On the 24th of January the Department of Defense announced that it would do away with the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule for women and open up more combat and combat support Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to female service members. This announcement has been hailed as a coup for equal rights activists, but it is an even bigger victory for women who have been facing combat in the asymmetrical battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan despite this archaic rule and for those seeking advancement in a military hierarchy that reserves its highest echelons for troops who have served honorably in combat related positions from which women were explicitly excluded. Furthermore, the removal of the barriers put in place by this rule will widen the pool of candidates from which unit level commanders can draw to fill combat positions, thus relieving some of the stress that has been felt by the thinly stretched corps of young officers and non-commissioned officers over the last decade as they have been pressed into multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Of course this development has not been met with enthusiasm from all corners of the military. One of the most outspoken opponents of lifting these barriers is LTG (Ret.) Jerry Boykin. General Boykin is a US Army veteran, former member of the Special Operations and intelligence communities, and current Executive Vice President of the Family Research Council. As a fellow veteran, I respect General Boykin and appreciate all that he has done in the service of his country. But this soldier cum evangelical preacher is stuck in the backwards logic of an era when women were best confined to overseeing matters of the home. His views on the matter are not only a disservice to the women who have been bravely facing combat for years now, but also to the US military’s ability to prepare all of its members for the rigors of defending the nation.
For a recap and assessment of General Boykin’s thoughts on the matter I recommend the piece written by William Saletan over at Slate. It suffices to say that General Boykin thinks very little of a woman’s ability to go without certain amenities of personal hygiene for extended periods, or of a man’s ability to serve side-by-side with a women without being embarrassed about having to do so. This is to say nothing of the General’s lack of confidence in the military’s ability to uphold the standards of combat readiness or his seeming lack of understanding that women have already been serving on the front lines for over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan where the front line is everywhere.
I posted my full thoughts on the DOD’s decision earlier in the week, and I won’t rehash it here. I will simply close be reiterating the fact that equal treatment and opportunity are rights that supposedly important in American society. Upholding them in this case does not require a lowering of standards, a lessening of combat readiness, or institutional detriment in the name of social experimentation. It will however require a change in the culture of military leadership that sees clearly delineated roles between the sexes instead of taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of the individual soldier and their ability to accomplish the mission. Not every female trooper will meet the standards required of an Infantry officer or a Fire Support Specialist, but those that can will be an asset to the nation and its military.