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Two Cheers for Lifting the Ban on Women in Combat

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and men are entitled to the same rights, period. Discriminating
against an individual solely based on his or her sex is wrong and
if you do that you are not my friend. So my initial reaction
yesterday to reports that the Pentagon was lifting restrictions on
women in combat was: It’s about time. I was confident that I could
find data that would show that women and men would perform equally
well in combat, so I went looking for it. To my surprise, I could
uncover very little data comparing the physical capacities of
female and male recruits.

The most comprehensive analysis of the issue that I could find
is a 2011 paper by social scientist William Gregor in the School of
Advanced Military Studies at the US Army Command and General Staff
College located at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Gregor’s study,
Can’t Anything Be Done? Measuring Physical Readiness of Women for
Military Occupations
,” [PDF] looks at what data is available
and finds significant differences in ability of female and male
recruits to meet the military’s physical performance standards.

Take, for example, Gregor’s analysis of how well ROTC cadets
have done on the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) that looks at
about 75,000 recruits who were commissioned by the U.S. Army
through ROTC between 1992 and 2009. The performance of all cadets
is evaluated based on how fast they can run two miles and how many
push ups they can do. Gregor shows …

.. the distribution of cadet scores on the 2-Mile Run in 2000,
the Push-Up, and the distribution of cadets by weight. The
difference in performance is clear. Only 2.9 per cent of the women,
23, were able to attain the male mean score. The strength
comparison is somewhat worse, 1.5 per cent of the women achieved
the male mean. Given the difference in stature between the cadet
men and women, the difference in absolute strength is very large.
[The relevant charts are on pages 20 and 21 of the study.]

Gregor then looks at a comparison of the aerobic capacity of the
ROTC cadets and reports…

…the aerobic capacity achieved by women regardless of their
body composition is less than the capacity of men. …there are a
few, exceptional women who best the bottom 16% of men, but these
rare women are four standard deviations above the female mean,
fewer than 1 in a 1000. In this exceptionally fit ROTC Cadet
population, considering 74,838 records, not one women achieved the
male mean.

According to NPR, qualifying for combat positions will be based
on gender-neutral criteria:

Will the standards be different for men and women?

At a briefing Thursday morning, Pentagon officials repeatedly
stressed that there will be “gender-neutral standards” for combat
positions. This could make it difficult for women to qualify in
roles that specifically require upper-body strength.

For example, to work in a tank, women will have to demonstrate
the ability to repeatedly load 55-pound tank shells, just as men
are required to do.

Infantry troops routinely carry backpacks with 60 or 70 pounds
of gear, or even more. The most common injury in Afghanistan is
caused by roadside bombs. This raises the question of whether a
female combat soldier would be able to carry a 200-pound male
colleague who has been wounded.

NPR Pentagon correspondent
Tom Bowman recently reported
on the first two women allowed
into the Marines’ grueling 12-week Infantry Officer Course in
Quantico, Va. Both women were in outstanding physical condition,
yet both dropped out early in the training.

If both male and female soldiers are expected to meet the same
criteria, then this change will be good for our military. In any
case, it’s high time that the Pentagon become more transparent with
its training data.


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