As I always note whenever I blog on the issue of women on the front lines in combat, there are a variety of opinions on the issue at IWF.
I think it's safe to say that we all believe in military preparedness and don't want physical standards to be changed to accommodate women.
Michael Fumiento, who has been a journalist in Iraq, says the issue all comes down to body armor:
But this is an issue where neither politics nor ideology has any place—because it’s a matter of life and death. The purpose of the military should be to accomplish violent overseas missions with minimal casualties. The military is not a democracy, and its purpose isn’t to provide equal opportunity. It is highly discriminatory, based not on skin color or religion but ability.
There should be data on whether women perform as well as men, and that should be the determinant. And indeed there are, including data on a huge factor that few people bother to consider because they lack the experience of those who have used it, as I have: body armor.
Body armor, writes Fumiento, is hard for men to carry:
Counting all equipment, the Marine Corps puts the average combat load at 83 pounds. And unlike your cotton shirts, ceramic plates don’t ventilate. For these reasons, while I seemed impervious to bullets and bombs, armor almost killed me on one trip overseas as a paratrooper-turned-photojournalist. Damage from another combat trip has probably left me permanently crippled.
On the first, outside Fallujah, the heat, in addition to other factors such as lack of sleep and a prior medical condition, caused my colon to explode—ironically, as I was blowing up IEDs with an Explosives Ordnance Disposal team. This led to an emergency bowel resection to save my life, plus six subsequent surgeries. On my last combat mission, in the mountains of Afghanistan, the armor plus extra gear that I carried for my job herniated two disks, which led to a bout of horrific sciatica right when I came home and more recently a second one that will probably leave one foot permanently twisted and weakened. Yet I was in excellent overall shape prior to both incidents and am quite strong even for a male.
According to the Surgeon General's office in 2011, Army women were 67 times more likely than men to be discharged because of a musculoskeletal disorder. A Marine Corps evaluation last year found that all-male units outperformed mixed units.
By the way, Fumiento believes that women can have distinguished careers in the military–just not on the front lines.
For a thoughtful discussion of women on the front lines, please take a look at IWF's all-star panel on the topic (put on in conjunction with the London Center).