Physical Fitness Standards are a really big deal in the military; any tinkering of the current standard always causes a tremendous amount of complaining and general uproar among Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen. It must be said that most Americans could not come close to passing any one of the Service’s physical fitness tests, so complaining by the 1% who serve in our military and sacrifice what few will ever comprehend, is frankly allowed.
A service member’s performance on these tests, often decide promotion, and ones general future in the military, they are important to the service member, the military, and ultimately determine the overall physical readiness of our Nation’s fighting force. So when, the Marine Corps recently changed its physical fitness standard for women; requiring them to perform 3 pull ups (the minimum required by men), instead of the flexed arm hang, all hell broke loose in the ranks…and as expected, complaints poured in.
As the Marine Corps began to implement their new fitness standard, it also came to the attention of the media that approximately 53% of female Marines cannot perform the new three pull-up standard (which they have had virtually no time to train for). Armed with this new information, the remaining hold outs who oppose integration of women in the combat ranks quickly began rattling off the same, tired, anecdotal, and frankly passé reasons why women cannot serve in combat units; articles were spit out from computers all around America. Articles that bemoaned the fact that because, 53% of females Marines could not perform the three required pull ups right out of the gate, they clearly cannot serve in the Infantry.
Really? Because last time I checked physical fitness tests in the Marine Corps or the Army for that matter, have absolutely zero bearing on being in the Infantry; zero. I say again, there is, and has never been a separate or more advanced physical fitness test required to enter or graduate Infantry training…perhaps there should be. As it stands today, one must simply survive Infantry training, and pass the standard physical fitness test at the end of their training…if a Maine or soldier does this they are branched Infantry.
So why did the Marine Corps change the physical fitness standard for women? Let us be clear: the Marine Corps is requiring women to do three pull ups in order to change the overall culture of inequity that exists for female Marines in the Corps as a whole, not to determine if all female Marines can be Infantry Marines, and for the record I think it is a great first step. I happen to believe that female Marines should be able to do 3 pull ups in order to serve in ANY Marine job, and I happen to believe that requiring female Marines to do three pull ups will further aid in changing the perception that women are somehow different and a separate and lower class of Marine or soldier. But as it stands today, the physical fitness tests for all services are not job specific, they simply determine ones general ability to wear a military uniform; it is a test to measure a general level of fitness, and has zero to do with Infantry qualification or qualification into any other combat job.
Much is written about why women should not serve in our Nation’s infantry, countless articles on why the presence of women will somehow make the Infantry weaker or less combat ready. To be fair, the minute the policy changed, and women in the Infantry became a reality, was the minute some really honest, and really great writing started to emerge on both sides of this subject. The anecdotal and frankly ignorant reasons like: “How will they pee next to men? Will men accept them? Or where will they sleep? have virtually ceased. There do remain the few hold-outs who have dug in and continue to desperately throw around new complaints, like: “Look, told you so, half of them cannot do three pull ups!”, “they will get injured”, or “they wont get promoted with their peers”…but these are the last frantic volleys in a war that has ended, the last arguments in a national and social debate that has been decided.
However, there is one important question that has not been fully answered by supporters of gender integration in combat jobs, and it is a question that needs answering:
“How does the inclusion of women in the Infantry make the Infantry stronger, and how is the inclusion of women into combat units a “force multiplier?”
Prominent military bloggers such as Adam Elkus from “Rethinking Security” have asked this question many times. Mr. Elkus, like many others, claims to have no preconceived opinion on whether women should serve in combat units or not, but always ends his writing on this subject, with the question: how do women make the Infantry stronger? Why are women good for the Infantry? And if they do not make the Infantry stronger, why add them? My answer, after a long time thinking and writing about this is: they don’t, but it doesn’t matter.
If a soldier possessing two X chromosomes can perform at the required physical ability to serve in an Infantry unit than that soldier or Marine regardless of their chromosome make-up is one additional Infantry soldier or Marine added to that unit, and that additional Infantry Marine or Soldier makes his or her unit better or worse depending on their physical and mental ability. If your speaking in terms of simply providing overwhelming force, and ultimately closing with, and defeating an enemy (which is what the Infantry seeks to do) than any Infantry Marine or Soldier who is physically qualified makes a unit larger, they are one more warm body with a rifle, and this makes an Infantry unit larger, thus stronger…not their specific sex, period.
For the Military Bloggers, active duty Infantrymen, Soldiers and Marines in general and Veterans out there who think seriously on this subject, and who I converse with often, I should provide a bit more academic nuance, or additional thinking points on why women are not necessarily “force multipliers” when they are added to the Infantry and why it doesn’t matter one bit that they are not.
One such expanded point of discussion on this issue is the way in which our Army went about integrating black men into the military in general and specifically into combat units. I would argue that black men who serve in Infantry units are obviously physically qualified to do so, but they are no more qualified than white Infantry soldiers or soldiers of any other race for that matter. Simply the inclusion of another combat ready, and qualified Infantry soldier improves the unit, it makes it larger…they are one more body with a rifle. If a soldier or Marine with two X chromosomes is physically qualified to serve in an Infantry unit and has made it through the appropriate Infantry training (as close to 15 women have), than that female soldier or Marine makes her Infantry unit larger, thus stronger…she is one more qualified soldier with a rifle. You see, not everything the military does is done to add “force multiplication” to a unit, in fact that is rarely the case. Numbers are the key when it comes to the Infantry…overwhelming force.
Why should women have to be “force multipliers” or somehow dramatically improve an Infantry unit in order to serve in one? After all, male Infantry soldiers do not have to pass the litmus test of “making an Infantry unit better” or “force multiplier” in order to serve in an Infantry unit. Simply their addition to the unit is enough. Qualified female Marines and Soldiers are, like Infantry trained males another trained professional with a rifle? Why must they be more? Our Nation’s Infantry does not recruit only the best male American athletes or insanely physically fit male Americans. An Infantry soldier improves their unit because they are an additional Infantry trained warrior, and it has nothing to do with their sex, or race for that matter…15 females proved this very point the minute they stood next to their fellow Infantry Marines on a cold graduation parade field in North Carolina.
Will the inclusion of women into the Infantry make the Infantry different? Yes, just as the inclusion of black men made the Infantry different. The Inclusion of black men into the Infantry obviously and thankfully brought an entire American perspective and representation to the Infantry culture that was absent before. A perspective which allowed for different leadership decisions to be made, different leadership styles to flourish. The inclusion of American women into the Infantry will also bring an entire American perspective and representation to our Infantry that was absent before. Period…no more…no less.