Military's move toward women in combat signals a major paradigm shift
By Shawn Snow
CAMP DELARAM, AFGHANISTAN - NOVEMBER 10: (SPAIN OUT, FRANCE OUT, AFP OUT) Sargent Crystal Groves US Marine with the FET (Female Engagement Team) 1st Battalion 8th Marines, Regimental Combat team II stands in formation during a ceremony for the 235th birthday of the Marines on November 10, 2010 at Camp Delaram in Helmand province, Afghanistan. There are 48 women presently working along the volatile front lines of the war in Afghanistan deployed as the second Female Engagement team participating in a more active role, gaining access where men can't. The women, many who volunteer for the 6.5 month deployment take a 10 week course at Camp Pendleton in California where they are trained for any possible situation, including learning Afghan customs and basic Pashtun language. (Photo by Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)
Editor's note: The following is an opinion piece. The writer is not employed by Military Times and the views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of Military Times or its editorial staff.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus' Jan. 1 memo to Gen. Robert Neller demanding that the Marine Corps maketurn its basic training and organizational titlesstructure gender neutral received mixed reactions. Ray Mabus ordered the Marine Corps to submit by Jan. 15 a detailed plan by Jan. 15, on creating a co-ed boot camp, a first for the Marine Corps in its 240 year history, which is to be implemented by April of this year.
Mabus later backed off the demand for completely co-ed Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., a veteran Marine officer, stated "Mabus' social meddling puts every Marine in harm's way at greater risk," in an interview with Politico. General John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, underscoredsimilar sentiments at the Pentagon on January 8, when he commented that the military will eventually feel pressure to lower standards to incorporate females into combat occupational specialties.
Over the past several months, the last vestiges The last several months the armed services have witnessed the last vestiges of an all-male domination of ground combat-related jobs in the military have withered awayerode away, with Secretary of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter's order that ordering all ground-combat -related combat related jobs, including Sspecial-operations billets, be opened to women, has provoked strong reactions on both sides of the debate.Special Operations billets.
The reactions to these changes have been mixed, with many service members fearing standards will be watered down to accommodate women, while others and those cheereding when the first two women completed to successfully graduate from the Army's grueling Ranger School. The Marine Corps even pushed a study claiming that all-male teams outperformed mixed-gender units of men and women performed less satisfactorily than all-male teams units in combat functions, though some have claimed this study to be flawed.
What has largely been absent from this debate, though, are the reasons behind for the Pentagon’s push to create a gender-neutral military and incorporate women into combat roles, and incorporation of women into combat roles. At face value, gender equality in the military it certainly appeals to the president’s liberal base, pushing for gender equality in the military. However, there is a more important point being glossed over: and that is the U.S. and the world at large are entering a paradigm shift in the way wars are and will be fought in the future.
Paradigm shifts in military operations have occurred numerous times throughout history, forcing commanders to change and adapt military organizational structures and tactics to accommodate the shift.
During the first 1st Gulf War, precision-guided munitions and laser systems that decimated Iraqi forces with low coalition casualties resulted in doctrinal shifts in defense operations and planning. The use tilization of advanced sensor technology, information warfare and increased reliance on air power shifted the military’s previous reliance on armor and mechanized operations.
Other paradigm shifts have included the introduction of the mini ball and faster loading rifles that produced more accurate firepower during the Civil War. That allowed troops to fire at further distance and at higher rates, changing the tactic of standing battle formations, and resulting in high battlefield casualties. World War I saw witnessed a plethora of defensive technologies that included the use of barbed wire and machine guns, diminishing the impact of offensive capabilities. The failure to adapt to those rapid changes resulted in millions of deaths as the offensive was still highly favored.
Now a new paradigm shift is on the horizon. It which includes new battle spaces like the exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum, cyber warfare and virtual battlefields, drone technology and the push for automated weapon systems.
As computing power increases and technology becomes cheaper, this shift is not only being achieved in the U.S. but also around the world — to include including and with some of our adversaries. Russia has embarked on an overhaul of its armed forces and has fielded impressive signals intelligence capabilities on the battlefield, exploiting the electromagnetic spectrum to inflict casualties on its enemies and to spread propaganda. Russia has been fielding these its new capabilities in proxy battlefields in places like around the globe to include Syria and Ukraine.
China has also announced an overhaul of its armed forces, calling for a reduction in the size of its army. That e reduction in size should not imply that China's military is weak or facing be misconstrued with budgetary issues. Instead, it's ut rather that China has decided to trade in the Honda for a Lexus, pushing for a smaller more technologically adept military.
U.S. Marines assigned to the female engagement team (FET) of I Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) conduct a patrol alongside a poppy field on April 5, 2010, while visiting Afghan settlements in Boldak, Afghanistan.
Photo Credit: Cpl. Lindsay L. Sayres/Marine Corps
The U.S. is faced with a new reality as that it is slowly loseslosing its powerful edge in the realm of military technology as other nations are beginning to catch up. To continue competing to compete on the global stage with these rapidly changing developments, the U.S. needs to be able to recruit from the brightest and smartest of its people.
Last year, a Pentagon study highlighted that roughly two-thirds of Americans would not qualify to enlist in the armed services as a result of health problems, obesity and the failure to complete a high school education. That With an ever-dwindling recruiting pool coupled with the need to attract the brightest of Americans to compete combat in these new battle spaces means the recruiting pool must be expanded. a gender-neutral military opens up the recruiting pool. On top of that, the armed services face have been faced with stressed retention and recruitment challenges rates stemming from the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and competition with a rebounding economy that attracts veterans into the civilian job market place. A gender-neutral military opens up the recruiting pool.
As technology dominates the battlefield, it is becoming ever more important that combat forces on the front lines be are equipped with capabilities to exploit the electromagnetic spectrum and cyber warfare. No longer are these fields only relevant to analysts in an office at Fort Meade, Maryland, or Fort Gordon, Georgia. Cyber warriors and SIGINT operators are needed in the field to conduct collection and targeting operations, and run fielding man pack-ableequipment to hat allows the operator to exploit, jam and attack enemy communications systems or weapons systems.
The military will need America's best and brightest to compete in these new battle spaces. That should include incorporating these individuals within special operations teams to conduct active targeting and force protection. the ability to locate and destroy active enemy command and control nodes.
We are living in a rapidly changing world, with new weapon systems being procured at lightning speeds. It is a national security priority that our military adapt to reflect these changes, even if that means the integration of women into combat roles or gender-neutral basic training.
At the end of the day, individual leaders in the Marine Corps are what make the recruit depots Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and San Diego the hellscape they are. Come black Friday, the Marine Corps traditions will continue, and Marines will be made. San Diego’s hills aren’t getting any smaller, packs aren’t getting lighter, and Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, is still a terrible muggy swamp.
Shawn Snow is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and graduate of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, specializing in Central and Southwest Asia. He served 10 years as a signals intelligence analyst and completed multiple tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan. His work has been published in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The Diplomat and Small Wars Journal.
About Shawn Snow
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.