Lisa Jaster is a major in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Last week, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter directed that all jobs in the U.S. military be opened to women. The announcement provoked strong reactions, but all sides concurred that we cannot let our standards fall or force quotas on our combat units. As an Army officer, a combat veteran and one of the first three women to graduate from U.S. Army Ranger School, I strongly agree.
The critics worry about strength and stamina, often comparing infantry units to professional sports teams. But just as a successful football team needs a smart quarterback, fast receivers, strong linemen and talented special teams, our war fighters must dominate all aspects of the battle space. At Ranger School, individuals are referred to as either Strong Rangers or Smart Rangers. Some exceptional soldiers are both, but most fit predominantly into one category or the other. I wasn’t the strongest Ranger, but I spent almost every morning in the center of the patrol base helping plan the day’s mission. Did my intellect make me an asset to the team? I know a few guys who would say it did. As with every team, some members need to be smarter while others need to be stronger. But no one can be a physical liability.
I keep hearing that the change means politicians will force military training schools to graduate women. Some think that if allowances are not made, no women will successfully graduate from some schools or be able to join certain units. But that’s okay — no one wants those allowances. Secretary Carter said there would be no quotas, and there shouldn’t be. Elite training courses such as Basic Underwater Demolition ensure that only individuals with extremely high levels of mental and physical prowess can serve in these niche capacities. That should not change.
Just as the military gets tested on tactical tasks, everyone in the ranks should get tested on job-specific physical requirements. For example, if you want to be in an armor or field artillery unit, you must prove that you are capable of lifting and moving the heaviest round in the arsenal. Consideration should be given to the addition of job-specific physical testing, which could solve a problem in many of our combat units and may quell concerns around the integration of women.
Many comments I have seen about this topic allude to “female issues.” Look, women have been running around the woods for hundreds of years without anyone having to tell them how to deal with bodily functions. Trust me, we got this.
Countless people also question how units will maintain the mystical alchemy of the bro-bond once women join the ranks, but unit cohesion doesn’t develop because men act like teenagers in a locker room. Overcoming adversity builds that bond. Ask a cop after a shootout or a firefighter who ran into a burning building. The man or woman to his left or right becomes his “brother” regardless of gender, religion or politics.
None of these arguments is new. And all of them ignore the fundamental fact that brute strength is not the only, or even the most important, factor in a successful combat mission. Courage, ingenuity, strategic thinking, levelheadedness, marksmanship and an ability to read people all factor into whether a unit succeeds or a mission goes south. Yes, we will maintain physical standards, and some women will fail, but the ones who succeed will bring new strengths as well, making their units stronger and more agile.
Finally, a word to those women interested in joining combat arms: Carry your load. Meet or exceed the same standard as a man your size, and be prepared for the possibility of failure. Above all, strive to be an asset to our forces daily. Understand that your behavior will affect generations to come. Women don’t have to prove we are worthy of this opportunity, but we have to make sure that we don’t prove the naysayers right.