Defense Secretary Ash Carter has approved final plans to officially open all combat and special operations positions to women on April 1, and decided there would be no exceptions to the Pentagon mandate announced in December. However, the debate on this issue is far from over, and both men and women — from lawmakers to war veterans, to mothers — voiced their concerns about the new policy on Capitol Hill.
At a panel discussion hosted by the Independent Women’s Forum and the London Center for Policy Research, ex-Marine Jessie Jane Duff, who spent two decades on active duty, said “sticking women in the infantry is going to cause lethal problems.”
Secretary Carter’s policy opens all branches of the military to women, including the infantry and the marine’s elite special operations command. These are two divisions that many argue should remain restricted to males, as they perform some of the toughest duties in the armed forces, and are most likely to engage in face-to-face combat with the enemy. Without combat exemption, women could be involuntarily assigned to these units.
Duff argued that women have real physical disadvantages in terms of the level of muscle mass they can attain, and the increased risk of injury they face.
“The fact that I made it 20 years only means that God and angels were surrounding me,” she said. “The bulk of the women I know were either discharged or had to get out before the 10-year mark.”
Duff said women are pulled out of combat at a rate 3-to-5 times higher than men due to injury, and cited Veteran’s Affairs records stating that women are three times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
With the increased chances of injury and disability, Duff asked whether taxpayers would be willing to foot the bill.
“We can’t even take care of the men right now,” she added.
An experiment conducted by the Marine Corps last year found that only 36 percent of female marines were able to complete infantry training, compared to the 99 percent graduation rate of male marines. The female participants were also injured at more than six times the rate of the male participants.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) also supports exceptions for women in the infantry and special operations — where, he assured, “they will kill you and rip your throat out.”
The congressman said the majority of liberals and conservatives oppose this aspect of the Defense Department policy, and urged attendees to contact their members of congress and to continue to debate the issue.
“This should not be a unilateral decision by the administration, changing literally thousands of years of warfare precedent,” Hunter said. “This should be a congressional decision that is discussed and debated, publicly.”
Other panelists took a more moderate stance, including former U.S. Army helicopter pilot Amber Smith, who argued that women should be allowed to join any combat unit as long as she is able to meet the mission standard.
“I don’t believe in quotas, I don’t believe in double-standards, and I don’t believe in lowering the standard to ensure that women are included in the ranks,” she assured.