Fairness, equality, equal opportunity, and a level playing field are taken very seriously in this nation. It is taken very seriously in our military, and our uniformed services are proud of their leadership in this area. And it is a major consideration as we move to fully integrate women in all Military Occupational Specialties (military-speak for jobs) to include those ground-combat MOSs previously closed to women. There is no shortage of conversation and opinion on this issue, especially withing our special operations components.
As with a great many active special operators and former special operators, I too am awaiting the final decision from the U.S. Special Operations Command regarding the inclusion (or exemption) of women in our special-operations ground-combat units. Those units include the Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces–the Green Berets, Rangers of the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the Marines of the Marine Special Operations Command. Before any soldier, sailor, or Marine can join one of these units, they must first negotiate one of the famously difficult special-operations training programs.
All special-operations candidates are recruited, selected, assessed, trained, and qualified according to the operational standards and mission taskings of that special-operations component. It’s a competitive business, start to finish, and often there is stiff competition just to be considered for one of these training venues. The training programs are challenging–physically, mentally, emotionally, and professionally. The training is long, difficult, and dangerous. Historically, about one in five male candidates who enter one of these training pipelines qualifies to serve in an operational component. So, assuming the Special Operations Command seeks no exemption for women in their ground-combat units, it will still be a while before women take their place in an operational special-operations unit. Given the rigor of the training, many feel there will be few women who do in fact reach the operational commands.
The situation differs in conventional ground-combat components, the Army and Marine infantry, armor, and artillery branches. Because their training and qualification standards are less demanding, it’s anticipated that there will be significant numbers of women in these units. The Marine Corps has made a compelling case that unit operational readiness suffers with the inclusion of women. That said, it’s expected that policy directives will ultimately drive the full integration of women in all our ground combat units.
While this integration initiative is not yet official practice, the service components are planning for it. Yet, the controversy will likely continue over issues of standards, quotas, and operational proficiency. Special-operations training is high-risk training, and a good many men are injured in this training. How many women will be injured in this process? There are also macro-issues like congressional validation of Department of Defense policy and the draft. Currently eighteen-year-old males must register with the Selective Service Administration. Will women now have to sign up for the draft?
But three-hundred-pound gorilla in the room is the issue of fairness. In my opinion it should trump all other considerations. Should a soldier, sailor, or Marine, regardless of sex or any other consideration, be allowed to compete for the opportunity to serve in a Military Occupational Specialty of their choosing? I say yes, . . . but with a caveat. Within special operations, the training standards that have led to the impressive operational success of our Rangers, SEALs, Green Berets and Marines must be respected and upheld. Any compromise on these standards will lead to a denigration of operational capability, and that will be unfair to all concerned. Once a final decision is made on the integration of women in our ground-combat ranks, our military will comply. Then it will be all about process and execution–and maintaining the standards that have been the hallmark of our special operators success in battle.
We must also keep in mind that fairness means equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.
I’ll have more to say on the training and operational standards at a later date.