When the ban on women in combat was lifted, many were asking if this was to include elite special forces. Eventually, the ban was lifted on the Navy SEALs. This fighting force of the United States military is known for its tough demeanor and aggressiveness. The training is considered extremely difficult both physically and mentally. When it comes to women in physically demanding occupations, there are physiological and biological considerations. The standards cannot be lowered, for this would cause reduced combat effectiveness.Navy SEALS must be proficient in scuba diving, parachuting, close quarters combat, and demolition. The question remains does a woman have the strength and endurance to meet the physical demands of the Navy SEALs?To answer this question one must look at the problem from the context of the standards and peak physical fitness. That approach will reveal if this can be possible.
Before examining the physical demands, one should understand exactly what the Navy SEALS are. The US Navy Sea Land and Air teams are a special operations force created in 1962. The special operations force was created under the John F. Kennedy administration. Its intent was to combat guerrilla warfare being used in Vietnam. Although US troops were not there yet, there were military advisers in South Vietnam. The Navy SEALS saw combat in 1966 in Vietnam mostly focusing on riverine operations. The Navy SEALS were then attached to other American special forces under US Special Operations Command in 1987. The changing nature of warfare has made Navy SEAL roles indistinguishable from other special forces. The ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have contributed to this shift. The land and air element was more prevalent in these conflicts, rather than water based operations. There were also cases in which the conventional US army was called in to support the Navy SEALS during the 2003 Iraq invasion. The tasks assigned to Navy SEALS involve finding downed pilots, reconnaissance, sabotage, hostage extraction, counter-terrorism operations and counter-drug operations. The Navy SEALS have more rigorous responsibilities compared to other branches.
The Navy SEALs physical fitness test contains certain measures that a candidate must meet to get selected for combat. There are minimum standards, but it is recommended an applicant strive for the highest scores. This involves a 500 yard swim, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and a 1.5 mile run. All recruits go through basic training and from there select a military occupational specialty (MOS).
These are examples of the physical screening tests. The target should to get the highest scores to increase the likelihood of successful completion. Competitive scores give an applicant a better chance also of being noticed for career advancement. There is also an EOD physical and a fleet diver physical. Some of the exercises are timed. Sit-ups must be done in two minutes ( with two minute rests in between) in the EOD physical. Looking at these standards, there may be some areas women would have challenges with. If there is a woman applicant who wants to join there are considerations that must be taken into account. Women should seek to go above the minimum standards.
There are anatomical differences that could make this more difficult for women. The difference in muscular strength and specifically for the upper body could pose problems. Women have less upper body strength compared to there male counterparts. The difference in strength is in part due to men’s higher testosterone levels allowing for more pronounced mass in the arms and chest. Estimates show that women have 50% less upper body strength in total. It should be noted that with training women still can gain strength. There is also a genetic factor with some women having a mesomorphic body type, which can be an advantage. However, if a woman and a man are given the same training regimen it is likely the man will be stronger. Women still experience muscular hypertrophy, but not to the same extent as a man. Muscle is not the only contributor to physical strength, it is the skeleton and tendons. Women have lower bone density. Their shoulders are more narrow which means a smaller area to house muscle mass on the upper body. This means even upper body development is hard for female athletes.
The cells of men and women’s muscles do not differ. There is a difference in the amount of type II fast twitch muscle fibers. These are essential for explosive physical force and recruitment. Men have more of these muscle fibers, while women contain more of the endurance based type I muscle fibers.The approach here should be to know the standards before hand and have a high physical fitness level before entry. The only way for women to be successful is to do weight training. This can build bone and muscular strength. Gains however depend on several factors. These factors include age, sex, diet, body type, and fitness program utilized. Women can through weight training can gain at least 40% muscular strength according to the American Council on Exercise. If women have lower upper body strength, they should focus on exercises that increase the muscles of that area. Bicep curls, dumbbell kickbacks,and overhead triceps extensions are effective at increasing upper body strength. There can be an alternation between weights and machines, because it has not been fully determined which is the most effective. Deltoid strength is critical to shoulder enforcement. Peck deck machines and help with targeting the muscles of the chest.
The skeleton strength is also essential. Lower bone mass means women would be more susceptible to muscolskeletal injuries. This has been the case with women in other branches in the military. Injury rates are higher for women compared to men. Soldiers of all sexes are suffering higher injury rates due to heavier armor. Stress fractures can happen while marching under load.Not only does overloaded armor cause health problems, but it decreases mobility. Lower bone mass in women explains why they are more vulnerable to diseases such as osteoporosis. Bone mass can be built and strengthened through weight training. The difference in the male and female skeleton also effects other areas of physical fitness. The shape of the pelvis and angle of the legs mean women’s running speed will be effected. This also makes the possibility of anterior cruciate ligament tears higher. ACL tears are prevalent in high performing female athletes. Training safely and understanding the musculoskeletal differences can prevent such injuries.
Women’s skeletons have an increased Q angle along with greater spinal curvature. The frontal and temporal bones are smaller in size. Women also have shorter long bones which include the arms and legs as well as the clavicle. The strength factor includes the skeleton, muscular system,tendons, and ligaments. While it is clear that the physical fitness level of these organ systems can be increased, strengthening tendons could be more difficult.
Men and women may differ in response to loading on tendons. Women can sustain higher connective tissue injuries. This could have roots in estradiol, which does hinder collagen formation. Oestrogen receptor activity is regulated by estradiol. Exercise for a period time should induced tendons to strengthen. Women when they exercise may not see increased hypertrophy in terms of tendon growth. Connective tissue formation could be lower in women on average. Oestrogen could be an inhibitor to collagen synthesis in tendons during exercise. This would mean that total mechanical strength would be lower. This could mean that tendon strength is also related to hormones. Knowing this sex specific difference a solution can be formulated.
There are still exercises that are effective and if done correctly can strengthen tendons. Exercise must be done to increase circulation of blood. This also requires some stretching for the health of the tendon. Aerobic exercise should also be incorporated to allow for more circulation of blood. The tendons are not as vascular as the muscles, which can lead to injury during intense exercise regimens. Working all muscle groups ensures tendons will be safe. A small warm-up before stretching will help the muscles and tendons. This also contributes to flexibility . Ten minutes of running in place or using a treadmill will help with preparing for stretching. After work out regimens, there should be time for recovery. Tendons can still grow in women if they follow a consistent regimen.
Aerobic capacity also should be taken into consideration. Women have smaller hearts and lungs compared to their male counterparts. This means their total running speed would be slower. Besides that physiological consideration, there is an anatomical one. The pelvis is much wider, which reduces speed. This essential if one needs to be in a certain area at a particular time. There could arise a situation that battlefield victory is not in reach and retreat is the only option. When considering hemoglobin concentration, it is critical the transport of oxygen to tissues. Hemoglobin is a protein that resides in red blood cells responsible for getting oxygen to the lungs, then the muscles. Women have 10% lower hemoglobin levels This results in about 10% less lower oxygen transport. The heart’s size also plays a role in cardiovascular fitness. The ratio of heart volume to body mass ratio in women is 15 % lower. This means maximum cardiac out put and maximal stroke volume are lower in comparison to men. The maximal stroke volume describes the largest volume of blood pumped per beat, while cardiac output reveals the total amount of blood pumped from the heart per minute.
That means a woman who is a Navy SEAL would have to push beyond their regular physical capacity. The aerobic fitness element may be the more challenging than building muscular strength. Women can experience muscular hypertrophy, but cardiovascular fitness training with not later the size of the heart or hemoglobin levels of women. This means women would have to do overload to the cardiovascular system to see results improve. Jogging, swimming, and cycling are activities that can be done in relation to circuit training.
Considering this group of elite soldiers involves the Navy, swimming abilities should be examined. It is obvious that women have the ability to swim. Women do seem to perform well in open water swimming. Marathon swims show that women are capable of skilled performance. However, men still are faster in terms of times. Yet, if you look at the women’s records they could easily meet the demands of the swimming standards of the Navy SEALs. Women could have an advantage in distance swimming due to higher fat levels. This may enhance buoyancy and drag in the water. Fat could also insulate a woman’s body better during ultra-long distance swims. Women during swims may be more efficient at the crawl stroke. Their pull was deeper an narrower in comparison with their male counterparts. Arm power was beneficial to males, but longer arm length was not as helpful.
Women have shown they can be capable swimmers. Alison Streeter had swam the English Channel 43 times in 2005. Clearly, being female does not limit physical capability. The challenge is it will be harder to reach a higher peak physical fitness level, given certain differences in physiology. There are women swimmers who would be over qualified for certain naval positions.
These pieces of data only demonstrate averages. Individuals can vary in terms of physical fitness level across the spectrum. Taking into account muscular strength, aerobic capacity, and swimming ability are essential in relation to standards. The criteria should not be lowered. There are women who can meet the physical demands. Lower standards means the quality of the fighting force would be reduced. This would create hostility towards women thinking that the job was just given to them. The women who do make it through will still face physically demanding challenges.
When a person is in a physically demanding position, overtime there will be physical strain. This comes in the the form of repetitive motion injuries and stress fractures. One argument of keeping women out of combat has been the potential medical costs. Men have injuries being combat soldiers and the effects on women could be higher in special operations. Muscle and bone mass can protect from such problems. This means women who are built are going to have an easier time handling physical demands. The question emerges is what is the attrition rate for a female combat soldier? The attrition rate describes a point in which a soldier can no longer endure the physically demanding tasks. There has not been a specific study in regards to women so the answer is unknown. Although people make conclusions without data as support.
Jessie Jane Duff made a conclusion on CNN in 2015. She appeared on Brooke Baldwin’s program discussing the decision to lift the ban on women being Navy SEALs. Duff is a retired Marine gunnery sergeant and senior fellow for the London Center of Policy Research. While she does state facts about physiological differences, its clear what her position is. She uses the fact that not a single woman has passed the infantry officer course and asks a somewhat rhetorical question of “are we setting them up for failure?” Just because a woman has not passed the infantry officer course yet, does not mean it will not happen in the future. If the standards are lucid and women know how to train their bodies for it, this should not be an issue. Baldwin’s rebuttal is that not all women are the same. Some will just be naturally stronger than others. Watching the news segment longer one can see that it may not be women’s fault. US soldiers are being overloaded with gear so much that it is causing an increase in musculoskeletal injuries. This does not only harm health, but reduces mobility on the battlefield. So far, there has been improvements to women’s armor and the process is still on going. Her closing statement was “it is not about equality its about biology.” Women have been thrown into combat seeing as there is no longer frontlines in the wars America currently fights.
Women of a high physical fitness level would have slower attrition rates. Women less prepared for physical demands would have more health issues.
The Army Ranger school cadets demonstrated there do exist women who can meet certain standards. The unusual aspect of this news segment was that Duff only sighted cases in the marines and regular army. These branches are not the same as the Navy SEALs. The problem is these are based off of averages. The point is not to get average candidates, but women who are qualified for these positions. This means women who can get competitive scores on the physical fitness examination. The fact of the matter banning women from combat jobs has limited justification if there are women who meet such standards. Jessie Duff makes it seem as if every man is qualified for combat positions. What sense would it make to ban a qualified woman in favor of a less qualified man? The only logical reason is sex discrimination and dated attitudes in regards to gender. The right-wing has a poor record on women’s rights and is known to divide the population against one another on the basis of class and race to win elections. Women in combat will soon become a long standing wedge issue like abortion, gun control, and the tax code. Intense opposition mobilizes the Republican base, even though the party tries to present itself as pro-military. Not afraid of being hypocritical, it shows such low character directing hatred at women who volunteer to do such work. If integration is to work women will have to have a sizable fitness level before entry.
This should be done even before basic training to prevent possible injuries. One should be mindful that men who attempt Navy SEALs training have a high drop out rate. There is talk of “hells week” in which the training becomes the most intense. This is vary dangerous at times if training is not done properly. James Derreck Lovelace died during training and this has been now ruled a homicide reported by CNN. There is not only physical stress; there is also mental strain as well. There is little emphasis on mental health in the military. This must be made a priority with suicide rates and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder increasing. This is why the Department of Veterans Affairs has to be reformed to fix long doctor wait times and a general decline in healthcare for US soldiers. Attrition rates can be reduced by more ergonomic armor, mental health services, and keeping a high physical fitness level.
The Navy SEALs are an elite fighting force. Many men have tried and the drop out rate is high. Women have the opportunity to become Navy SEALs, but none have attempted the program thus so far. There are women who can meet these demands. The numbers would be small. An Olympic woman athlete is not the average woman. They would seem to have a better chance of passing the physical fitness requirements. This means women would still be a minority in special operations units. A female trainee would have to face unpleasant realities of media publicity, hostility from her male peers, and expectations of failure. There seems to be more negativity generating in the US military against women as new positions open to them. The first harbingers will certainly face challenging obstacles both in environment and instruction. Women becoming Navy SEALs seems to be more difficult. It will take longer for women to have a presence in the Navy SEALs. This does not seem like an impossibility that a woman can successful join one day. Currently it seems women are gaining more access to combat jobs in the army, air force, and general navy. The reality is women are now part of combat and it is time to efficiently integrate them into combat occupations. For the women who successfully become Navy SEALs, they are an elite and capable group of soldiers.
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