Hidden Agenda: Women in Combat



Following is background from Your Business Blogger in an article published just after 9.11. Things have changed since then. A little.

Booby traps at the Pentagon: Charmaine and Jack Yoest introduce you to the Pentagon’s babes in arms. What do they want? An “open dialogue” on breastfeeding.(Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services)

Originally published in The Women’s Quarterly; January 01, 2002;


Pentagon attack

ON SEPTEMBER 10TH, [2001] the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, the group most responsible for promoting women in combat, gathered in Pentagon Conference Room 5C1042. This civilian advisory committee, whose members have the protocol status of three-star generals, monitors the concerns of women in uniform. And what was the topic on the eve of the worst attack in U.S. history?

After briefings from representatives of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, DACOWITS, as the committee is known, issued a formal request for more information on what they deemed a matter of paramount military significance: breast-feeding.

As the terrorists prepared to hit the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon itself, our military leaders were directed “to engage in open dialogue” on lactation tactics.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women celebrated its fiftieth anniversary last April. At the birthday party, President Bush’s deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz, a man well regarded for his level-headed and conservative approach to military issues, lauded DACOWITS in his address as an outstanding organization” and told the

assembly of earnest women that he “looked forward to [their] advice.”

DACOWITS was established by then-secretary of defense, General George C. Marshall, with a mission of advising the secretary on how to recruit, retain, and best use women in the armed services. The committee is composed of thirty to forty civilians appointed by the secretary of defense and is responsible for visiting military installations to talk to women in uniform and to formulate recommendations.

The latest round of appointments to the committee was announced in the final days of the Clinton administration on December 21, 2000, by then-Secretary William Cohen. Cohen’s eight appointees, who serve three-year terms, had their appointments ratified in January 2001–after President Bush’s inauguration–by a Clinton holdover in the Defense Department cleverly using Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s new autopen, according to the Center for Military Readiness, which is led by former DACOWITS member Elaine Donnelly.

One of these Cohen legacies, Silvana Rubino-Hallman, wrote her doctoral dissertation on women in combat. She concluded that combat is a “male-defined environment” and that women are excluded because “representational practices” have constructed a “reality” defined by “discursive practices” that understand the concept of “warrior” to be implicitly male. Look for a future DACOWITS recommendation: Examine discursive practices as they relate to warrior conceptualization. Institute and enforce gender-neutral usage of warrior terminology.

CHAIRMAN OF DACOWITS is Vickie McCall, a real estate agent and former Utah alcohol and beverage control commissioner. She told U.S. Air Forces in Europe News Service, “You have to understand. We don’t report facts, we report perception.” Huh?

The DACOWITS recommendations from the last ten years read like an act from The Vagina Monologus. sexual harassment directives as a constant refrain; lobbying for increased child care services; and, most critically, a persistent drumbeat for expanded combat roles for women. A recommendation from 1991 chastised the Marine Corps for continuing to use the slogan: “A few good men.” The previous year featured a suggestion that the secretary of the Air Force develop a maternity coat as a uniform option.

Suggested new recruiting slogan: “A gynecologist on every aircraft carrier!” (See the Spring 2001 recommendations where “comprehensive gynecological care immediately follows “creating opportunities for shipboard experience and warfare qualifications.”) Apparently DACOWITS never got word that Newt Gingrich was pilloried for positing a possible connection between field conditions and female infection. Fall 2000 recommendations recognized the need to “ascertain what treatment of gynecological infections is available” and an instruction to the services to “ensure an adequate supply of hygiene products during deployment.”

How can military leadership resolve the cognitive dissonance shown by gender activists who present themselves as saber-swinging “women warriors” — understood discursively or otherwise–but require an Equality Management Subcommittee to protect them from gender discrimination perpetuated by boorish buccaneers who engage in sexist behavior” and make “crude and offensive remarks”? And when DACOWITS follows a recommendation to expand opportunities for women in combat with a recommendation that the secretary of defense start collecting data on “all violence against military women,” should we assume that excludes violence they might encounter in combat?

While the debate over whether differences between men and women are biologically determined or socially constructed continues in the civilian world, the women of DACOWITS seem grudgingly reconciled to the idea that women are different. Their recommendations include a call for implementation of height, weight, and body fat standards that acknowledge gender differences. In a surprisingly girlish fashion they call for “taking into account differences in body fat distribution” and plead with the Army to discontinue noting in the records when “the solder” has run afoul of regulation 600-9–the Army Weight Control Program.

YET DESPITE THEIR WILLINGNESS to recognize that women differ from men in size, strength, health needs, and family demands, DACOWITS and its supporters refuse to acknowledge that those differences might be, in any way, detrimental to the imperative of military readiness. They typically substitute desire and commitment for competence as qualifying factors in an arena where performance failure is unforgiving and often fatal. When McCall was asked by a reporter about the possibility of women serving in special forces units, she replied: “Women are as patriotic as their brothers.”

This highlights what has become the primary item on the DACOWITS agenda: combat for women. Indeed, heading the recommendations for 2001 were DACWOITS’ top three combat-oriented objectives: placement of women on submarines, opening Multiple Launch Rocket Systems to women, and the deployment of mixed-gender Special Operations Forces rotary wing aviation crews.

In fact DACOWITS has been largely responsible for shoving women ever closer to combat. Their recommendations have pushed combat for women year after year. Although they operate only in an advisory capacity, their very existence, and persistence, have created a political gravitational pull in their direction that appears nearly irresistible. A window into how the pressure is applied and the system works: During the fall of 1993 and spring of the next year, DACOWITS called for the Army to open the Airborne’s elite Pathfinder (first on the ground in the combat zone) training to women; when the army complied DACOWITS issued a “Statement of Appreciation.”

Their biggest coup to date, however, came when DACOWITS issued a “recommendation” in 1993 that the secretary of defense “open combat aviation to women immediately.”

How high did you say? One week later, Secretary Les Aspin ordered all of the service secretaries to begin integrating women into combat aircraft units. One year later, Aspin went further and narrowed the definition of “combat” so that women were no longer barred from serving in areas where “risk of capture” existed and are now excluded only from units that are clearly designed for direct land combat.

The Center for Military Readiness is reporting that even this barrier is being breached. An Army official, Lt. Col. Margaret Flott, head of the Women in the Army office, and liaison to DACOWITS, has tried to ensure that women train to serve in new Interim Brigade Combat Teams, which are light infantry “full spectrum combat forces” that the Army is developing. DACOWITS sees the military as simply another workplace plagued with garden-variety office politics, but offering unusual career opportunities. Feminists often argue that having women in combat is a necessary prerequisite to having a woman as president. The DACOWITS goal, McCall mused to reporter Shane Montgomery, is “to assure that the future that we want for our sons is also available for our daughters.” Similarly, she commented to Kathleen Rhem of the American Forces Press Service, that “we have a military that gives women opportunities that they would not have in other countries.”

DACOWITS partisans have approached the military as if it were a good ole boy law firm, or even an all-male country club. Retired Lt. Gen. Claudia Kennedy, herself an alleged victim of sexual harassment by a fellow general, began a speech to West Point cadets in 1997 by declaring, “This is not your father’s army anymore.” Indeed, women now comprise 15 percent of the United States military force.

Still, the battlefield is not exactly an OSHA-friendly environment. The reality of an exploding hand grenade or mortar round cannot be discursively redefined; death doesn’t care about gender.

ON THE ARMY Physical Fitness Test, only about 3 percent of women score the same as the average male. One component of unit cohesion is the sure knowledge of every soldier that he will be cared for if wounded, and he will be carried home on someone’s back if necessary. Elite unit tradition is that not even your dead body is left behind. This instills cohesion, camaraderie, and courage. But can male soldiers expect women to carry them to safety if injured? That kind of doubt itself impairs unit cohesion.

In the Summer 2001 issue of Parameters, the Army’s War College quarterly, which is a peer-reviewed journal, Majors Kim Field and John Nagl argued that the discrepancy between male and female physical capabilities should not be an impediment to women serving in combat. They advance a “modest proposal”: Set a high standard for combat qualifications and open it to all comers.

Elegant in its simplicity, their proposal ignores the political realities of a DACOWITS-ruled world. All of the services today use gender-normed physical fitness standards; even so, women still suffer injuries at a much higher rate than men and, in the wake of basic training, have a 50 percent first-year attrition rate, compared to the men’s 30 percent. It costs $10,000 to recruit a soldier, so the attrition rate hurts. The report to Congress issued by the Blair Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues noted that Army recruits are “required” to complete five of seven throws of a hand grenade. The last two throws must be of live grenades. However, if the recruits do not throw the practice grenades adequately, they may be excused from the live throws. Would that it were so in real combat.

Nevertheless, there are some women who could pass the physical standards under Field and Nagl’s system. That is, of course, as long as they are not in need of those jazzy DACOWITS-inspired military-issue maternity uniforms. Field and Nagl, discounting this argument, report that at any one time, less than 1 percent of the Army is pregnant. However, they include in a footnote annual pregnancy rates for the various services from the Non-Deployable Personnel Report that range from 3 percent of Marine Corps officers, and 5 percent of Air Force officers, to as high as 12 percent of both officers and enlisted women in the Army, and 13.4 percent of Navy enlisted women. The Field/Nagl proposal would include a mandatory “birth control regime” as part of routine predeployment “immunizations.”

It is this constant threat of sexual activity that has inspired the “no talk, no touch” doctrine the military now uses in basic training to attempt to contain sexual activity and eliminate sexual harassment. Feminists want women to experience the battlefield bond, yet expect that connection to be bounded and constrained by regulations about permissible contact.

Anna Simons, an anthropologist who teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School, argues that sexual tension is an immutable dynamic between men and women, and offers an alternative to Field and Nagl’s view in the same issue of Parameters. Simons, the wife of a former Green Beret, reports that “women automatically alter the chemistry in all-male groups.” As she acutely notes, the biggest factor women-in-combat advocates choose to ignore is that if there is one unifying experience all heterosexual men share, it is “a graphic fascination with women.” Putting the object of that intense interest in their midst and then saying, “Don’t touch!” is an approach doomed to failure.

Simons argues lust is a grave threat but that “love may actually be worse. Love rearranges loyalty The good of the group shrinks to two.” Or, in some cases, only one: Love bears all things; love risks all things–for the good of the loved one. All things that is, except the loved one’s life. But in combat, that’s precisely what’s on the line.

In the end, among the well-worn statistics about strength, and the debates about sex, the issue comes down to this: Is there something intrinsically different about women that is worth protecting from combat? Not just for women themselves, but for the greater good of American society? Simons argues that it isn’t just women’s presence on the battlefield that is the problem, it is the lack of their absence that is so mortally wounding to our ideals. Combat involves cold-blooded killing, an act that threatens the soldier’s humanity “When absent,” argues Simons, “what [women] evoke includes home, family, the future, and everything that’s worth fighting for–nonviolence especially.”

As this article is being written, the news from Afghanistan includes more American casualties, a painful reminder that the military is neither a law firm nor a country club to be integrated. By missing this distinction, DACOWITS should be dishonorably discharged because of military necessity.

Charmaine Yoest is a Bradley Fellow at the University of Virginia in the Department of Government, and Jack Yoest, a former Army captain in the Armored Cavalry, is a management consultant.


Thank you (foot)notes:

On Sunday funeral services were held for another American service member killed in combat in Iraq. Another female in uniform. According to the Air Force, Elizabeth Jacobsen was an airman first class who was killed by an IED (improvised explosive device) while providing convoy security.

The continuing battle to put women in combat has a disturbing legacy, with supporters in the Pentagon itself.

Elaine Donnelly from the Center for Military Readiness argues that Harriet Miers is part of continuing this legacy:

As White House Counsel, Ms. Miers either approved of the Defense Department’s illicit assignments of women to units required to be all-male, without prior notice to Congress as required by law, or she was unaware of the long-term legal consequences of those improper assignments, or she gave sound advice that the president did not heed.

See The Independent Women’s Forum.

Be sure to attend the celebration for the Center For Military Readiness.

The solution to the Army’s recruiting problem is hiring more women for harm’s way with combat pay?

Mudville Gazette has Open Post.

Outside the Beltway is honeymooning ‘way outside the Traffic Jam.

California Conservative has Open Trackbacks.

Basil’s Blog has supper and while you’re there click thru Chip Mathis on Why Lefties Hate WalMart.


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13 Responses

  1. The Drill SGT says:

    Disclosure note: I’m a combat veteran and husband of a NG officer.

    I take an organizational view of this issue. What is best for the organization. In my view there are insufficient women that are both willing and able to perform close combat missions to make it worth implementing. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with women pilots, or even MP’s, but the cutting edge specialties of Infantry, Armor and Combat engineers are just too physically demanding for most women.

    Beyond that and echoing some of the work by SLA Marshall, men don’t fight for God, Country and the Flag. They fight for the respect of their peers around them. Anything that disrupts that ultimate male bonding experience inherently hurts combat readiness. Leadership in combat is hard enough. A combat leader must make potentially life or death decisions on an hours basis (e.g. Jones, take point!). Everyone in the squad is sensitive to favoritism and biases in the Leader’s decisions. In my VN experience, the major schism in the squad was black/white. You have to trust me on this. The presence of a female in a combat squad, who may or may not be involved with somebody else in the same squad is going to make that leadership challenge an order of magnitude harder.

  2. Jack Yoest says:

    Drill SGT,

    You are correct and your experience is testiment. Unit cohesion is the single most important issue.



  3. Cutler says:

    Thanks for such an extended and on-target post.

  4. The Drill SGT says:

    A quick look at the numbers. What is called a “back of the Envelope analysis”. You can argue about whether any of my factors is off by 100% if you want, but it doesn’t change the overall analysis.

    1. consider an active army size of 400,000 officers and enlisted (total 435k minus warrants)

    2. 15% women? that means 60k out of 400k

    3. 3% of women have PT scores equal to the mean male score

    4. In order not to be a drain on the squad, you need to be in a lot better shape than the mean male (which includes support troops, etc). factor in interest in a combat MOS. your 3% drops to 1% of women that are willing and able. 60k becomes 600 female soldiers

    5. spread how far? half the army isn’t in a division. factor out training, schools, other assignments, 600 becomes 300.

    6. (using old structure here, because I and most others understand the older TOE’s) 10 divisions consisting of average of 10 maneuver BNs + 1 cav sdn, 1 engr Bn, 3 Arty BN = 15 “combat BN’s in a division. add in 3 Corps Arty, Corps Cav Sdn, Corps CBT Engr, for total of 5 more BNs, gives you 10 division wedges times 20 combat BNs each for 200 combat BNs.

    7. 300 women spread across 200 BNs.

    8 so 1 or 2 companies in each combat BN get 1 women each. Ask yourself.

    a. Is that fair to the woman?

    b. does that one woman increase or decrease the effectiveness of the BN?

    c. would the commander rather be 1 person short or deal with all the issues of having 1 woman in the unit?

    5. is the Army better off?

    Bottom line. The Defense of our nation is not a social experiment. Women have a place in the Army, but not every place in the army is somewhere they can make a positive difference. That may change over time, but until it does, we should be looking at ways to increase unit performance not decrease it.

    The Leaders creed: Mission first, men second. That means that mission accomplishment comes before the lives of the troops. In this case, overall organizational benefit of all male combat units outweighs the “rights” of 300 women.

    PS: This analysis was focused on women in combat MOS’s in Combat BNs rather than the issue of women in support MOS’s being assigned to combat units which is another issue. The numbers available go up, and things get fuzzier, but the same overall cost/benefit analysis still holds I think.

  5. Jack Yoest says:

    Drill SGT,

    Your numbers are compelling even if assumed to randomly distributed.

    10% of Forward Support Companies could have females in women-eligible MOS’s. Ditto MP’s, truck drivers.

    However, I like your one woman per unit analogy — almost sounds like a quota — no commander would ever submit to the known challenges of managing women under pressure with the sexual tension/attention. As noted in Charmaine’s post on “The Golden P*ssy Syndrom.”



  6. Beth says:

    DACOWITS sounds like an enemy infiltration designed to diminish combat effectiveness. I wouldn’t take Wolfowitz’ praise too seriously–the Pentagon is only a hair less political than Congress. Which thus makes me believe DACOWITS is only still around because of stupid Puzzle Palace politics.

    Anyway, I’ve always kind of felt like if a woman is at least as physically capable as a man, she ought to be able to serve in combat. That’s just the “me” in me (I’d love to be a sniper, picking off jihadis, myself).

    But more important, the whole social aspect is a VERY serious one, and if it is to compromise the mission one iota, the idea should be scrapped altogether. You’re right, it’s NOT a social experiment–it’s all about killing people and breaking things, and staying alive in the process.

    Even if Drill SGT’s stats are off, women would be VASTLY outnumbered in a combat unit (and what woman would WANT to be the only one in a combat unit?). Anyone who thinks the social dynamic wouldn’t change in a situation like that (even if it were 5% female!) is just plain ridiculous.

    Any woman who has served in the military overseas (I did, in Turkey and Germany) knows that life is TOTALLY different when you’re so outnumbered. It’s not like being the only woman in a civilian programming shop in the States–you can still leave work and live in the 50/50 male/female world. Overseas in the military (IN PEACETIME, at that!) is very different–men are more aggressive, more competetive with one another, they DO stab their friends in the backs for the affections of (American) women, and women such as myself live with the feeling of being almost hunted. Now try to manage that in combat, with a MUCH greater difference in male-female ratio (I worked in the Finance office myself–not exactly a male-dominated field in the military!).

    As I said, the sniper/bomber/gunner in me hates to admit the above, but I’m no dummy. You simply cannot ignore human nature, and political correctness doesn’t come first, the mission does.

  7. The Drill SGT says:


    Some random thoughts.

    1. Women make excellent snipers. Some amazing stories about Russian female snipers at Stalingrad. The advantage there was that they were relatively speaking on home turf, didn’t have to carry 100 lb loads, and were working solo.

    2. Even if you double or triple several of the factors in my analysis, you only get 1 or 2 women per company instead of 1 or 2 per BN. It doesn’t change the social dynamic or the military effectiveness issue.

    3. As I mentioned in another post: When I was in Germany in 76, our BDE HQ got women. Interesting aside. The COL refused to take one women, and held out till he was give four including a buck SGT. As you must be aware, it’s far easier to deal with 4 than 1. Both from the individual’s and the unit’s viewpoint, several women are easier to assimilate than 1 woman. Ours were clerks (personnel and supply) and mechanics. The COL wasn’t anti-female. His wife was a career DA civilian who had served in Vietnam. She went on to be an SES ( he a general) and she outranked him later. He was making a unit effectiveness decision regardless of the PC’ness of the issue.

    And, as I noted above, my wife is a NG Officer.

    4. Interestingly, the Army used to have PT tests that were less focused on cardio-vascular health and more on soldier / combat skills.

    Jack, do you remember the “Tank’s PT Test”. It was an alternative variant to the normal PT test. The events as I recall were:

    a. low crawling a distance pulling a tank tow cable (100 lb, 10 foot long steel cable)

    b. a shuttle of 10-15 track blocks (30 lb rubber weights)

    c. rolling a road wheel (150 lb steel wheel) around a base ball diamond.

    d. raising a tank round (the 40 lb shell) 60 times over your head.

    e. 1 mile run

    as you can see, most of these events were heavy lifting or strength oriented, an all job related. (e.g. loading a tank with 60 shells)

    Jack, before your time, the main PT test itself was more combat related. It must have changed in the early 70’s. Maybe VOLAR. anyway, one of the events in my 1969 basic training PT test was one that would separate the men from the boys (or girls). It was called the 150 yard man-carry. Just as it sounds like. You picked up a person of equal weight, and ran 150 yards. Needless to say it had combat applicability, was a knee killer, and would not be PC in today’s army where we have 2 sets of standards for PT, themselves graduated by age differences.

  8. The Drill SGT says:

    I found two references to my 150 yd man carry.

    1. from a 1970 25th Div document that dates the change over.


    THE ARMY’S JUST NOT THE SAME ANYMORE…Sigh. Look around at your fellow soldier, troop. He is one of the last of a dying breed. He-and you-went through basic training when it was really tough. I mean with the 150 yard man carry and the 40 yard low crawl and everything. Word has just been leaked by DA that these two brutal tests of soldier stamina have been replaced by simple old push-ups and sit-ups. No more will drill sergeants order recruits to low-crawl from the mess hall back to the barracks for exercise. They’ll make them do sit-ups. And sit-ups won’t get them back to the barracks unless they do them differently than I did. No, it’s just not the same Army anymore.

    2. And this link to a Thesis about how normal army PT doesn’t stress combat requirements.


  9. Jack Yoest says:

    Drill SGT, We didn’t have the Armor PT test as you describe — must have been, well, killer.

    Sounds tougher than the “Crucible” kind of PT mud-fest the boys and girls slide thru today.

    We did have the man carry test — we used a 160 lb dummy — I can still remember the weight and misery and looked at the guys at 200 lbs and wondered how anyone could help them or even getting 80 lbs of gear off. Goodness, I couldn’t get my own load-bearing-equipment harness off in a hurry –let alone another guy’s dead wt. in the mud.

    Thanks for the links — the public needs to be reminded of the changes over the years on military readiness.

  10. Jack Yoest says:

    Beth, I’m with the Drill SGT, you’d make a great sniper. But I’d guess you’d be in some black project in deep cover with The Company keeping the country safe. I’m serious. Or are you doing this now?

    (Charmaine and I have a weakness for Alias.)

    (Charmaine’s encounter with them/it was not quite as glamorous as TV.)

    This must be a record: blowing 2 covers in one post. Alert the NYT.

  11. Beth says:

    Oh, I wish I were doing that now! Two things I wish I could be “when I grow up” 😉 are that, or an astronaut. Unfortunately, at my age it’s a no-go, especially with my dramatically diminished physical capability. So no worries about the NYT! 😉

    The male-female dynamic really does matter. DACOWITS and their ilk are living in an utopian fantasyland. And most ironic of all, the fact that they think women should serve in combat units because we’re equally capable is directly contradictory to their wish for different physical standards! They MIGHT have a leg to stand on if they insisted on equal physical requirements, but it would still not address the sociological component–and you simply can’t legislate or fix that one by regulations.

  12. Jack Yoest says:

    Beth, yes they “are living in an utopian fantasyland.” Your highlighting of the hypocracy is an excellent example.

    Charmaine and I went to the Center For Military Readiness briefing Thursday nite and heard reports from female officers back from Iraq talk about the challenges of having boys and girls together. A lot. In close quarters. Very close.

    (I also learned the lesbians would have a partial gold tooth visible for self-identification. Dunno about secret handshakes.)

    Anyway, we’ll be a-posting on the meeting soon, after Charmaine gets back from schmoozing with the Hugh Hewitt GodBlog in LA since yesterday. She better come home soon — 2 yr old Jamie Bo-Boy needs a diaper change bad.



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