One of the finest Marine officers I ever served with was a woman warrant officer who was our S-1 (headed up the admin office). Just after the First Gulf War our Marine Aircraft Group was to deploy to Turkey to participate in a NATO exercise. I was in charge of the advance party and the rear detachment and I required a member of the S-1 shop for reporting and accountability. Our Admin officer provided me a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer to go in but when it came time to for everyone to depart she said that she would be the Admin member of the rear detachment. That’s a very Marine response though I was uncomfortable with a woman remaining behind in what would be a very rough environment. She was adamant and I reluctantly agreed.
She preformed her duties superbly. She never complained or asked for any special consideration. She was a Marine’s Marine throughout. However her very presence caused trouble. It wasn’t her fault but the male Marines scurried about concerned over her comfort and protection the entire time. I was furious with them. Here we were in the middle of a complex retro-grade operation that included moving cargo and vehicles through both a port and airfield. Yet male Marines were worrying about where one Marine was going to shower, urinate, sleep, and eat. They hovered around her and helped her with her gear which embarrassed her as even though she was very much a lady she was physically and mentally capable of the challenges that we were facing in an austere environment.
In short even though she did her job superbly well, she was a distraction to the overall mission of the unit. This is a minor example. In Israel when faced with the direst emergency of that new State’s life during a lull in the 1948 fighting they pulled women out of frontline units. It wasn’t to protect women, but rather because of the horrible effect it had on the men when a woman was seriously wounded or killed. They preferred to have shortfalls in units than to suffer the debilitating effect of casualties among the women. Similarly modern day Marines weren’t that concerned how heavy their buddy’s pack was unless that buddy was female.
You might say that Marines are not a good place to find thoroughly modern sexual thinking – and you might be right. Let me give you a more recent example from my son’s crew team. If ever there was a generation that had been constantly bombarded by the “modern” message of equality of the sexes it is my son’s generation. Yet I observed his crew team one day and I’m not so sure they are different from my generation.
I was there to pick up my son and watched as his boat with 8 rowers under the direction of the coxswain glided up to the dock. As the boat came to a stop the boys jumped out of the boat and put their shoes on that had been stowed under their seats. Then half of the rowers grabbed two oars and took them up to the boat house while the other half rigged the boat to be lifted out of the water. When the other boys returned the coxswain directed the crew to lift the boat and march it up to the boathouse where it was stored. It was done with nearly military precision.
While I was waiting the girl’s boat came back. It struck the dock and the girls managed to get it close enough to spill out onto the dock giggling. Most had neglected to store their shoes under the seat so when one or two of them dragged an oar towards the boathouse they yelped and complained as stocking feet met with the gravel lot. As this was going on the boys emerged from the boathouse after stowing their boat. Several girls waved to the boys or called out names. I sensed that this had happened before. After a short pause the boys walked down to the dock and picked the girl’s boat out of the water and took it up to the boathouse. That is a major difference in approach to responsibility. It’s mildly amusing on quiet stretch of river in Virginia, but deadly serious in a vehicle convoy in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Women aren’t the problem – men are. I’ve been married for 33 years – I know a woman can be tough enough and mean enough for combat – but that isn’t the point. I remember watching the movie Starship Troopers where men and women shared a berthing space and showered together. Can you imagine your sons and daughters doing that today? The thought is absurd, but until such a thing is possible, putting a woman in a combat unit puts the men at greater risk.