Last Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the 1999 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 373-50. One of the most damaging components of this bill, aside from the fact that it does not provide a necessary increase in the president’s budget request, is perpetuating a patently-flawed system of gender-integrating basic training.
Currently, the Air Force, Army and Navy integrate men and women at every level during basic training. The Marine Corps is the only branch that almost totally segregates men and women during their first taste of military service. The system of mixed-gender training, which was declared a failure after a five-year trial ending in 1982, was resurrected by the Clinton administration in 1994 with almost no congressional oversight. The last four years have confirmed what was common sense in 1982 – mixed gender training poses serious risks to unit integrity, cohesion, morale and, ultimately, the war-fighting capability of our forces.
The original version of the House bill mandated that men and women be separated during basic training at the platoon level, have separate barracks and have limited access to barracks by drill instructors of the opposite sex. However, none of these provisions made it into the Senate version and all three were dropped during the House-Senate conference on the bill. These provisions are a must to restore the good order and discipline the military requires to carry out its mission.
The truth is that when the military lets men and women sleep in close quarters, whether during basic training or subsequently in tents, barracks or ships, it allows for and facilitates fraternization that has steadily and undoubtedly eroded the morale of our forces. Stories abound of pregnancies, adultery, destruction of families, disruptive jealousies and double standards that reduce the standards and challenges for men.
These problems, which will continue unless corrective action is taken immediately, will prevent the armed forces from fulfilling their most important mission: to deter, fight and win our nations’ wars.
Proponents of women in the military, in combat and mixed-gender training believe women are as capable as men and therefore should not be discriminated against in any way. Though some women are capable and some who are more capable than men, on the whole, women do not have the same militarily necessary physical capabilities as men.
A small catalogue of the physical differences between men and women that would affect military operations and highlight the double standards during training include: The average female in the military is about five inches shorter then her male counterpart and has half the upper-body strength, significantly lower aerobic capacity, 37 percent less muscle mass and a lighter skeleton – all of which could adversely effect the number of G-forces she could withstand.
During basic training, most women cannot even perform the most basic tasks such as throwing a grenade or carrying a stretcher. The two-person stretcher carry, critical for the security of Navy ships, had to be increased to a four-person because only 12 percent of women could accomplish the task. Even worse, only 12 percent of females in the Army and 45 percent in the Marines could throw a grenade without killing themselves or their fellow soldiers.
Equal opportunity is vitally important in the armed forces and is largely decided by merit and not affirmative action or quotas. However, if equal opportunity conflicts with the needs of the military, the needs of our forces must come first. The military is not like any private sector company; if mistakes are made or if our troops cannot effectively fight, people will die and the society they defend may not survive. As one military sociologist wrote, “It will avail us little if the members of our defeated forces are all equal. History will treat is for what we were: a social curiosity that failed.”
Our livelihood depends on an effective military to defend our freedom and our lives. Continued social experimentation in the military, including integration of men and women during basic training and beyond, threatens the basic values that allow our soldiers, who place their lives in danger to defend ours, to be effective: good order, discipline and morale. Without these, any military, including our own, will certainly fail.
-The writer is a senior majoring in political science.