Stars and Stripes
The Marines are finally catching on to training women in the physically demanding tasks of combat. Numerous detractors have stated women are not physically equipped to handle such rigorous activity that requires strength and endurance. There are women who can meet the standards, but it requires training. Sometimes failure to meet these standards is not a female enlistee’s fault. It is erroneous policies. Women and men have to meet a body mass index requirement to make themselves eligible for service. The problem of using this as a measure of physical fitness is that it categorizes muscular people as obese depending on their height relative to weight. So a muscular woman would be disqualified, even though she would be strong enough for particular tasks based on body mass index. Using this ridiculous measure is driving away qualified women. Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said to the Senate Armed Services Committee “that female marines have been lifting weights to boost their strength.” He also revealed in the meeting that the added muscle mass these female marines acquired ” placed them out of the height and weight requirements.” General Neller should be commended for his assessment, because he realizes the problem. People are much larger in the US height and weight wise Robert Neller told the Senate Armed Services Committe. Neller asserted “that it is important that we not penalize fit marines.” It is clear this policy must be repealed if women are to be successful.
The body composition standards need to be updated. Men are allowed to weigh more according to the body composition regulation. A man who is 5 foot 8 must be 180 pounds and men at 6 feet tall can only be 202 pounds. Women are forced to weigh less. A woman of 5 foot 3 is expected to be is 141 pounds, while tall women could ( at 5 foot 8) should be at 164 pounds. Women can have a maximum of 26% body fat, while men must have 18%. These weight constraints are not a great measure of physical fitness. Women who have a significant muscle mass could be disqualified for going over the weight limit. This can be waivered by the commander, but it is no simple process. Fitness is important to a fighting force, but the Marines are not accurately assessing physical potential.
While measuring fat can give a rough estimate of possible physical potential, it does not precisely reveal strength, endurance, and speed. Weight can be misleading as well. Muscle does not weigh more than fat, but adding lean body mass can increase total body weight.Women are going to require more muscle to handle carrying large gear and their colleagues.That means chaining the body requirements so athletic women can serve and not be excluded because of extra muscle mass. Take for example Christy Resendes a bodybuilder for sixteen years, who would not be allowed to serve based on the body composition requirement. At 5’5 she is a 142 pounds in her competition weight and 170 pounds off season. Even at her lowest body fat level she would still be over the required weight limit. She would fall in the male rage of total weight. This means she could be qualified for physically demanding tasks.
The US military has been known to have strange standards such as these. There was at one time a height requirement that was set for US soldiers. Famed American writer William Faulkner avoided service in World War I due to his short stature. That was eventually discarded and this body weight composition and or weight limit may have to go too.
It is true that this policy was holding women back, but there other considerations. There are obviously physically powerful women, however on average men are stronger. Women who are serious and determined will advance. Men will probably continue to have a majority in front line infantry, Navy Seals, or other special operations units. The few women that enter these specialties will have to learn to cope in a predominantly male dominated atmosphere. Women who are of exceptional caliber have to demonstrate they are capable. Standards must not be lowered. That only fosters an environment of contention and suspicion. The average woman would struggle with the demands. Training can reverse this. There are limits on women’s physical fitness due to sexual dimorphism, but that naturally athletic woman would have no problem. Simply put, it will take women built like She-Hulk and the fighting skills of Wonder Woman to make this possible.
One should remember average does not mean all. Commandant Gen. Robert Neller even expressed women had raised their strength levels through weight lifting or Crossfit activities .
Women must focus their training on gain as much upper body strength as possible. Weight lifting can help build bone mass, which will prevent musculoskeletal injuries. Women are closer in strength to men in the lower body, so this area will not be a challenge to build up. This strength training regimen will take time and women will have to be twice as diligent. The Marines also need to change their perception of women. A common view among marines is that women are frail, helpless, and cowardly. Misogyny is ingrained in military culture, due to an emphasis on extreme machismo. These dated concepts of women must be eliminated if combat integration is to be effective. There are also some elements of biology that cannot be changed. Women have slower running speeds due to differences in the anaerobic capacity and the shape of the pelvis. Smaller hearts and lungs mean that the amount oxygen available for long term endurance is limited for women. There are times in a combat zone in which you will have to run. Slow runners could possibly be at risk of capture or liquidation. Women must increase their running speeds to the highest level they can achieve. Besides issues of physical fitness, there are other aspects that must be addressed. If it is a matter of full equality then women must be eligible for the draft and the selective service. If this as some claim is a “right to fight” then there should be no complaints from women. Equality does not mean special treatment. Detractors argue that there are few women who meet the fitness standards, that this would be a waste of time. This is not true, because after basic training many can apply to a military occupational specialty which they can best perform. If a woman can not meet the Marine fitness standards, there are other branches of the military which include the US Navy, US Air Force, or intelligence as an alternative. Women are also going to have to learn to change some of their perspectives.
The first is not rejecting muscular development. The fear of muscular strength or appearing as such only works against women going into combat positions. Women need to understand that a stronger body will not make them masculine. Women who enter combat must love physical activity and an active fitness lifestyle. Another attitude that needs to change is that men should do everything. Women expect men to do physically demanding tasks ( shoveling snow or moving boxes), but if it is part of the job description women should do the same. Male marines should not be expected to do the physical work that female marines do. Both should perform the same duties required of their military occupation.
Male marines should not baby or engage in chivalrous acts toward their female associates . Carrying heavy objects for your female co-workers would be seen as condescending. Women should not expect men to treat them like queens; they should be treated as equals . This means that the high rates of sexual harassment and sexual assault must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Too many women have experienced this in the military to be ignored. Men and women should never fraternize in their units. This only causes more complications and should be strictly prohibited. Sex crimes should result in a prison sentence and court martial. The men of the US military must realize women are not sex objects for their pleasure. When rape, discrimination, and the questions of physical fitness are addressed in a practical manner sex integration will be simple.
Dan Lamothe’s article mentions the Marine Corps study on women in combat. Details reveal issues that were not entirely known. The only information released was that sex integrated units were least effective in combat. The report said that women had difficulty shooting accurately and had trouble carrying large loads. There were test subjects of 300 men and 100 women. Physical fitness performance of the top women were not revealed. The only physical specifications of men and women was total body weight and height. Men weighed about 178 pounds with with 28% body fat and women were on average 142 pounds at 24% body fat. People who reject women’s participation in combat cite this study, but it has a flaw. Did it document women’s physical fitness levels prior to the course? Did these women have weight training or other exercise to prepare them for the demands? What was the experience level of the males that participated? These are important questions that do not have answers in the report. There is no proof that the makers of the experiment selected women who were not fit enough to succeed. However, the Marines’ continued resistance to women in combat jobs makes it seem suspicious. There were suggestions that all female units function separately to see if they perform better. It is inconclusive that this would have an effect on the experiment.
Women sustain more injuries than their male counterparts. The reason for this is due to the fact women have lower bone density and mass. That means women will have to condition their bodies to carry up to 100 pound loads. The top performing woman will not perform as high as the best male, but they can reach a level of fitness to meet the requirements of tank crew person, machine gunner, or reconnaissance person. A consistent regimen of exercise, high quality nutrition, and recovery days will allow women to make the most and maintain physical strength gains. Over training can be just as terrible as not training enough. Depending on the samples available this may not have given the most accurate depiction. If the women did not get proper instruction in strength building exercises their success would obviously be limited. The average woman would struggle, but the fit woman would not.
During initial assessments of women’s capabilities, the military discovered that 50% of women could not meet the three pull-ups requirement. If looking at this statistic observers would assume that women are not physiologically capable. This was only part of the story. Up until the change, women were only allowed to do the flexed arm hang. It was done based on the idea that pull-ups were far beyond the capacity of a woman’s upper body. Women can do pull-ups if shown the proper technique. The flexed arm hang is now being discarded in favor of pull-ups. This was a case that it was not biology influencing results, but environment. The military will have to invest in women recruits, just like the men.
Integration of women into combat occupations will take time. Considering the amount of backlash, women are doing better than expected. When women excel, they are condemned . Women who built strength fell out of the weight requirement, due to an increase in muscle mass. The only way for them to perform certain jobs is to have as much type II fast twitch muscle fibers to exert maximum body force. Men can commonly get away with having a higher body mass. It is expected of them to be bigger. Women are on the other hand a still subject to antiquated convictions about the female body. The concept of female physical inferiority although a myth, is still prevalent. There are women who have proven they can handle the rigors of combat. Even when this happens, there still are restrictions. Two women who were the first to finish Army Ranger Training, were not allowed to serve as army rangers. There are reasons why most Americans see their government and institutions as corrupt or incompetent. The military’s failure to realize this problem only adds to that frustration felt by the public. The only logical solution now is to hire professional personal trainers to raise the physical fitness levels of women. It is clear there is no turning back, seeing as in the future there may not be enough men to fill all combat positions.