It’s time to stop being politically correct.

Up until a decade ago, the US armed forces was well known for being one of the most traditionally male organizations in the world.

But today, with women’s involvement in combat-focused positions such as fighter pilots and infantry on the increase, the gender bias is seeing a distinct – and many would argue, very much needed – shift.

In August this year, three women graduated from the notorious Ranger School, in an experimental group allowing female soldiers to take part in the training for the first time. Regardless, ground combat positions, and positions requiring greater physical strength have remained off limits.

However, last week the Pentagon announced all combat positions in the US armed forces would be opened to women, with a view to strengthen the military in numbers and skills. Claims from female staff that the restrictions limited their ability to be promoted to the military’s highest level of leadership (usually filled with officers who served in the combat arms) were a major contributing factor.

The new policy will come into place as of January 2 next year, allowing women to serve in all military positions for which they meet the gender-neutral requirements.

“They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as army rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, air force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men,” stated US defense secretary, Ash Carter.

“While the Marine Corps asked for a partial exception in some areas such as infantry, machine gunner, fire support reconnaissance and others, we are a joint force, and I have decided to make a decision which applies to the entire force.”

Although the decision is already being celebrated by feminist groups, it has also been met with considerable dissent.

The easiest conclusion to jump to is that the opposition is influenced by chauvinism, male entitlement, and an outdated attitude. Of course women can serve in the same positions as men; they’ve met the gender neutral requirements, therefore they must have the same capabilities. It’s tempting to think it’s a step towards achieving gender parity in another branch of the workforce, and even easier to assume we should meet the decision with open arms.


The number of active officers and enlisted women in the military has grown significantly since 1998. (Source: Department Of Defence)

However, the Marine Corps is still vehemently shaking its head, and for good reason. In January 2013, then defense secretary, Leon Panetta, lifted the ban on women serving in some combat positions such as infantry, and gave the different streams of the armed forces until mid-2015 to decide whether certain positions should remain closed.

The Marine Corps carried out a nine-month experiment. Roughly 400 marines, including 100 women, volunteered to take part in Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force (GCEITF), a new unit created by the Corps to compare how men and women stack up in a combat environment. And the results are somewhat shocking.

The research discovered all-male squads demonstrated superior performance in 93 of 134 tasks evaluated, in comparison to units containing both women and men. Units comprising all men were also faster than those with women while completing tactical movements in combat situations. This was especially evident in units with large ‘crew-served’ weapons, such as heavy machine guns and mortars. In addition to this, all-male squads had better accuracy when firing weapons than squads that included women, with “a notable difference between genders for every individual weapons system”.

Regarding the removal of wounded troops from the battlefield, the report revealed there were “notable differences in execution times between all-male and gender-integrated groups”. The only exception was when a single person carried someone away; however, it was most often a male marine doing the carrying.

Another disturbing discovery was the rate of injury women suffered in comparison to their male counterparts. During the study, a whopping 40.5 per cent of women suffered some form of musculoskeletal injury, as compared to just 18.8 per cent of men. Twenty-one women lost time due to injuries, 19 of whom suffered injuries to their lower extremities. Of those, 16 women were injured while carrying heavy loads in organized movements, such as long marches.

Needless to say, the findings look grim, and are perfect fodder for those opposing the full integration of women into all combat positions. Critics of the study have cited the fact that it did not assess individual high performing women, only the average in groups. They have also criticized the fact some of the men in the unit had prior training. Despite this seemingly logical argument, the Marine Corps’ research also indicated male marines who had no prior infantry training were still more accurate using firearms than women who were already experienced in their use.

We could talk all day about the flaws in the study, but we’d just be splitting hairs. It’s not going to make a difference in a combat situation whether one or two women are considered ‘high performers’. Even if all women in a unit are of the highest standard, the GCEITF unit showed conclusively the top 25th percentile of women overlapped with the bottom 25th percentile of men when it came to anaerobic power, (a measure of strength). Also, the fact remains that women had more than double the injury rate of men, most notably when carrying heavy objects.

While I don’t want to naysay the idea of women in the armed forces – it’s fantastic we’re making an impact in another traditionally male-dominated industry – the findings are hard to ignore. Perhaps if a difference contingent of 100 women had taken part, the results would have been different. But maybe not. Which would lead to the same uncomfortable conclusion; women in general, are not as physically robust as men.

And are we willing to risk the potential needless loss of lives in order to try and prove otherwise? If it were my daughter or sister signing up, the answer would be a resounding no.

There’s no point endangering the lives of women when you can put men, who are physically more likely to survive, in the same situation. Keep some combat positions open to women; we’ve beyond proved ourselves time and time again and worked excruciatingly hard to do so. However, when it comes to the extremes, let’s forget political correctness and do the sensible thing. Anything else would be plain stupid.

Comment: Do you agree with opening all combat roles to women?