During the marathon session to mark up sections of the annual National Defense Authorization Act for 2015, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) casually approved a problematic amendment to the massive bill that should have gotten closer scrutiny. Sponsored by California Democrat Loretta Sanchez, the amendment named "SIR" for "She is Ready," is no less bad because it could have been worse.
Sanchez' initial plan was to get into the bill language mandating that women who have gotten through infantry training as part of current research programs should be allowed to join the infantry, regardless of the physical, operational, and legal consequences for themselves and everyone else. Senior committee members correctly opposed that irresponsible idea, but they still agreed to other problematic elements of the Sanchez bill.
Presented with misleading assurances that the amendment would "help" women, the bill calls for a 20% increase in gender-based quotas at the military service academies, presumptively claims that Congress already has approved women in the infantry, questions the methodology of research efforts to determine what such a policy would mean, and calls for expensive female body armor that would put disproportionate weight on smaller-sized women.
The Sanchez amendment was brought up for a late-evening vote on May 14 as part of an "en bloc" package. Because HASC Chairman Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-WA) agreed to give red-carpet treatment to the multi-subject amendment, Republican committee members did not see the language until it was dropped on their desks just prior to the vote. 1
During the discussion there was deserved praise for the bravery of thousands of military women who put themselves at risk in recent wars. But respect for military women is not the issue. Rep. Sanchez confuses the experience of being "in harms' way" in warzones with the mission of direct ground combat units such as the infantry. These are the "tip of the spear" units that seek out and destroy the enemy with deliberate offensive action.
The missions of Army and Marine infantry, armor, artillery, and Special Operations Forces have not changed, and all of them require superior physical strength. Congresswoman Sanchez continues to push for women to be assigned to these units, even though more than thirty years of research and tests have not produced empirical evidence that women are interchangeable with men in the combat arms.
Rep. Sanchez seems to be listening only to female officers and civilian feminists who see combat eligibility as a career enhancement, while disregarding the views of the majority of enlisted women, who outnumber officers five to one. An official Army poll in 2013 found that 92.5% of 30,000 Army women wanted nothing to do with combat arms positions. 2 Unwilling women will have no choice, however, as Congresswoman Sanchez herself confirmed with a question she asked at a HASC Personnel Subcommittee meeting last June.
Ms. Sanchez asked Marine Lt. General Robert Milstead about women who aren't interested in "that combat thing." Could such assignments be a matter of "choice?" Gen. Milstead responded by noting that military assignments are not voluntary. "That's why we call them orders," he said.
Gender Diversity Metrics
Rep. Sanchez' "SIR" bill calls for a Comptroller General investigation of the Services' "Outreach and Recruitment Efforts gauged toward women representation in the officer corps." Budget cuts are shrinking the size of all branches of the armed forces, but the legislation would step up recruiting efforts to "increase military service academy accessions by women by an additional 20 percent."
There is no reason to apply this pressure, since the Department of Defense and even the liberal RAND corporation have confirmed several times that there has been no evidence of insufficient efforts to recruit, retain, or promote female officers. (See Q&A: Equal Opportunity for Military Women)
If passed, this language could be interpreted as a mandate to implement recommendations of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) in its 2011 report. Among other things, the MLDC calls for "gender diversity metrics" (another name for quotas), enforced by a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO). MLDC recommendations, if fully implemented, would make military promotions contingent on support for gender diversity metrics. 3
There is nothing wrong with special efforts to recruit women and attract them into the military service academies, but the additional 20% quota would be divisive and counterproductive. On April 22, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of Michigan voters to forbid, by law, gender-based quotas and reverse discrimination.
There is no need for Congress to force the military service academies to march in the opposite direction, mandating group rights, based on gender, which are out of step with the Supreme Court's ruling. Such a move would be contrary to the interests of women who wish to be evaluated on individual merit, not group rights.
The debate about women in direct ground combat often turns on flexible definitions and interpretations of gender-neutrality. The Sanchez bill calls for the Secretary of Defense to "validate" what are called "gender-neutral occupational standards, requiring performance outcome-based standards for the successful accomplishment of the necessary and required specific tasks associated with the qualifications and duties performed."
The concept sounds simple: one occupational standard for all, regardless of gender. According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), however, the phrase "gender-neutral standards," used in last year's defense bill and repeated again in the Sanchez legislation, "raises questions depending on how it is defined." 4
A June 2013 Marine report to the HASC stated that "gender-neutral standards" would be "performance-based" and "not specific to gender." Footnotes admitted, however, that certain Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and Combat Fitness Test (CFT) requirements and scores would be "gender-normed for score in order to account for physiological differences between the genders." 5
In a recent briefing for the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, Marine officials informed the DACOWITS that the Combat Fitness Test, performed annually, involves "Gender neutral events [with] gender and age-normed scoring." Differences in performance levels are displayed in a briefing table, showing how different scores for men and women are made to appear "equal" due to gender-norming to allow for physiological differences. 6
In general, gender-normed requirements and scores create an appearance of equality by recognizing "equal effort" rather than equal performance. These practices are acceptable for purposes of promoting wellness and fitness in basic and entry-level training. However, they are not acceptable in training for physically-demanding occupations and the combat arms. 7 Making women eligible for those positions makes gender-norming untenable.
Some Army units that used to be all male have gotten around the "gender-neutral" mandate by not asking women to do heavy lifting because men were not asked to perform qualifying tests either. Such tests have been unnecessary because most men are strong enough to do the job.
In other settings, tougher tasks are removed, making standards equal but lower than they were before. Extension of these policies to the combat arms would leave men less prepared for unchanged realities of direct ground combat, and subject women to resentments they don't deserve.
Questions About the Marines' Women in Combat Research
The Sanchez amendment presumes to state that the purpose of ongoing research studies is to "open infantry and other closed occupations." But Congress has not voted to authorize or require assignment of women into Marine and Army infantry. Nor has the Department of Defense provided to Congress the legally-required notice of policy changes that would make women eligible for the combat arms, which must be accompanied by an analysis of legal consequences with regard to Selective Service obligations. 8/
CMR would support a call for timely disclosure of specific metrics and data resulting from the Marines' Women in the Services Restriction Review (WISRR) research projects already done over the past two years. 9 Instead, the Sanchez bill asks for a review of "metrics" and methodology used in the Marines' research, conducted by the Secretary of the Navy and what the bill calls an "independent research entity."
In practice, this could be interpreted as an invitation for outside liberal groups to evaluate Marine research, creating pressure to ensure only one outcome − an end to women's exemptions from combat arms assignments. It could also be interpreted as pressure on Marine infantry training officials to adjust and "validate" standards until women can "succeed."
Instead of being intimidated by political implications and implied threats associated with political "war on women" mythology, Armed Services Committee members of both parties should approach these issues as matters of national defense, not "women's rights."
Actual research results should be made available immediately, and legislation is not required to accomplish full disclosure. (No individual names are needed or desired.) Independent experts should review the new information, and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees should hold extensive hearings to review the full range of complex issues and questions associated with incremental plans to order women into the combat arms. These should include human relationship issues and problems that the current research projects do not begin to address.
Female Personal Protection Gear
The Sanchez legislation directs the Secretary of Defense to "take immediate steps to ensure that properly designed and fitted combat equipment is available and distributed to female members of the Armed Forces." This type of gear for military women has been upgraded constantly, especially in the recent wars, but perfection is not a simple goal. More protection body armor means more heavy weight on the smaller female frame, creating un-equal physical stress and injuries while making it more difficult to perform in combat situations.
Prior to committee approval of this legislation there should have been a discussion of costs and offsets. In particular, which expenditures will have to be cut in order to accommodate costs of new equipment for female personnel only?
The House Armed Services Committee has not had hearings on women in combat since 1979, 35 years ago, the Senate not since 1991, 23 years ago. The next Congress likely will receive research data and reports from the services late in 2015 − only a few weeks before the January 2016 target date for gender integration in the combat arms.
By that time, intervention will be too late. Congressional oversight after decisions are made constitutes no oversight at all. The administration's lack of transparency and timely disclosure of research results since 2012 is reason enough for the Congress to put on the brakes. Instead of green-lighting measures like the Sanchez amendment, Congress should take appropriate action before the administration imposes harmful policies that will be difficult or impossible to reverse.
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1 Legislation included in such packages are agreed to by the Chairman and Ranking Member prior to a markup session in which scores of amendments to the draft defense bill (H.R. 4435) are proposed and debated, rejected, or approved individually.
2 Lolita Baldor, AP, Few Women Want Combat Jobs, Feb. 25, 2014.
3 From Representation to Inclusion, Diversity Leadership for the 21st-Century Military, Final Report, March 15, 2011, available at http://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=11390. Instead of being blind to racial and gender differences, the MLDC report recommends race and gender consciousness. It repeatedly pushes for "diversity metrics," which are supposed to enforce race- and gender-conscious "inclusion" that goes beyond EO, and "needs to become the norm." The MLDC also recommended elimination of women's exemptions from direct ground combat. (pp. xvii, xviii, and 18)
4 Congressional Research Service, (CRS) Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, May 9, 2013, p. 11. This CMR Policy Analysis explains why the wisdom of relying on "gender-neutral standards" should be reconsidered: Defense Department Deliberately Moving to Implement Policies Known to Harm Military Women. Feminist advocates always insist that they don't want standards lowered, but simultaneously call for "fair" standards that do just that.
5 USMC: June 2013 report to Congress (See footnotes #3 - #6, p. 2)
6 "Marine Corps Combat Fitness Test Brief to the DACOWITS," Col. Mayer, (TECOM, HQMC), pp. 3-4.
7 This reflects recommendations of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, on which CMR President Elaine Donnelly served.
8 The Department of Defense sent the last such notice to Congress on April 11, 2013. Absent such a notice, the HASC should not have approved an amendment to the NDAA that disregards the responsibility of Congress to make policy for the military. This is especially so since the Pentagon's administrative policies affecting women could be cited in litigation already filed to overturn the Supreme Court's 1981 Rostker v. Goldberg decision. That landmark ruling upheld women's exemption from Selective Service obligations because they are not eligible for direct ground combat.
9 These would include gender-integration tests at the Marines Infantry Officer Course (IOC), at Quantico, VA, the Infantry Training Battalion (ITB) program for enlisted personnel at Camp Geiger, NC, and the Ground Combat Element Experimental Task Force (GCEXTF) tests planned to begin in the fall of 2014.