Setting the Right Conditions for Gender Integration in the Armed Services

This post originally appeared in Small Wars Journal on September 21, 2015

By: Shelly Goode-Burgoyne

A major shift is underway across the U.S. Armed Forces. A month ago, two American Army officers, who happen to be women made history and altered the future for all American women when they graduated from our Army’s elite Ranger School. Yesterday, our Commander and Chief appointed the first openly gay Secretary of the Army, In 2010 the DOD policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing openly gay soldiers to serve without fear of harassment or dishonorable discharge, and the Air Force is seeking ways to enlist qualified trans-gendered Americans. In the last few days and in advance of the 2016 deadline to open all combat jobs to American women or seek an exception in front of Congress, the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force have announced that they plan on opening all combat jobs to qualified female service-members, to include the Infantry, Navy Seals, and all Special Forces jobs. Top Navy Admiral, Jon Greenert and Rear Admiral Brian Losey, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command believes that if women can pass the grueling six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve. Losey states:

“Why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason,” Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times and its sister publication Defense News. “So we’re on a track to say, ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'”

Nevertheless, and in spite of this progress, the United States Marine Corps, which is a component of the Department of the Navy and reports to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, has decided to disregard the Secretary’s directive for full gender integration. On Friday, the Marine Corps Commandant publicly stated that the Marine Corps is entitled to, and will ask for an exemption from the full integration policy directed by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2013. If granted by Congress, the Marine Corps would be allowed to continue to ban qualified female Marines from serving in many Marine Corps combat jobs, to include Infantry. The Marine Corps has cited their recent gender neutral standards study as evidence to keep their ban in place. This gender study which was released only in summary a few days ago has already been determined to be fundamentally flawed by the Secretary of the Navy, many active duty and reserve military officers, veterans, and several members of Congress. Secretary Mabus said this about the study:

“It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking ‘this is not a good idea,’ and ‘women will never be able to do this. When you start out with that mindset, you’re almost presupposing the outcome. The Marines could have selected female volunteers who were better suited to the task of marching under heavy loads, which accounted for many of the injuries that were observed. For the women that volunteered, probably there should have been a higher bar to cross to get into the experiment.”

As our Congress prepares to consider allowing the United States Marine Corps to remain the only profession in our nation which bans a qualified American from a certain job because that American is a woman they must vigorously debate and query this study which the Marine Corps is citing as evidence to ban women from Infantry. They should also question the future and legitimacy of the Marine Corps’ antiquated policy of segregated training.

What sparked this most recent debate?  A year-long Marine Corps study on gender integration was flawed on many levels: the subject selection, the deduced purpose for the study, and the cherry-picked results that were released.

The Marine Corps study is at best inconsistent and Congress has ordered the Marine Corps Commandant, General Joseph Dunford, to brief them on the gender study within the month. The study was never intended to act as a litmus test to determine if women can serve in the Marine Corps Infantry, but rather, it was commissioned to assist in determining the gender neutral standards for the Infantry (there currently exist no standards for the Infantry, save being male). It is important to note that the full gender study has not been released by the Marine Corps and ultimately the Secretary of the Navy has the last word on this issue as all branches of our professional military fall under their prospective civilian leadership. The Marine Corps was directed to assess how individual women would perform in combat situations. However, they chose to include mostly average female Marines, and the study states these average female Marines included in this study performed inferior to men in many areas to include marksmanship and carrying heavy loads. The Marine Corps report also says that these women were injured at slightly higher rates. This is a fundamentally unsound approach as “average” female Marines would not realistically be competing for jobs in the Infantry, only high performing female Marines would. No one is arguing that any woman can be a Marine infantrywoman, but rather, only a few exceptional women can. Needless to say, many military officers, veterans, and members of Congress take issue with the study’s claims.

Marine Major Edward Carpenter, a military professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and the author of Steven Pressfield’s “The Warrior Ethos”: One Marine Officer’s Critique and Counterpoint, argues:

“The bottom line? Out of those 400 young men and women, the Marine Corps is currently willing to give 300 of them a pass straight to infantry, whether they are good shots or bad, whether they are strong or weak, fat or skinny, short or tall, fast or slow, simply because they are men. Similarly, it is willing to tell the other 100 that, regardless of how great they are with a gun, how fast they can run or how long they can exert themselves, that they cannot serve in the infantry, because the average female Marine scores lower in those areas.”

Rep (AZ). Martha McSally, a combat tested fighter pilot, and Army Colonel Ellen Haring have both raised concerns about the study.

Rep (AZ). McSally recently said this of the study:

“I echo some concerns by the secretary of the Navy related to, ‘Do we take a bunch of combat trained men and a bunch of non-combat trained support women and put them together, and just wonder how they’re going to do?’  You can study anything and get the results you might be looking for, or have some flawed assumptions in how you’re setting it up. And so we want to make sure we understand where the study was and what the results are from it, and then what to conclude from it.”

Army Colonel Ellen Haring maintains:

“The results of the Marine Corps’ research are not surprising. The service was told to assess how individual women do in combat situations, but the task force instead assessed groups with average female Marines — rather than high performers — in them.”

When you place average female Marines in an Infantry unit who have never served a day in an Infantry unit, they will naturally not initially perform at the same level as a man who has served in an Infantry unit for months or years. A better and more scientific approach would have been to select only the highest performing female Marines and see how they performed in a Marine Infantry unit. We expect a learning curve, and that is just what we have in this study, and not much more. But perhaps the real culprit is the Marine Corps’ policy of gender segregated initial training, which many argue has placed female Marines at a distinct disadvantage Army since 1918, the year the first American woman enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Many veterans and military officers have written at length about the Marine Corps’ archaic policy of segregated training and how this approach to training places female Marines at a clear disadvantage the minute they raise their hand to enlist. How can we expect an average female Marine to perform equally to male Marines when in her most fundamental initial training she is segregated from men and thus never competes with male Marines and works to reach only the highest female standard? We cannot and I think as we integrate the force we will continue to see the consequences of segregated training. USMC Major Kyleanne Hunter and USMC Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, (who was subsequently fired for her efforts to train female Marines to meet the male standard), discuss the lower standards that often result from segregated training at length in two recent articles in the New York Times: Lt. Col. Kate Germano on Marines and Women and The Cost of Lower Standards for Women in Marine Recruitment.

The two women who graduated from Army Ranger School did so because from day one they were required to run next to men, ruck-march with thirty five pounds next to men, load and fire heavy weapons next to men, swim next to men, eat and sleep next to men in the field, patrol with men… the list goes on and on. Because women and men in the all other services train together from day one most women in these services do not work to achieve only the female standard, they work to achieve the highest male standard possible. If the Marine Corps were to open its infantry to qualified women they will surely have to de-segregate their initial training of Marines, and this might just prove more of a culture shock to the Marine Corps than the idea of a female Infantry platoon leader.

So, is Congress to allow the Commandant of the Marine Corps to say on one hand that the Marines in his ranks are reflective of the American society from which they come (which he says regularly), while on the other hand say that the 51% of our population, that American society has deemed equal and deserving of every opportunity they are qualified for, are somehow banned from his infantry? American women already serving in our military and those who have served want this and are fighting for it, not politicians or so-called feminists who have never served. When Army Ranger School opened its doors to female Army soldiers, hundreds applied. When the Navy opened submarine duty to women, hundreds applied, when the United States Army opened its Infantry training to women on an experimental basis, hundreds of female soldiers applied, and when the Marine Corps opened its Infantry Officer Basic Course hundreds of female Marines applied. The American people see this issue simply on the basis of equality and democracy. Julien Mathonniere, a respected defense scholar illustrates this point clearly when he writes:

“Common people don’t reflect about the future of infantry. But they certainly do about the place of women in society. And the military would gain nothing by pitting their operational requirements against the wider demands of the public opinion; lest they be insincere about narrowing the civilian-military gap. People want their military to remain a true and fair emanation of the society they live in. It is not as if they were two separate entities.”

The military is not a brotherhood. It’s not a sisterhood.  We are all comrades in arms. Let’s hope the Marines can help set the conditions for future success for all who serve.


Is it 1987?


I write and read a lot about the integration of women into the Infantry, and frankly at this point the narrative surrounding this issue, (including my own) has become a bit repetitive. For me repetitiveness on this issue is a good thing; it means it has been decided, that little remains to discuss.  But once and awhile, someone will write something on the subject that sounds like it came from 1987, thus compelling me to once again write about women in the Infantry.

Usually these types of unsupported arguments against women in the Infantry are not taken seriously and reside on one’s personal Blog or in a publication that is not highly respected by academics or senior military officers. Yet recently, the Marine Corps Gazette, a fairly respected magazine surprisingly published an “award winning” essay by Marine Captain Leah Serrano.  In this article, Captain Serrano opines about all the reasons women do not belong in combat units. She lists many reasons, all having to do exclusively with the characteristics of the female gender and shockingly nothing else.

So how to counter Captain Serrano’s predictable and recycled arguments? Should I counter her in a “hook and jab” sort of way, taking on each of her reasons individually like I usually do? No, not this time, this time I am going to reject the temptation to keep my head below the “weeds”. If this style of rebuttal is what you seek, there is a superb counter article written by an Army Officer which decimates all of CPT Serrano’s ridiculous and sophomoric statements about rape, promotion, Infantry brotherhood, injury, culture, farting, and burping; it is here:

Because CPT Serrano immediately cedes that some women can indeed physically and mentally qualify to serve in the Infantry, she has thankfully exposed her flank and given me a chance to advance, traversing above the “weeds” in order to counter her position on higher ground, ultimately exposing the real reason she and many in the Marine Corps think women do not belong in combat units. If some women can physically and mentally perform in the Infantry, as CPT Serrano clearly states, than CPT Serrano’s opinions are at their intellectual core based only on gender, and how the female gender alone, prohibits women from serving in the Infantry. She states:

“My argument has little to do with whether women can pass the Infantry Officer Course or Infantry Training Battalion, or endure the hardships of combat. Even those select women who can physically endure the infantry are still posing a threat to the infantry mission and readiness”.

So here is the moment in which I lift my head above the weeds to see what’s really going on, and what is really going on is this: The refusal of this commissioned Marine Corps Officer and the Corps at large to fully embrace equality based only on physical and mental ability is eerily similar to the racist beliefs rampant in our military in the 1940’s and beyond, specifically the very racist way in which the Marine Corps went about integrating black men into units.

Right about now is also the moment in which people, generally Marines say to me: “How can you compare the integration of black men into the Marine Corps with the integration of women into the Infantry? Men are men, and they generally have the same physical ability, and so back then there was not this fear of lowering a physical standard or changing a culture.” This is true to some degree; men are men and do generally perform at the same physical level regardless of skin color, or much else, but even this was not good enough for the Corps in the 1940’s. When the Marine Corps integrated black men into units, no mention of their physical ability to do or not do the job was ever made; the resistance to racial integration was always about their inferior character, their difference, their intellect, their distraction, the color of their skin…so yes, I am comparing the blatant sexism in CPT Serrano’s article and frankly the sexism that exists in the Marine Corps at large, to the racism that existed in the Marine Corps in the 19 40’s, and beyond. Believe it or not, this does not actually seem too far a stretch to me. I comfortably make the comparison for very good reason.

If we are content in saying that some women are physically and mentally able to serve in an Infantry unit, and CPT Serrano did just this in her essay, than why exactly does the Corps have a huge problem with qualified women in the Infantry? As with racial integration, it is all the other “issues”, issues that revolve around one thing and one thing only; gender. She writes:

“Having women in an infantry unit will disrupt the infantry’s identity, motivational tactics, and camaraderie. The average infantryman is in his late teens or early twenties. At that age, men are raging with hormones and are easily distracted by women and sex. The infantry is the one place where young men are able to focus solely on being a warrior without the distraction of women. They can fart, burp, tell raunchy jokes, walk around naked, swap sex stories, wrestle, and simply be young men together. Although perhaps not the most polite environment, this is the exact kind of atmosphere that promotes unit cohesion and the brotherly bond that is invaluable. No matter how masculine a woman is, she is still female and simply does not mesh with the infantry brotherhood.”

If the Corps is comfortable saying that women absolutely cannot perform physically in an Infantry unit, than I would not and could not make the “race” comparison, but the Corps has not said that, CPT Serrano has not said that. The Corps has a long record of being on the incorrect side of history; and often trots out the personal opinion of its officers as hard evidence or justification for discrimination.

In 1948 COL Holcomb, USMC published LOI 421(Letter of Instruction). In it he lays out the rules of engagement for integrating black men into units. Here is one quote from the once classified document:

“While rapid promotion when deserved is necessary, it is essential that in no case, shall there be colored noncommissioned officers senior to white men in the same unit, and desirable that few, if any be the same rank.”

In paragraph 7 of  LOI 421, COL Holcomb writes:

“Since the inclusion of colored personnel in the Marine Corps organizations is a new departure, it is requested that the commanding officers make a study of the situation as it exists from time to time and the problems involved, and make report to the Commandant, Marine Corps. This report should include  the adaptation of Negros to military discipline and guard duty, their attitude toward other personnel and vise verse, liberty facilities, recreation facilities, ,and any other manner that would be of interest to the Commandant.”

COL Holcomb also stated under testimony that:

“there would be a definite loss of efficiency in the Marine Corps if we have to take Negros” and that given the choice between having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 5,000 blacks he would much rather have the whites.”

If some women can physically perform in the Infantry branch, than on exactly what grounds are we arguing to keep them from the Infantry? CPT Serrano’s prize winning essay can be filed right next to COL Holcomb’s LOI, of 1948; it is the same, and I actually would argue that if one believes qualified women should not serve in an Infantry unit only due to the characteristics of their gender and not their physical and mental ability, than yes this is not enlightened and is archaic…and yes, even sexist.

As of today, no one has been able to produce convincing, or even thought-provoking hard evidence that would ban soldiers and Marines with two X chromosomes from the Infantry. Monotonous concerns about feminine character, sexual promiscuity, rape, or complex gender dynamics does not equal an insurmountable berm to the inclusion of women in Infantry units, and they never will.

Right about now is also when I always remember this quote, by Julien Mathonniere , a respected defense scholar and a man who also prefers to keep his head above the weeds in hopes of seeing what is really going on:

“Common people don’t reflect about the future of infantry. But they certainly do about the place of women in society. And the military would gain nothing by pitting their operational requirements against the wider demands of the public opinion; lest they be insincere about narrowing the civilian-military gap. We are too often left with the disturbing impression that male officers are desperately scrambling around for arguments against what merely amounts to a democratic choice. Armed forces only reflect what society is and where it wants to go. Officers cannot complain about their growing disconnect from civilians on the one hand, and staunchly refuse to accommodate their preferences on the other. This is not the way democracy works. People want their military to remain a true and fair emanation of the society they live in. It is not as if they were two separate entities.”

Why Veterans Can’t Get Enough Of CrossFit

Arctic CrossFit

This post originally appeared in Task & Purpose on August 22, 2014

Black Box, work out of the day, burpee, ass to grass, kipping, Turkish get-up: If you know these terms, then you are one of the thousands of service members who have found their way into CrossFit. There are now countless CrossFit gyms on military bases around the country and even a few in Afghanistan that are operated by active-duty military members. In the civilian sector, there are numerous CrossFit gyms owned and populated by combat veterans.

Even though former gymnast Greg Glassman developed CrossFit as a workout in the 1970s, it did not become a formal company or gain much popularity until 2000, making it a relatively new and alternative exercise philosophy. CrossFit incorporates a groupthink element and is a broad, general, and inclusive strength and conditioning program designed for universal scalability, making it easily applicable for any committed individual regardless of experience. The workout is also almost totally decentralized, allowing any qualified trainer to become certified. But why exactly does CrossFit appeal to so many military members and veterans? Where does the nexus between military and CrossFit lie?

I posed this very question to Jason Sturm, a CrossFit trainer and wounded veteran, who trains and coaches at the CrossFit Walter Reed in Bethesda, Maryland. He offered me this response:

Some [service members ] tried and did CrossFit while in the service or pre injury. A lot of the appeal to CrossFit for veterans is due to the support and camaraderie the sport has overall. CrossFit Headquarters has several strenuous workouts named for fallen service members called Hero WODs (Work outs of the day). CrossFit gyms also tend to be very accepting to veterans … [they] find commonality among the other veterans in class. Let’s also not forget that veterans, much like athletes, can be fiercely competitive and CrossFit helps them remain or rediscover that feeling.

Additionally, while the innovations of battlefield medicine have preserved the lives of thousands of our nation’s warriors, they have also produced over 50,000 injured servicemen and women who now must manage the life-long physical fallout from missing limbs, injured brains, chronic pain caused by multiple deployments and heavy gear, emotional wounds, and post-traumatic stress. Injured active-duty service members require more than just the customary push-ups, sit-ups, and a two-mile run to stay physically healthy, and veterans are beginning to need more than just a handful of pills from their doctors to manage conditions like post-traumatic stress and chronic pain. Traditional medical tactics that once worked to treat injured service members are no longer enough on their own. More than at any other time in our history, today’s service members are taking the fate of their health into their own hands, and are pursuing alternative ways to stay strong and even heal their bodies and minds.

Often, due to the specific types of injuries that service members suffer, core-centric rehabilitation and variety of movement are the first and most integral step in the physical healing process. CrossFit is especially strong and focused in these two areas, helping to build up strength in one’s core muscles, demanding, proper alignment and form before advancing to other exercises. CrossFit also, by its very philosophy, incorporates constantly varied functional movements. But perhaps the most fruitful thing that CrossFit offers an injured warrior, or adaptive athlete, is the gift of rekindling his or her competitive spirit, through accomplishing challenging exercises that most uninjured men and women could not do.

We strive to understand the physical demands of modern military members, as well as how to treat both the physical and mental injuries that will almost certainly accompany them as they emerge from combat. But when it comes to physical fitness injury, and recovery, it is clear that our military is undergoing nothing short of a revolution.

Shelly Burgoyne-Goode is a former Army Officer. She served two tours in Iraq, leading combat resupply convoys to forward units. She is a Tillman Military Scholar, veteran advocate, military blogger, and writer.


Veterans Are Revitalizing The Agriculture Industry

This article originally appeared in Task & Purpose:

Veterans Vignettes

July, 28, 2014

Midway through my second deployment to Iraq, I vowed to eat better; war favors the young, and age was catching up with me. Unlike my 21-year-old soldiers, I just wasn’t getting what I needed out of the food I was eating. The combat zone is hot, the gear is heavy, the resupply convoys I led were long hauls that consisted of changing tires, recovering vehicles, loading and unloading heavy supply. I vowed that when I returned to the United States where healthy food was available, I would start eating as much of it as possible.

However, upon my return from Iraq, the sticker shock of organic food, and the difficulty finding it, kept me from buying a lot. But slowly month by month, I got there; not out of some noble quest, but because organic vegetables, fruit, meat and milk are just simply better for the human body than the pesticide and hormone-laden alternatives. Once I started to eat clean, I just couldn’t go back to the fake stuff — I was hooked. This journey to eat better led me to wonder where this real food comes from. I wondered why it costs so much, who grows it, and why? As I began to slowly find the answers to these questions, I discovered that in fact military veterans grow much of the organic food we consume.

Veterans from the Iraq and Afghan wars have a deep desire to continue to serve and be part of something bigger than themselves. This is illustrated everyday as thousands of veteran-owned and run organizations assist Americans during natural disasters, clean up poverty stricken neighborhoods, help the wounded among them heal, or even help to send fellow vets to college. Each of these pursuits make me proud; these accomplishments are clear indications that we indeed served in the most professional military in the world.

Yet, of the many pursuits listed above, one that rarely gets a lot of press, and frankly isn’t seen as all that sexy, is farming. But I, as well as George Washington, beg to differ; farming is indeed sexy. In fact, our first president considered farming to be one of the highest forms of community service and much like natural disaster relief, farming is vital to our national security and economic health as a nation. In short, we need farmers.

“I know of no pursuit in which more real and important services can be rendered to any country than by improving its agriculture, its breed of useful animals, and other branches of a husbandman’s cares.” —George Washington, first American president and combat veteran

To say that there is a shortage of American farmers in an understatement. According to the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, the average age of American farmers is 65 — young Americans who possess farming skills are few and far between. In fact, the shortage of American farmers is so great that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has embarked on a campaign to create 100,000 new American farmers in the next 10 years, and setting aside loads of federal money for low interest loans to farmers. This, combined with the fact that our population is seeking to eat healthier, more organic, and local produce equals a whole lot of demand for affordable healthy food and not enough supply of men and women to provide it. This is where our nation’s veteran farmers enter the picture.

There are many reasons why modern veterans choose farming as a way to spend the rest of their civilian lives. I happen to think that the principal reason is because they desire to spend the remainder of their lives, which were surely almost taken from them multiple times, healthy. But beyond this very physical motivation, there are actually many more reasons veterans choose farming as their way to give back and to even heal themselves.

Forty-five percent of today’s veterans come from rural backgrounds. While serving, veterans also become accustomed to tough physical work, long hours and working with little resources; they also find reward in seeing something from conception to fruition. They are excellent planners, welcome challenge, can quickly recover from defeat, and aren’t afraid to take risks. Veterans have also learned through multiple combat tours to be responsible stewards of their finite resources. In combat, they constantly had to figure out ways to operate in very difficult environments with very little; they stretched what they had, and attempted with all of their human capacity to successfully battle the weather, time, and lack of money; all things American farmers do on a daily basis.

The Farmer Veteran Coalition is one coalition connecting veteran farmers with each other. The organization “aspire[s] to lead the national effort connecting veterans to agriculture, and believe[s] that veterans possess the unique skills and character needed to strengthen rural communities and create sustainable food systems for all.”

Archi’s Acres is another example of a veteran-farming enterprise that uses hydroponic technology to grow organic produce. Headquartered in Escondido, California, the company is owned and operated by husband and wife team of Colin and Karen Archipley. Colin is a combat-decorated marine sergeantwho founded Archi’s Acres in 2006 with two core objectives: to develop a business that would provide business ownership opportunity for veterans and create a viable sustainable organic produce farming business. In an interview with environmental news site Grist, Archipley said, “Around the turn of the century, about 30 percent of Americans worked in ag. Now it’s less than 3 percent and over half of them are at retirement age or above. So they’re ready to leave the industry. Any time you have a void in the marketplace someone is going to fill it. This is our opportunity.”


Shelly Burgoyne-Goode is a former Army Officer. She served two tours in Iraq, leading combat resupply convoys to forward units. She is a Tillman Military Scholar, veteran advocate, military blogger, and writer.

The Ranger Tab….Who Will Be The First Woman to Wear It?


 “I’m no sociologist, I have no anthropological training but I’m certain of this … we live in a world where the squandering of women’s talent, the traducing of their potential, is a global disgrace”. [Opening all areas of the armed forces to women] “Wipes away the barriers to achieving potential and sends a clarion call to all who serve that talent will prevail, not gender. Armies that revel in their separateness from civil society, that value the male over the female, that use their imposed values to exclude those that don’t fit the particular traits of the dominant group, who celebrate the violence that is integral to my profession rather than seek ways to contain it … they do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute.”

~Chief of the Australian Army, General Morrison

A few weeks ago a qualified soldier with two X chromosomes, whose primary profession is not Infantry, was given access to, and graduated from, the Army’s new challenging Combat Jungle Warfare course. The soldier had this to say about her experience:

This is infantry we’re talking about here. These are guys who know they’re going to war and know they’re going to get into firefights. Me being there, of course I was not accepted at first. Every day, for the first two weeks, they’d wake up and say, ‘She didn’t leave yet?’ They tested me the whole time I was there until the last week, until they finally said, ‘Taylor, you’re not going nowhere, we’re so proud of you.’ They just want to see you prove yourself without any favoritism. They want to see you do what they do because they do this every day. Infantry doesn’t play. They respected me at the end, but I earned my respect.” ~Specialist Tinita Taylor, U.S. Army

So what exactly is the new Jungle Warfare Course? This new Army combat course is conducted in Hawaii and is designed to train our young soldiers in the lost art of jungle warfare. Our Army has been at war for over a decade in the desert, and has neglected to train in a subtropical environment; we must again become proficient at these specific skills. The Jungle Warfare Course, like Ranger School is extremely difficult, physically taxing, and mentally demanding. However, with that said, it is not a profession, Jungle Warfare School, like Ranger school is never a soldier’s primary occupation or MOS. The Jungle Warfare Course like Ranger School is just that, a school.

Like Airborne School, Air Assault School, Combat Dive School, etc., the Jungle Warfare Course and Ranger School is a course, an opportunity for a soldier to become certified in an EXTRA set of war fighting skills. These military schools are much like a police officer’s extra designation as “SWAT” qualified, or a Park Rangers extra certification of “search and rescue qualified”.

So, if a female soldier was allowed to pursue the extra certification of “jungle qualified” why do the same soldiers with two X chromosomes continued to be banned from accessing the Army’s elite Ranger School? Why is Ranger school different?

Many men in our military are supportive and frankly champions of equal access for qualified women to all combat professions and schools. However, there are those, who belong to a dwindling squad of mostly men in our Nation’s Armed Forces who vocally believe that the Special Operations, the Infantry, and Ranger School are just too difficult for women, that ultimately they are the sacred place of men…these arguments no longer hold any validity in our society and serious thinkers on the subject no longer entertain them, and neither will I.

What I will address however, are the dishonest group of hold outs who secretly place themselves among the supporters of combat integration, but in reality oppose the integration of women into combat jobs. This cowardly group in our Army endorse all the same antiquated ideas of women and their place in our society that I just mentioned, but won’t come out and publicly say it. This band knows that their beliefs no longer hold water in our society, that their civilian masters will no longer tolerate such ignorance. Let me be clear, they do not think a female soldier should have been allowed to attend the Jungle Warfare Course, and they certainly do not want women serving in the Infantry or wearing a Ranger Tab. However, because they can no longer successfully employ their base arguments they resort to deceptive delay and distraction tactics.

To delay the directive to give women equal access to all combat professions and schools they employ countless tests and studies, they hire research teams. They rattle off terms like “critical mass”, “force multiplier”, “bone mass”, “muscle composition”, cardio capacity”, “injury rate”, etc., etc., etc., etc.

To distract their bosses (the American public) they calmly list reasons like: “She is not Infantry why does she need a Ranger Tab?”, “Women in the Army don’t really want this”, “this is a political experiment”, “the 15+ women who graduated Marine Infantry training were trained to a different standard” etc., etc., etc. All of these new “reasons” are simply Red Herrings, the last desperate and veiled attempts to ban women from accessing these elite courses simply due to their sex.

They will tell their bosses, (the American people), that only soldiers who are Infantry soldiers need to attend Ranger School, and because qualified soldiers with two X chromosomes are not yet able to serve in our nation’s Infantry they should not be allowed to attend the Ranger Course. Yet, many male soldiers who are not Infantry soldiers become “Ranger” qualified every year; Chaplains, Armor soldiers, Medical Officers etc. You see, the Army believes that it is beneficial to have soldiers in many professions Ranger qualified. For example, a doctor might very well be attached to, or serving in an Infantry unit and her Ranger qualification will assist the entire unit as well as placing her on equal footing with her fellow Infantry soldiers who wear the Ranger Tab.

Because all combat jobs must be opened by 2015, women will surely begin to assume Armor and even Infantry professions. With this inevitable fact, doesn’t it make sense to allow female soldiers access to all the military’s special schools and extra certifications in order to develop a better trained fighter? Based on the direct order to integrate all jobs and schools by 2015 it seems to me, to be illegal and a complete disregard for a direct order, to continue to ban women from Ranger School. After all, Ranger School, like all other combat schools, is no longer reserved for men, it is reserved for warriors.

It is the hope of many female soldiers; to include the one who just graduated from the Jungle Warfare Course that, by next year, the first qualified soldier with two X chromosomes will have earned the right and the honor to wear the coveted Ranger Tab. In fact the young female soldier who currently wears the Jungle Warfare Tab had this to say about Ranger School:

 “My goal is to be the first female soldier to complete Ranger School.”

Many women, just like many men in the military do want this. It is not a political experiment, it is equality based on qualification; I can think of no other profession in our free nation that bans someone simply due to their chromosome make-up.

3 Pull Ups

pull ups

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.

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“Game Changers…The First Four Infantry Qualified Female Marines in our Nation’s History”


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.