Veterans are pushing back against a Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which a woman with no military experience argued that women do not belong in combat units.
Heather Mac Donald, of the conservative Manhattan Institute think tank, wrote that putting male and female service members together for long periods of time, "Guarantees sexual liaisons, rivalries and breakups, all of which undermine the bonding essential to a unified fighting force."
She cites an unnamed Marine commander, who said that during his unit's Afghanistan deployment, things went downhill when a female team assigned with interacting with local women arrived at their forward operating base.
"Until that point, rigorous discipline had been the norm," Mac Donald wrote in her Jan. 13 piece. "But when four women – three service members and a translator – arrived, the post's atmosphere changed overnight from a 'stern, businesslike place to that of an eighth-grade dance.' The officer walked into a common room one day to find the women clustered in the center. They were surrounded by eager male Marines, one of whom was doing a handstand."
Yes, you read correctly that women should be excluded from the infantry because male Marines may do handstands around them.
Mac Donald singled out the Marine Corps in her piece, noting that when Corps a conducted its gender-integration study in 2015, mixed-gender teams did not perform well as all male ones. She also argues the Corps lowered the physical standards for Infantry Officer Course by making the combat endurance test an unscored event so that women could pass it.
Veterans immediately took to social media to skewer MacDonald's reasoning, including C.J. Chivers of The New York Times, who tweeted that is ludicrous to claim that only women could cause Marines' steel-hard discipline to melt down.
"Anyone involved in that piece would do well to spend a few minutes browsing the videos on @TerminalLance's twitter, fb [Facebook] and ig [Instagram] pages and then, retract," tweeted Chivers, who served as an infantry Marine in the Gulf War.
Medal of Honor recipient former Marine Sgt. Dakota Meyer said he believes that female Marines should be allowed to serve in infantry units as long as they meet the same physically demanding standards as men. Meyer stressed that the both men and women must be physically and mentally prepared for the stress and physical exertion that combat involves.
"I don't see anything against providing women the opportunity to be able to serve in combat," Meyer told Task & Purpose. "Women are already serving in combat."
Meyer said people constantly tell him they disagree with him about women serving in the infantry, but he thinks they have a more traditional view of war.
"I've stood in combat next to men who had no right being there and had no business being there, and I've stood next to women in combat who were fighting just as hard as any other man out there," Meyer said. "As long as the standard is met, I don't see that there's any argument against women serving in combat."
Female Marines have completed some of the Corps' most grueling training — including the Winter Mountain Leaders Course — showing that women will succeed when given the opportunity to do so, said former Marine Sgt. Erin Kirk-Cuomo, co-founder of "Not In My Marine Corps."
"Ms. MacDonald's stance on women in combat units is, at best, disheartening," Kirk-Cuomo told Task & Purpose. "At worst, it's yet another willful attempt to discredit capable women who can meet MOS specific standards, and deny them career opportunities. Her focus on the idea that women are simply genetically inferior, and that men cannot be expected not to rape them when left alone, is a dangerous take on the issue."
"I'd ask Ms. MacDonald what personal experiences in combat she has to be qualified to make these assertions," Kirk-Cuomo continued. "But her impressive resume doesn't include any military service, let alone time on the front lines."
Former Marine Maj. Kyleanne Hunter, who flew Super Cobras, called Mac Donald's argument "short-sighted," adding that she is undermining the fact that women in the military continue to be successful.
"She also fails to address that even on the Marines study that mixed gender units performed better in complex tasks," Hunter told Task & Purpose. "And most of warfare is now complex."
Andrea Goldstein, an officer in the Navy Reserves and Task & Purpose contributor, said that Mac Donald was rehashing assertions that are out of date.
"I don't even know why people keep trying to bring dead and disproved, opinion-based arguments back to life," said Goldstein, who served on active duty from 2009 until 2016. "Women are in combat, they always have been, and in a pluralistic nation, our strength is our ability to draw from a vast talent pool who consistently meets and exceeds high physical, intellectual, and psychological standards."
Any serious attempt by the Defense Department to ban women from combat MOSs again would almost certainly trigger legal challenges. In fact, the Pentagon dropped its policy of excluding women from those MOSs in January 2013 after increasing pressure by several lawsuits, one of which was filed on behalf of Air National Guard Maj. Mary Jennings Hegar, whom the Pentagon refused to acknowledge had been in combat even though her Medevac helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan and she was wounded on the ground.
Despite her wounds, Hegar fired back at the Taliban from her moving helicopter, saving the lives of her crew and the patients onboard, according to the citation for her Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat "V." She also received the Purple Heart.
She told National Public Radio in March 2017 that she joined the lawsuit against the military's gender ban to make sure enough qualified service members could apply for combat MOSs.
"We were trying to double the pool of candidates that could apply for any position," Hegar said in the interview. "So any time you increase the number of candidates that can apply, you're obviously going to get a better product out of that. So it was never about fighting the military — it was about this is the right thing to do for the military."
All Marines in ground combat military occupational specialties open to women must meet physical standards specific to their jobs, regardless of gender, said retired Marine Gen. Glenn Walters, who served as assistant commandant from 2016 to 2018.
"Picture me holding my hand parallel to the ground: If you want to be an infantry Marine you've got to be able to jump this high," Walter told Task & Purpose during a November interview. "I don't care what you look like. If you can jump this high, you're an infantry Marine – and there are females who are jumping that high. So, they have the same MOS standards of every other infantry Marine."
However, former Defense Secretary James Mattis said in September that too few female Marines and soldiers had joined infantry units to determine if having women in infantry MOSs makes the U.S. military more combat effective.
As of Nov. 30, a total of 120 enlisted female Marines and 36 officers were serving in MOSs that had been restricted to men only, according to Manpower and Reserve Affairs. That includes 21 female 0311 Rifleman; three Light Armored Vehicle crew members; two 0331 machine gunners; and three 0341 Mortarmen. Two other female Marines have passed the Infantry Officer Course.
"I think there were some people who thought that once the MOSs were opened up we would have a groundswell of maybe thousands of women who wanted to do that for living in the Marine Corps," Walters told Task & Purpose. "That didn't happen, but that didn't surprise us either."
The underlying issue is not whether women are in combat MOSs, but whether Marines can respect everyone on their team, said Walters, who is now president of The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.
"I don't care whether you're in an infantry outfit or a logistics outfit, or an aviation outfit, or an admin outfit – it doesn't matter," he said. "You can't win effectively on the battlefield unless everybody on the team knows their job as the MAGTF [Marine Air-Ground Task Force] and actually goes and executes it to perfection. You can't execute to perfection unless everybody on the team respects each other."