April 17, 2021

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Jury is out on women succeeding in combat arms

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Today, in Lexington, Virginia, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, in a speech to the Corps of cadets at the Virginia Military Institute, outlined the U.S. defense strategy, the importance of alliances, and he gave them a chance to ask some questions. The first question was from a male student, who described some of his female classmates as “bad asses”, and asked the Secretary of Defense if females in combat arms make us more combat effective. Hear the question here:

Responding to the question Defense Secretary James Mattis sounded decidedly unenthusiastic and said the services are looking into whether it is “a strength or a weakness” to have women serving in units that engage in close combat. He said “Clearly, the jury is out” on whether having women serve in Marine Corps and Army infantry units makes the U.S. military more combat effective.

The Army and Marine Corps have acknowledged that the number of women seeking infantry jobs is small and women have struggled to pass the demanding training courses. As of late August, there were just 26 female enlisted Marines in the infantry and one female officer, according to the Marine Corps. According to the Army there are 51 female infantry officers and 253 women in the enlisted ranks of the infantry and another 51 women are serving in the officer and enlisted ranks in the Army Reserve. In addition, 17 women have passed the Army’s grueling two-month Ranger course.

“The military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all,” Mattis said. “But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”

“I can’t give you a good answer right now,” he added. “I’m open to it. I’ll be working with the chief of staff of the Army and the others to sort it out.”

So far, too few women have joined infantry units to determine their effectiveness in combat, Mattis said. “This is a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” Mattis said. “We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies that are charging into this, but they are too few – right now, it’s not even dozens. It’s that few.”

Mattis also stressed that infantry units are “the most primitive, I would say evil environment” in the military because they consist of young Marines and soldiers who are cocky, rambunctious, and “necessarily macho.” He said, “I was never under any illusions about what level of respect my Marines would have for me if I couldn’t run with the fastest of them and look like it didn’t bother me; if I couldn’t do as many pull-ups as the strongest of them,” Mattis said. “It was the unfairness of the infantry.”

What are your thoughts?


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