I was a young lieutenant in an airborne unit in August 1990 packed into a military transport on the way to a war that had no name yet but would later become Desert Storm. We were prepared to jump in if we had to. Eighteen years later, my last deployment was to Operation Iraqi Freedom. I came home from that on a medevac.
I overcame some major obstacles to being a woman and especially a paratrooper in the Army. My company commander in Desert Storm didn’t believe women should be in combat. He tried to stop me from deploying by removing me from the flight list and said in front of the unit there would be no women on his watch. The mostly male unit hooted and hollered their approval.
I took it up the chain of command. Ultimately, I won that battle and deployed with my platoon. He continued to make my life a living hell, but I drove on with my airborne mission.
I couldn’t just barely meet the standards, because that would have given them ammunition to use against me. I had to crush the standards. And I did. I could easily do 100 push-ups in two minutes; got maximum scores on land navigation tests and always sprinted the entire course; and aced 12-mile road marches carrying 55-pound rucksacks (10 pounds more than the requirement). I weighed 120 pounds.
Now I watch this absurd fight between the military and Tucker Carlson with amazement. Tucker made comments about pregnant women serving in combat that many veterans like myself found rude and demeaning saying: “So, we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits. Pregnant women are going to fight our wars. It’s a mockery of the U.S. military,”
Pregnancy may be a cause for stopping a woman from a combat deployment. But adapting the uniform women wear while successfully accomplishing their duties does not make a mockery of the military. The flight suit is not just worn by fighter pilots, but also by pilots and crew on transport aircraft and can be authorized for wear by members of aviation units on ground duty.
Carlson did this in the midst of pointing out that the military should focus more on China as a threat and less on wokeness. That is a painful truth the military needs to take to heart. And they certainly ought to be able to hear criticism without losing their professional bearing.
Sure, Tucker was mocking the military by using the term mockery. But, so what? He’s a TV pundit, that’s his job.
I was appalled when a number of military leaders used their official accounts and status to jump in and attack him for it. It’s quite likely a violation of regulations and policy forbidding military resources being used for information operations against U.S. civilians. Ironically this policy was signed by then Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin, who is now secretary of defense.
Why did they feel the need to dignify the dig with a full-on PR blitz? Are female troops unable to withstand a simple snipe from a cable news host? I didn’t see senior female leaders in the military piping up, probably because they knew it was counterproductive. Instead, a bunch of woke men tried to parachute in and save the day and blew it.
What they should have said, if anything, was that women are subject to the same standards as men and earn their slots. Except that isn’t always the case. The military has been trying to fix a major example of this inequality with a gender-neutral physical fitness test. Instead of requiring much lower numbers of push-ups and sit-ups for women, it would hold them to the same standard on the new exercises as men.
That’s exactly what should happen. If mission readiness is assessed by physical fitness capabilities, then pick a standard based on the mission and require everyone to meet it. It turned out that 65 percent of the women were failing it compared to only 10 percent of the men and leadership was concerned about the effect on promotions for women, suggesting affirmative action rather than equal standards for women.
Put simply, that’s the wrong way to look at this issue. It should be about the mission. It shouldn’t be about sex or promotions.
The first female Army infantry officer and Ranger School graduate, Capt. Kristen Griest, penned an article noting how damaging it would be to continue holding women to a lesser standard. I have always agreed with this. Long before women were allowed to attend Ranger School, I tried to apply and was denied more than a dozen times. I could meet every one of the physical requirements and asked for no special treatment. I just wanted a chance to prove myself.
There is a big difference between the physical requirement for a cyberwarfare technician and a paratrooper. Any test should be an accurate measure of mission-oriented requirements with zero focus on sex. There could be a service-wide basic standard and then enhanced standards for jobs that require those.
Very few women will be able to meet a standard that requires carrying a heavy rucksack up mountains and the other things specific to combat arms missions. Those women who can should be allowed to serve, and those who can’t should not get in on a free pass based on their sex.
The solution to women in the military and combat is simple: One standard for everyone based on mission requirements. Anything else cheapens the achievements of the women who can do the toughest jobs and opens up complaints about quotas.