Hardening Our Resolve
Women in Combat
Hardening Our Resolve
E-mail debates of newsworthy topics.
April 10 2003 4:23 PM

Women in Combat


Dear Stephanie,


Women in the combat arms first—I agree; who needs 'em? As long as the brass develop their requirements based on the mission necessity of being able to bench-press a Humvee to qualify as an artilleryman, the rest of us should salute smartly and consider ourselves dismissed. As we've both pointed out, there are a million ways to get to the front, and the honest woman knows she's much better-utilized, and much happier, in other career fields. Folks with something to prove are a pain at best, a hazard to the mission at worst.

You raise many provocative but sometimes inexplicable points in your post—is our disagreement over Tailhook whether it is acceptable for military members to assault fellow military members or the overreaching of the inquiry that followed? You've done the reporting; if you say so, I will believe that female Navy, Army, and Marine officers regard their tits as community property (truly GI—government issue). Do you defend the right of male officers to attack unwilling female (let alone GI) ones as harmless, well-earned, manly fun? Pit vipers (civilian women who throng military functions looking for husbands and often behave whorishly) sign up for that kind of thing; female GIs do not. They were there for the camaraderie with their "brothers," not to be gang-groped by them. The fact that some laughed it off does not require the rest of them to. I most certainly would not have, though I would not have objected to those who were game. But I might have whispered to them that no one in uniform, male or female, would ever respect their authority again. Male GIs can get away with anything; female ones, nothing.

You obviously haven't read my book, An American Story, either. In it, I describe some scenes at military parties that the average person would find hard to believe, but as long as everyone volunteered, no skin off my back. Usually, when a military party began to get out of hand, males would discreetly take up defensive positions around females and send clear "stand down" signals. More than once, one of my co-workers wordlessly extended an arm and escorted me away without a word as something lewd or dangerous was about to occur. I think the assaults were the problem, not that servicewomen objected to them. The overzealousness of the inquiry is certainly a worthy topic of debate.

As for TI's laughing at underperforming trainees: Of course they did, even in the "gone-to-hell-in-a-handbasket" '80s. It was too insignificant, and occurred too frequently, to mention. When I fell in that water obstacle, an instructor placed his nose square on mine and screamed bloody murder. Another did the same the entire length of the simulated machine-gun fire field I was low-crawling through too slowly for his liking. Another one did indeed laugh at me when I flailed into the net again and again as he tried to teach me to spike. In front of my entire flight (23 men, two women), he taunted me but stood there serving me that ball for as long as it took.

You do understand, Stephanie, that they were all on my side, just like the instructors who poured mud and boot kicks all over my father while he did squat-thrusts on Parris Island in the 1940s to prepare him to ship out to island-hop in the Pacific? They wanted neither my father nor me to fail; they took no joy in their abuse. They were not exercises in manliness. They wanted us to dig down deep and find out that we could face anything—say, capture by Iraqi torturers—however undignified we looked doing it. They were teaching us that the "enemy's" taunting and attacks should only harden our resolve, not that we were wussies for minding the abuse. They wanted us to realize that the real battle is not with outside distractions but within ourselves. So much drama over the renaming of the obstacle course. It wasn't about the hurdles. It was about learning that you could face them and hang tough. It's about gaining confidence, and it's not just GI women who need it. Not everyone was captain of the football team.

Again, your reporting must show a cadre of our best and brightest waiting to take the oath as soon as they can be assured of having mud and boot kicks rain down on them while they squat-thrust in 200 percent humidity before returning to barren barracks on bases without amenities. I can say with authority, however, that you seriously misapprehend the importance to GIs—who, after all, remain human—of simple pleasures like a decent base library, a Baskin Robbins, or a laptop. (Did they really distribute those? I was gypped.) With postings as provocative as yours were, I am hopeful that someone with reportorial expertise equal to your own will pick up the gauntlet and take over for me.

All the best,

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