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Posted on Jun 15, 2005 Print this Article


The flimsiest argument for women in land combat is the notion that such a policy will improve recruiting. If that were the case, Army officials would have secured official approval for such a plan long ago and advertised the new policy on the Super Bowl. Army recruiting is in trouble, and the same officials who are responsible for spiraling difficulties plan to ask Congress for increased subsidies to cover $40,000sign-up bonuses to attract some recruits.

Before Congress agrees, members ought to question whether the Army should be allowed to base future recruiting strategies on specious assumptions about male and female attitudes toward the military. Questions such as these would help to clarify matters:

■ Are there surveys indicating that more young women will be likely to sign up if they know they will be assigned in or near land combat units such as the infantry?

■ Have surveys asked young men whether they would be more likely to sign up for the combat arms if they know they will live and fight alongside female soldiers?

■ Will parents be more or less likely to support a decision to enlist if they know their sons and daughters will be deployed in or near co-ed land combat units such as the infantry?

Several Pentagon and civilian officials who shape recruiting strategies have told CMR that survey questions such as this have not been asked, and there are no plans to ask them in the future. Why not?

Before the Army rushes ahead with the women in combat agenda, it would seem prudent to ascertain the likely effect on recruiting. Miscalculation could ruin the volunteer force.

Gender-Free Myths vs. Human Realities

Politically correct theory maintains that women are so anxious to get into combat, any “restriction” on their careers will hurt recruiting. Evidence to support this claim is hard to find, but official surveys have indicated that the overwhelming majority of women, who serve in the enlisted ranks, do not want to be forced into land combat situations. In surveys taken over a decade by the Army Research Institute since 1993, ARI found that 85-90%of female enlisted personnel were opposed to involuntary land combat assignments on the same basis as men. In 2001, the Army simply dropped the question.

Since then the brutal realities of war have been in the news every day. To date 35 military women have lost their lives in Iraq, and 5 more have died in Afghanistan. Hundreds more have been seriously injured, and there are many female amputees receiving artificial limbs at Walter ReedArmy Hospital.

Proponents of women in combat seem to celebrate these unprecedented deaths and injuries among female soldiers, noting with satisfaction that there has been no public protest. This is a questionable assumption. Admiration of our female soldiers is universal, but potential enlistees may be protesting with their feet. Army recruiters are struggling, and there has been a 20% drop in female recruits over the past five years, down from 22% to 18%from 2000 to 2005. (Columbia SC State, May 22, quoting Army Recruiting Command)

It seems that black berets, “warrior ethos” training and the chance to earn a newly minted “Combat Action Badge” are not attracting young women who have good reason to avoid “careers” involving direct ground combat. This may explain, but not excuse, the actions of Army Human Resources Command (G-1), headed by Lt. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck. To make up for real or perceived shortages of men, Army officials have been surreptitiously assigning women to combat support units that are required to be all-male, while disingenuously claiming that nothing has changed.

In August 2004 the U.S. Military Image Study, produced by GFK Custom Research, found that fear of being killed or injured in combat has almost doubled as a reason for potential recruits to avoid the military, rising from 14% to 26% since 2000. The survey scrutinizes racial differences, but provides little help in analyzing gender factors. It pretends that men and women are equally inclined to serve in the military, even though Army Human Resources Command reports that “propensity to serve” among women is only 7%, less than a third of the 22%figure among men.

The Military Image Study recommends that Army recruiters reach out to parents, particularly the “moms,” who are primary “influencers.” On page 92 the report recommends, “reassurances about personal safety should be offered.” The push for women in land combat seems to contradict this advice, especially among women.

But what of males who are attracted to the military as a “guy thing?” The Marine Corpsappeals to these men with a clear message, and Army recruiters used to enjoy the same success. Could it be that co-ed basic training and the prospect of women in combat are turning off potential male recruits?

It’s a fair question, since young men seem as likely to desire co-ed infantry assignments than they are to play on co-ed football teams. Most young women fear combat more than men, and parents are being given another powerful reason to discourage their children from signing up. So if women are forced in or near land combat, where is the recruiting “surge” supposed to come from? That’s a logical question, but logic has little to do with the push for women in land combat. Short-sighted civilian and uniformed leaders are stumbling down a very rocky road.

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Posted on Jun 15, 2005 Print this Article