Friday, February 15, 2013

One standard should apply for all in combat roles

Veteran advocates for gender equality as women enter front line positions 

by Brian Bruns, Columnist
      Hundreds of thousands of front line combat positions will soon be open to women. U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced this new plan for the military in late January. Positions such as combat infantry, Army Ranger and Navy SEAL will be available.

    Supporters say women have been serving in front-line combat already and that it’s another step toward gender equality.

    Critics argue that it would reduce the effectiveness of the military. Some cite an Israeli military report that said wounded women caused their male counterparts to lose focus during battle.

    Some people say women simply aren’t strong enough to do those jobs.

    The issues surrounding this debate are numerous, but the real question isn’t whether or not women can do the job. There are certainly many women up to the task.

    The question is how will their ability to perform be tested? There could be two different standards for men and women, or standardized tasks for both sexes.

   However, if the military uses separate gender standards in these critical combat roles this policy change will fail.

    Allowing any person, regardless of gender, to serve in a job they are not qualified for will decrease the overall readiness of the military.

    I served in a forward combat support unit in Mosul, Iraq with the U.S. Army. I understand how an elusive enemy can muddle where the front lines of combat end and begin.

    We were all subject to the mortar fire. Women were assigned the same convoy and guard duties as the men.

    Men and women alike bled and died from a suicide bomber’s blast in a crowded cafeteria.

    I trusted every woman I served with as an effective and capable member of my unit.

    But my unit was not tasked with finding and killing an armed enemy. My unit was not assigned to clean up improvised explosive devices or perform street patrols on foot.  

    While it is true that all American service-members face the possibility of death whether in combat or in training, it is not true that the front lines are everywhere.

    A little danger is always part of the job. But these combat jobs are different.

    Kicking in doors, zip-tying suspects, toting artillery shells and engaging in close quarters combat with the enemy are all part of a day’s work.

    That work requires you to trust that the person next to you is capable of doing the job.

    It is unclear how the military will assess female candidates. Each branch of the military has until 2016 to decide how to implement the changes.

    An unnamed official was quoted saying they are simply looking for the best candidates.

    Perhaps the military should consider how firefighters assess their candidates.   

    Firefighters in the United States use the Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) to identify qualified candidates regardless of gender. It includes a timed set of standardized tasks.

    Having long been in favor of equalizing the right to die for your country, I would rather see a standard set of tasks for both men and women.

    Of course there will be women as well as men who can’t pass the tests, but those who do will trust that everyone serving with them was held to the exact same standard.

    I know the military will get this right. They don’t really have a choice. It’s also their job to field the most combat ready force as possible.

    Every branch of service would be best served by having each person doing the job they are the best at.

    To do otherwise would only weaken the force at a time when we need our military to be stronger and more flexible than ever.

    Brian Bruns is a father, a husband and a U.S. Army veteran. Sarcasm, wit and a good cup of coffee are all keys to his success. He can usually be spotted Thursday night working for Mast TV’s News @Nine or Friday nights hosting Lutes, Listen Up! on LASR.