To be clear, my skepticism has nothing do with women’s mental or psychological capabilities; in fact, I’ve served with women who were any man’s equal when it comes to mental toughness. In the 360 degree battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, women have served honorably and fought valiantly. Yet there is a key difference between being in harms way and reacting to enemy contact, and being in a direct combat operations role day in and day out. They are different scenarios that require different standards.
The core concern is the physical differential between men and women. Combat duty is strenuous and physically demanding, and I’m not the first person to notice that men and women are built differently. And while many will argue that women will only be allowed into combat arms units under the same requirements as their male counterparts, count me as skeptical. Over time, I'm earnestly concerned that standards will be eroded—and possibly even quotas established — in the actual implementation of "equality."
Whether we like it or not, gender differences matter in a combat situation. As an infantry officer, you seek to minimize variables and dynamics when you’re on the ground — with operations day and night, often of unknown longevity and always with high levels of stress. Introducing the male/female dynamic into this inherently intimate and uncertain environment invites an additional set of variables that have to be weighed and mitigated. It creates a more stressful environment, both for the leaders who make decisions and for the troops who have to execute those decisions.
This new policy raises an array of questions. News reports on the policy shift emphasize that the Joint Chiefs of Staff led the way on this decision. If so, with whom did they collaborate and consult? Did they consult with junior officers and NCOs who have led companies, platoons or squads in combat? Did they meet with infantry personnel who will bear the brunt of implementing this new policy? Again, count me as skeptical. A policy like this briefs very well at the headquarters level, but will be met with complication after complication at the ground level.
How will laws and regulations against sexual harassment be implemented in a combat setting? How will allegations of sexual assault be adjudicated in the high-pressure environment of the battlefield? This last question is particularly pertinent given the sharp attention paid recently to rape and sexual assault of military women by other service members.
The more I look at this decision, the more it looks like an exercise in “legacy burnishing” on the part of current Pentagon leadership. On his way out the door, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gets to make a splashy announcement that he relaxed the ban on women in combat, positioning himself as a great champion of “equality” — while leaving someone else to sort out the ramifications. And like the administration's promised closure of Guantanamo Bay, it's also not clear how soon — or if eve r— this will take effect.
The new policy is being presented in the media as a fait accompli, as if the discussion is now settled once and for all. But this policy raises more questions than it answers, and I’ll be interested to see how these questions are addressed.
Hegseth is the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, and the former executive director of Vets for Freedom. He is an infantry officer in the Army National Guard, and has served tours in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay