Sonn: Where the action is

BY BARRETT SONN | JUNE 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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By 2016, the Pentagon wants to integrate women into frontline such combat roles as infantry, armor, and even Special Operations. Prior to this decision, women were not allowed to be in anything below brigade level (3,500 troops), precisely to keep them out of the frontlines. Testing has started, with the Pentagon developing sex-neutral tests that men and women must pass. The Army and the Marine Corps have also started doing their own experiments, with the Marines having five tests for 400 men and women this year, involving such things as lifting and scaling walls.

There have been some concerns, both in the military ranks and outside, of the potential consequences of integrating women into what are considered much more dangerous areas than what women have been involved in so far. Of course, that doesn’t mean women have been slacking off — in Afghanistan and Iraq, 292,000 women have served in war zones with 152 deaths and more than 950 wounded in action.

I see two main concerns here: the effectiveness of the military and the cultural changes the military will have to go through with the increased assimilation of women into its ranks. The effectiveness part doesn’t concern me very much. It’s not like there’s a draft. If a woman chooses to enter the military, she’s probably aware of what type of world she’s entering. The military doesn’t have to train a bunch of reluctant women who were forced to join. I can see how initially the training might be a problem, as sex-neutral tests are seen by some as lowering standards. As I said, however, the military should be able to take care of that pretty quickly.

I think the cultural aspect is going to be a huge deal, especially in the world of Special Operations. Privacy and health are two of the primary concerns (aside from the aforementioned training aspect), and it will be interesting to see how the military handles that. Also, and I’m not sure how many people think about this, but I think the bigger deal is how male personnel handle this more than the women. As I said, the women probably know what they’re getting into. What will be interesting is the reception they get.

The widespread problem of sexual assault in the military shouldn’t be ignored as women transition into combat roles traditionally held by men. That issue must be dealt with before the integration is complete in 2016.

What I’m not worried about, and what seems to be of much less concern, is how the women will perform in battle. I think it’s really great that the military isn’t necessarily focusing on that aspect. If anybody knows the capability of women in the armed forces, it would have to be the military itself. Not me and probably not you. As long as the training goes well, I see no reason women wouldn’t be able to do more than hold their own. This is a great step for women to get to do even more in the military and prove they belong right where the action is.

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