth. Others are wrecked by it. That doesn’t the latter group the right to say that no one can handle childbirth.

Human bodies are all different. And yes, some of them are not made to serve in the infantry division of the Marines. I just don’t think that gender should be the reason that a person is denied. If they’re not physically capable, of course we shouldn’t shove them through in the name of diversity. But women should be given the opportunity to prove themselves.

(Photo: koh sze kiat/Shutterstock)

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  • Kinnison

    Cpt. Petrino is right. You are wrong. I originally read her article in the “Marine Corps Gazette”, the professional magazine of Marine Officers, published by the Marine Corps Association (July 2012). Her writing was informed and circumstantial, and had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not women belong in combat, but criticized their assignment to infantry units for physical reasons. She herself had two successful combat tours, one in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. For the record I have no problem with women in combat either, and I am a retired lieutenant colonel who during my career had the privilege of serving with a number of fine professional officers who happened to be women. Women in some combat units as, for example, fighter pilots or helicopter pilots, where there is no requirement to constantly carry heavy loads, are equal to, or even superior in performance, to men. Women and men, which is Cpt. Petrino’s point, are simply different physiologically, and women have neither the upper body strength nor the skeleto-muscular system to perform long-term at the level mandated at most combat arms tasks: Infantry, Artillery, Armor, Combat Engineer. Can they do it? Like Katie Petrino the answer is , “Yes, for awhile”, but the strain on their bodies is simply not conducive to long-term assignment to such units in combat. It is not worth destroying their health for the rest of their lives to prove a feminist point. My wife, who never served in the military, was a jock as a young woman. A certified Nordic ski guide, backpacker and climber, she graduated from Paul Petzholt’s National Outdoor Leadership School(NOLS) and was certified as a professional back-country guide at the age of 25. She successfully carried a 90 pound pack during the 6 week certification course in Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains, keeping up with her male counterparts. The strain on her skeletal system came back to haunt her and by age 50 she had two artificial hips. Allow women to do the combat jobs they can do. Infantry is not one of them. Pick your battles…

    • JC

      Unless you are the Marine chic in Aliens.

  • Dana

    I agree with Kinnison. It’s obvious that male and female bodies are physiologically different. Women bear young–it’s a biological trade off (and likewise, men’s physical attributes are a trade off for not being able to bear young). Both sexes can handle significant phsyical strain, but in different ways. There’s no problem in admitting that. The problem is when physical strength and power are used to physically oppress another person or are used as an argument for superiority.

  • Lastango

    Here’s an interesting article for anyone wanting to consider some of the larger questions surrounding women in the military:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303830204577448821376681662.html

    The subject is different than the piece cited in this post. Instead of relating to physical qualities, it focuses on organizational/political motives for choosing to include women in certain aspects of the military. The author wants us to recognize there are tradeoffs, and to consider the price to be paid before making choices.

  • Heidi

    I am also a FEMALE officer (currently a major but spent 13 years enlisted) and I DO NOT AGREE with females in certain combat jobs. I served in Afghanistan and went outside the wire on a daily basis in Kabul. It was a non-combat job and my mission was to train Afghan soldiers. While combat is blurred in an asymmetric environment, the military should have the ability to differentiate between jobs based upon the physical standards required.
    The mission must come first, and I would hope any military member regardless of gender would state that.
    In addition, I do not agree with lowering of standards so females can make the cut. PC liberalism and the liberals’ notion of “equality” needs to stay out of the military. What are the liberals/politicians going to tell Sgt. Stucky’s family when he dies on the battlefield because a female solider could not pull his body (+230lbs) loaded down with full battle rattle off the battlefield and out of harms way?

  • moebius22

    If the introduction about women into the military was simply a case of giving those qualified a chance to succeed, the U.S. military would have exactly the same physical standards for men and women ,but they don’t. Politicians wanted more women to serve so the military gender normed (eliminated standards women couldn’t pass) and created a two tiered system for men and women.

    I hear the Pentagon is currently considering doing the same for front line positions.