Posted by: James Atticus Bowden | March 15, 2013

Women in the Infantry by Mike Toler

My classmate, Mike Toler, made a comment that is worth a post.

Like Jim, I attended West Point when it was more like a 4 year federal prison than a college; but it was an ALL MALE prison. We voluntarily entered at the height of the Vietnam War, 6 months after Tet and Walter Cronkite telling America we had lost the war. For 4 years we intensively trained, thought about, imagined, aspired, and were mentored by recent combat veteran role models – people like MAJ Bill Carpenter, MAJ Robert Foley, CPT Buddy Bucha with one goal, one sole idea, to become combat arms officers and lead American Soldiers in combat as platoon leaders and company commanders. Our training was exceedingly tough and realistic. Almost a third of the class that entered with us in 1968 did not succeed and graduate with us in 1972. That crucible of physically and mentally demanding life for 47 months bonded us together for life. Our class is still to this day 41 years later, extremely tight – we trust and we respect each and every one of our classmates – even the ones who realized the Army was not for them after their initial 5 year commitment and sought other careers. As one of my more eloquent classmates put “We sucked for 4years together, equally, and mutually; you can not overstress or overburden us with any obstacle or challenge that is too great. With extraordinary exception, we had no branch choices except the combat arms – Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery, Engineers, Signal,and Air Defense. (SF & Aviation were not branches back then). There was also the option of choosing Military Intelligence and Military Police, if you spent your first 2 years in combat arms.  We graduated into a terrible undisciplined chaotic and disrespected Army that had lost its trust with the American people, had lost its spirit, had lost its integrity and somehow failed to live up to the values and expectations of our peers, our parents, and our Nation. I chose Infantry like over 200 of my classmates. I became a Mech Infantry company commander on the East German border as a 2nd Lieutenant. Like all of my classmates, I was an athlete, our West Point PT test was more demanding than the Ranger School standards. We physically led our platoons, sections and companies. Other than the Combat Support Branches, we led all male units. We developed and executed our own leadership style and built disciplined, trained, cohesive, effective, proud, units of male esprit de corps, ready for battle. By 1975 the Women’s Army Corp had been disbanded and we started to see gradual integration of women into non-combat jobs working alongside men. The Women’s Movement of the 1970s, the need for a large standing army during the cold war, and the political demands of feminist who had never served pushed for greater integration of women into all male units. The Army adapted, but kept limits and leadership carefully observed and monitored that process. In 1978 I commanded the first sexually integrated Basic Combat Training Field Artillery Battery.

My approach, with my drill sergeants – all Infantry and Field Artillery combat vets of Vietnam, was to treat the female trainees and male trainees as equals – the official Army policy. That was a complete failure. There are absolutely different physical capabilities and women tend to be more adaptive, and learn fine motor skills faster than men, but cannot lift, carry, run, or climb with men. Many could not meet Army standards, so the Army created “Baseline PT” a euphemism for lowering the physical standards so that women and weaker males could pass, despite not being able to physically accomplish some essential tasks required by their MOS. I had horrendous rates of stress fractures to women’s hips, caused by their bodies not capable of carrying the standard rucksack on their backs and keeping up with their male counterparts on conditioning marches. The women, even after 8 intense weeks of daily PT could not cross a one-rope bridge across a stream, could not climb a 12 foot verticle wall, lift a 75 pound projectile or gun tail into place, or change a tire on a 5 ton truck. But the biggest problem was not the physical differences in male and female bodies. The biggest challenge was women and men living and training beside each in close quarters 24 hours a day for 8 weeks. These were 17 to 24 year old Soldiers at the height of their sexual hormonal periods. Sex was the problem, even with my carefully screened and hand-picked drill sergeants; I had to courts-martial 5 of my best drill sergeants for having sex with the female trainees. The males hated having to make the 2 mile run in combat boots in less than 8 and half mins when the women had 15 mins to do the same test. The males resented having to lift or push women over the obstacles and always lift the heavy equipment while the women acted like girls and flirted with the big strong boys. Petty jealousies were rampant and boyfriend-girlfriend fights were common. So were sexual assaults and adultery. In the integrated squads, anonymous ARI surveys told us repeatedly that they NEVER achieved a cohesive unit of 10-15 Soldiers while in Basic Training. In the all male squads, they were cohesive teams by the 6th week of training. It was common knowledge that there were large numbers of active lesbians in the Army, but unless someone caused a discipline problem in the unit, nobody really cared, as long as they did their duty. There probably were substantial numbers of closet male homosexuals serving honorably as well; it just was not tolerated behavior by the male heterosexual Army leadership. Privacy in the field and in barracks between the sexes is always an issue of morale and concern for the safety and security of female soldiers. Men do not like women having women disposing of human waste or showering right next to them in a coed latrine any more than women do. Living in co-ed barracks designed for an all male army decades before their current occupants caused tremendous leadership challenges for commanders and NCOs. The Marine Corps recognized many of those issues and refused to integrate their basic training units – despite the political pressure from Congress and Senator Schoeder of Colorado.

Yet my Army continued to put women into MOSs and units for which they were not fully capable of accomplishing all required tasks. Their male NCOs and squadmates had to do those tasks for them. Don’t get me wrong, there were many MOS and branches where women excelled, far superior to the normal males. I worked with and led many outstanding female soldiers and officers in my 31 years of active duty. But those women and those units were not in the combat arms and rarely were they in combat support units, despite Congress and DACOWITS pushing for more women in male roles – using the equal opportunity for promotion justification. In hind sight, we should have just promoted a bunch of female officers to general rank and put them in charge of CSS, personnel management, health care, and strategic logistics – acquisition and we would have been better off in the long run. I saw exceptionally mentally capable women of strong moral ethical character who either chose or were assigned to combat support branches struggle to compete with their male peers, just simply ill-suited for that role in the Army where it remained a male-dominated culture. A very few both coped with that situation and thrived by sheer physical and mental will and determination, or they wisely chose to branch transfer or leave the Army. It was not their fault, the Army by will of Congress put them in that situation for the sake of equality of the sexes, a fine democratic ideal that just flat did not and does not work in the intensity of training for or actual combat. The stupid Army recruiting motto of An Army of One did nothing to help the public, Congress, the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense and Secretary of the Army, understand what military psychologists and historians have told us for centuries – that male bonding under an exemplary competent, capable, leader of character committed to the welfare of his soldiers while accomplishing the mission is why soldiers fight and win on the battlefield – but we do that as teams we call units with specialized functions, weapons, tactics, and equipment – NOT by sending single soldiers to fight as an Army of one.

While I negotiated contracts and solved production and quality problems to accelerate delivery of weapons, munitions, food, and supplies to the ports to support our forces in Operation Desert Shield, 34 of my classmates commanded battalions or brigades in that magnificent victory of Desert Storm under the exceptional leadership of GEN Schwarzkopf and a host of other great male leaders. So I missed my big chance to lead infantrymen into combat by being in a joint acquisition position, instead of leading soldiers.

So the only real combat I saw in my career was in Somalia 18 months after Desert Storm. We were under fire every day. I was negotiating with Somali warlords and businessmen every day with little or no protection. I was commanding a joint contingency contracting command to support Operation Restore Hope with logistics and engineering support and responsible for negotiating the international treaties with 22 allied nations forces and the 49 humanitarian relief Non-Governmental Organizations, as well as the UN. I had a small joint team of mostly males and two females on my staff or under my command. The first time we were ambushed my female Army sergeant panicked and was hysterical, unable to perform her function of driving her vehicle and 3 of my people out of the kill zone. Fortunately the male major on the passenger side dragged her out of her seat while a male Marine sergeant provided covering fire and the major then rammed his way successfully through the barricades blocking the roadway so that all 8 miraculously escaped the ambush unharmed, despite every window being shot out of the two vehicles and tens of bullet holes in their Chevy Blazers. My other experience with a woman in combat was an Air Force Captain, a contracting officer responsible for procuring supplies in Kenya and getting them loaded on C-130s daily to support the 38,000 troops in Somalia. She refused my orders to come to meet with me monthly in Mogadishu because “she was afraid” and after the fact I found out she flew on board C-130s the last day of each month landed at the secured airfield in Mogadishu, slept comfortably on the plane overnight and flew back the next morning to Kenya, thereby being entitled to tax free combat pay for two months each trip. Not one of my male Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, or Marines failed to accomplish their missions despite some very intense direct fire from enemy combatants literally every day we were in Mogadishu – because we had bonded together as a team.

So the professional opinions of Jim Bowden, by the way, 24 of my classmates became general officers – the most of one class since before WWII, are supported almost wholly by this old soldier too. We need competent, committed women of good character in our Army, but not in Infantry and probably not in Armor, or cannon Field Artillery or Combat Engineer units, and not in many MOS that require upper body strength. It is the esprit de corps, the unit cohesion, and the discipline that most suffer from integrated male-female units composed of teenagers we call Soldiers. SOF and Infantry Units are the tip of the spear, where the untimate mission is to close with by fire and maneuver to kill the enemy – come hell or high water, regardless of the terrain.


Responses

  1. Incredible story. Thanks for posting it.
    While two years behind your class and a ROTC midshipman rather than an academy grad, my experience simply adds to yours. I too, studied, PT’d and prepared for one thing: commanding a Marine infantry platoon. There were no women in my experience until near the end of my career. We had no women in our basic school class, infantry training, aboard ship or anywhere except in the medical spaces far in the rear or the disbursing office. The Fleet Marine Force in 1974 was much like the Army infantry you joined in 1972. No women, but an incredibly broken force after Viet Nam. I joined my first platoon in Okinawa right after they returned from evacuating the embassy in Saigon. They were a mess. We subalterns did our best in tough situations. Five years later when I was a rifle company commander, the effects of the hard work of our recruiters (using higher standards) yielded a much improved force.
    Interestingly, my only encounter with women was at Ft. Benning for jump school. There was one Army woman in our class. Don’t think that she was the first, but certainly one of them. Leaving ground week, all soldiers had to do at least seven pull ups to advance on to tower week. Those who couldn’t were recycled or sent on to their duty assignment w/o wings. Our woman couldn’t do any but advanced on to tower week anyway and her wings. . .we thought this was just a joke, Army problem only. It wasn’t. They just experienced it earlier as they integrated women in earlier and to a greater extent. We in the Marines didn’t take this seriously and thought it would pass quickly and all would get back to business. Years later when Desert Shield began, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Gray ordered all units to transfer their women out before deploying for combat. He, like the rest of us thought this was all a politically correct exercise for peacetime and now that we were deploying for war, it would be thrown out so we could get down to business. We were wrong. Gen Gray was forced to rescind his order and the women came along. Many found out once in theater that they could find a guy to get them pregnant (easily) and then get a free trip back home. Many took advantage of that and then conveniently had an abortion when stateside. They weren’t sent back to their units until after Desert Storm.
    In thirty one years as an infantry officer I saw several cases on officers being disciplined (relieved or in some cases court-martialed). Usually they were for financial infractions or mishandling classified material. In my last eight years of service every case of officer misconduct dealt with sex. Some form of sex or sexual harassment, fraternization et al. Really. Every one. No one can say that integrating women hasn’t had a negative effect just as many predicted. Even now as a DOD civilian, the only training we receive other than information assurance is sexual harassment training. We spend more time on that than any other training activity. Really, any other training. What a waste, and no one can speak out and no news media will cover it.
    Now we have a Commandant who was selected because he was the only one willing to support ending DADT. First aviator in a position that usually was always held by infantry officers. He now is in the vanguard of integrating women. No surprise there. He pushed women to attend the infantry officers basic course and not one completed. Not one. Next step is to lower the standards. Just watch.

  2. DV: Thanks for the comments. Big mistakes have been made. Worse ones are being made now.

    • True Jim. In the 24th chapter, Matthew tells us the Lord said that things would get worse, not better. In fact, much worse as His return nears. So what do we expect? Should we be surprised that good institutions are corrupted, that good candidates are defeated, that evil is increasing and being called good? We are seeing it play out as predicted. If I wasn’t a Christian, current events alone would convince me that the Bible is true.


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