Last night, actually pretty late last night as I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook Timeline before bed, I scrolled past a story posted by the Marine Corps Times with a title something along the lines of: “Four will Graduate from the Marine School of Infantry”. I almost scrolled past it; I guess I was expecting that when a woman or women graduated from such a course there would be a bigger story…maybe there will be. But last night this story was posted late, it seemed like an afterthought and it was short. Nevertheless, I had to take a knee, not because I didn’t think it would happen; I did. I had to take a knee, because it means a lot.
Because only 1% serve in our Armed Forces, four female Marines making it through some military course in the middle of the North Carolina woods is surely not a huge story to most Americans, but to the military community, to the Marine Corps, to the Army, to the Infantry, to Special Forces, to women in the Army and the Marine Corps, and mostly to the women currently in the service academies, the hundreds of ROTC programs, and American high schools; it is a huge story. It is a game changer, and it is absolutely worth taking a knee for.
So how exactly is the fact that four female Marines will soon stand among hundreds of their fellow male Infantry Marines on a cold parade field in North Carolina a game changer? It is a game changer because America now knows that physically some women can do it…we can no longer pretend they can’t. It means that the Infantry, the Holy Grail of combat arms is no longer reserved for men; it means that our nation will finally join Canada, Israel, Norway, and Australia as places of absolute equality in the military.
So what comes next? Well, I am not quite convinced that I can stop writing about this just yet, and I am not convinced that the Marine Corps and Army actually want women in the Infantry…sorry I am just not there yet. I am however convinced that what comes next is a bunch of “studies” and surveys to determine if women will get injured, if units will break down, if there are enough women, if their fellow Infantry Marines will abuse them, and if they can pee or sleep next to their fellow male Infantry Marine. Sadly like me, many female Veterans, and many active duty women remain skeptical that the Marine Corps or the Army really thinks that women should be in the Infantry. If they did, they would award these four women the MOS they earned. What’s also next is the Marine Corps and Army desperately clinging to Injury and the idea of “critical mass” as the next reasons that will somehow rescue them from their rightful owners (the American taxpayer) demand to allow qualified women into the Infantry.
Will women get injured? Yes and so will men. The Corps and the Army has yet to ban a skinny short male recruit from trying to be an Infantryman or a Navy Seal because he might get injured. No, the Marine Corps allows that man to accept physical risk to his own body. Is this idea of “critical mass” important when it comes to equality? No, “critical mass” did not seem to be something that was thrown around as the services integrated black men into the military and specifically into combat arms. The military understood that even if there was one black man who wished to be an Infantry soldier he was enough…ten were not needed. You see we are no longer talking about combat readiness or the possibility that no female can physically do it; we know now that some woman can physically do it, so why does it matter that there might only be a few in the first few waves? It doesn’t.
Many men and women who oppose this policy also like to promote the idea that it is only so called “hard core feminists” and women who are not actually in the military who are pushing women in combat arms. It is not. I am a combat Veteran and the many female Veterans and active duty officers and enlisted females that I speak with, agree that women should be able to pursue the Infantry if they qualify and the standard does not change. With that said, because I was in the military, I am very aware that just because some women can get through Infantry training that does not mean that women in the Infantry is still not a complicate issue, it is and I realize this.
I have had many enlightening and uncomfortably honest conversations with Infantrymen on this issue; it is an emotional issue for them. They love their Infantry; they are connected to it viscerally, and fear what it will become with the inclusion of women. It is not even necessarily that they think it will be less, they just know it will be different…I understand this. But we are now on our way, and as military leaders and leaders in the Veteran community we must lead all soldiers, and Marines to embrace this next evolution in the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
No matter how one comes down on the policy change, one thing can definitely be said: ever since the policy was changed, thus propelling the idea of women in the Infantry from a very abstract idea to one of absolute reality, some really in depth and smart writing has surfaced. Writing which explores both sides, writing that admits the complexity of the issue, and most importantly writing that moves beyond the anecdotal, ridiculous and frankly insulting and sexist: “where will they pee?” arguments. Anyone still rattling off these reasons to ban women from the Infantry is just simply not educated on the issue, is inherently sexist, or both.
I do not kid myself and pretend that these four women selflessly volunteered to endure brutal Infantry training for the noble advancement of all female soldiers and Marines. I know a little bit about enlisted soldiers and Marines and it is probably much more likely that they very selfishly saw an opportunity and seized on it. Two of them probably wanted to just see if they could do it and the other two probably wanted to be Infantry Marines from the get go. Whatever their reasons, the Cadet in her junior year at West Point will have these four Infantry qualified Marines to thank when she fills out her “wish list” and places Infantry as her # 1 choice.