As the implementation of women serving in ground combat roles follows the debate on this inclusion, the components of the U.S. Special Operations Command are taking steps to comply with the Department of Defense directive to make this happen. Before any female takes her place in an operational SEAL team, 75th Ranger squad, Special Forces A-Team, or Marine Raider company, there is the issue of first completing the SEAL, Ranger, Special Forces, or Marine SOF training. But even before a candidate enters this difficult and high-risk training, there is the issue of competing to get into one of these component training venues.
Amid the universally proclaimed tenet that there will be no compromise in operational standards, no one has really addressed that issue in any depth. Each of the four SOF components mentioned above have a minimum standard that has to be met to enter component training. That standard is far less stringent than the basic qualification standard that qualifies a soldier, sailor, or Marine to be a Special Forces soldier, Ranger, SEAL, or Marine Critical Skills Operator. Yet even the minimum standard just to enter SOF training may be elevated–and an elevated moving standard at that. The SOF components have only so many openings in their basic training/basic qualification venues. So under DoD guidelines, they are free to select the “best and most qualified” to enter SOF training. This means that just meeting the minimum entry-level standard does not guarantee a soldier, sailor, or Marine–male or female–a slot in SOF training. So this means that for a well-qualified woman to enter SOF training, she will have to compete; she will have to be better than other qualified male or female candidates to gain her slot in the next training class.
This best-and-most-qualified criteria has gone a long way to creating a SOF meritocracy. This means that what was good enough last year may not be good enough today; what gets a candidate into SOF training today many not be good enough tomorrow. I’m often asked what SOF (or in my case, SEAL) training is like today compared to that in my day. I always tell people that if I were to go through SEAL training today, I’d have to be a lot better and a lot smarter than I was back then.
Let’s hope that the inclusion or women in our SOF training pipelines does not deter this best-and-most qualified policy–that this integration is carried out in the spirit of equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.