Women will strengthen US combat units

By Nicholas Milstrey
On September 29, 2011

Australia began a five-year process of opening the ranks of all its combat units to women Tuesday, according to the Associated Press, a reform that the U.S. has considered before, but has not yet decided on.

Our ranks should be filled with the best soldiers, not just the best male soldiers. Our armed forces were founded upon merit, not bias.

Stars and Stripes reported in January that the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC), which was established in 2009 by Congress to investigate diversity issues, would experiment with integrating women into other units.

According to Stars and Stripes, the draft report of the MLDC states, "to date, there has been little evidence that the integration of women into previously closed units or occupations has had a negative impact on important mission-related performance factors, like unit cohesion."

Women already serve "attached" to combat units, but are not "assigned" to combat units. The distinction is minimal in reality, but significant for advancement. According to Army.mil, the exclusion of women from combat units has existed since 1994. Army.mil interviewed the chair of the MLDC, Retired Air Force Gen. Lester L. Lyles, who said, "(Women) are not getting the credit for being in combat arms, (and) that's important for their consideration for the most senior flag ranks - three stars and four stars, primarily."

There are critics of female integration as well. Gunnery Sgt. Phillip Hickey of Camp Lejeune, N.C., told the Marine Corps Times that: "Unit cohesion would, in the long run, cease to exist. The young, hard-charging male would try to win her favor, and the young males would fight over her. It may look good on paper, but when it comes to real people, that's a different story."

Sexual tension can damage unit morale. A soldier distracted by the opposite sex will not be performing his or her best, which can be critical in a combat situation. Sex between soldiers in the same units is against the rules, but still happens. Lt. Col. Dan Yaroslaski told the Times, "Professionalism can move beyond that."

More than 100 women have died for our country in Iraq since 2003, according to the Times. They already are on the front lines, despite red tape and should be better recognized for their service.

The U.S. should do the same and move forward with integration. According to CNN, Canada, Germany, South Korea, France, Spain, New Zealand, Denmark and Israel all formally allow women to serve in combat roles.

These countries have the right idea in pushing for equality of opportunity and merit-based advancement of soldiers. Implementing these reforms will allow our best to rise to the top of our armed forces, regardless of gender, and better ensure America's security.

Niko Milstrey is a graduate student majoring in economics.

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