By Rev. James Hull
As the debate continues over whether women should serve in military combat units, perhaps it’s helpful to look at how attitudes toward women have evolved:
There was a time when society thought women shouldn’t vote; they shouldn’t work outside the home; they weren’t strong enough to play full court basketball; they didn’t have “it” to lead major corporations; little girls weren’t fast and strong enough to play Pee-Wee football; women aren’t tough enough to be boxers. Woman aren’t brutal enough to fight in MMA.
Society has been wrong on all counts.
And, I’m confident that history will prove those wrong who object to women serving in combat units. After all, they serve in combat already. They die in combat already. And given the proper training, lack of prejudice and equal opportunity to succeed, they will distinguish themselves as proud members of our nation’s best combat units, too.
Having spent nearly 10 years proudly serving in the U.S. Army, I can say first-hand that the Army specifically – and the U.S. military in general – is the most diverse – and diversity oriented – organization I’ve been part of.
In the military, the key to everything good, to promotions, choice assignments, training opportunities and even extra time off, is merit. If a service member can “hack it,” and hack it better than his or her peers, the reward is higher intelligence clearances, greater responsibility and more rank. Standards are high and they’re either met or they’re not, there’s no in between. Discrimination is dealt with swiftly, stereotyping is shunned. Race, regionalism and even sexual orientation take on much lower importance, subjugated to “mission accomplishment.”
Soldiers have to trust and depend on each other for their very lives and it doesn’t matter if a cohort is black or white, from Maine or Mississippi. And, even when I served from 1979 through 1988, it was of little consequence if a fellow male soldier was a bit effeminate or a female soldier was overly manly, as long as they did their jobs, didn’t crack under pressure and kept their private affairs private. Years after I left the Army, that attitude was eventually adopted into a policy called “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Eventually, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was replaced with “Don’t discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Period.” The military has come a long way in its furthering of diversity.
Despite the hue and cry about how disruptive gays serving openly in the military will be, I suspect that when most service members receive the ire of their fellow service members it will be because they can’t shoot straight or can’t hack a 10 mile forced march with a 60-pound ruck sack on their back. It won’t be because of whom they choose to love.
Merit, discipline, endurance and fitness for duty are the things which ensure the military’s mission accomplishment. The prejudices, negative stereotypes and phobias that plague our society at large have a way of being filtered out. The only thing the military cares about, especially in the areas of combat arms, tactical occupations and warfare, is service members staying alive and keeping others alive. On the battlefield, nothing else matters.
That’s why, I also strongly suspect, that when all is said and done, those same values of merit, discipline, endurance and fitness for duty will prevail when it comes to women serving in combat units.
In combat, prejudice of any kind against one’s comrades is a distraction that can get one killed. That’s just as true of gender prejudice as it is of prejudice based on race or sexual orientation .
Diversity doesn’t mean lowering standards. It means letting everybody in who meets the high standards.
If a woman wants to serve her country by fighting, shooting, marching, even dying, and meets the high standards of any infantry soldier or marine, she should have that equal opportunity to do so.
This is my message to all those women who want to integrate “Girl Power” into combat arms:
You go, girl.
Rev. James Hull is an award-wining journalist and a political consultant. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.