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Great Leadership Has Nothing To Do With Gender
As women are integrated into combat units previously unavailable to them, there’s been a lot of talk about and concern for how this change will deteriorate morale, unit cohesion, and esprit de corps in those units. I can't help but think that those making these arguments are merely equivocating, justifying a learned chauvinism, and mustering up the last argument they can think to make against a truth that we’ve known all along: Integration is the right answer.
I'm reminded of something that happened to me 13 years ago, when I was standing in formation during my first week as a new cadet at West Point. Two upperclassmen — a man and a woman — approached me with the knowing smirks of an inside joke on their faces, looking as though they were about to settle a bet. They were smiling because, as upperclassmen often do to plebes at West Point, they were about to ask me a trick question. They were betting I’d say the wrong thing, and then they would punish me for it with lots of pushups. In short, they were screwing with me, and this was going to be fun for them.
The woman, my platoon leader, pitched the question, slyly, “New cadet, would you rather answer to a man or a woman as your leader?” I'd obviously been presented with a false dilemma, and either option would get me into trouble. The man, my platoon sergeant, looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to flub. Waiting to prescribe me with pushups.
My response was immediate, off the cuff, and one of the sincerest sentences I’ve ever uttered: “Ma’am, I really don’t care, as long as they’re a good soldier.” They both smiled, surprised I’d found a way out of the trick.
My platoon leader beamed, “That’s an outstanding answer, new cadet.” She turned and looked, smugly, at my platoon sergeant.
“She has a point,” he shrugged. No pushups this time.
This was probably the only “right” answer I gave to any upperclassman during my entire plebe year, and I stand by it still, even though at the time, I knew nothing about the military. Or leadership. Or life, really. You could say I was uninformed. Or you could also say I was uncorrupted.
At the time, I was mostly ignorant of the sexism that exists in this world. I’d been sheltered from it because I was just 18, and, moreover I still believed what my parents taught me, which was that I would never be limited by my gender. They’d taught me that my character, talent, skill, and most of all, my hard work, would decide what I would and wouldn’t be able to accomplish. I suppose sometimes naïveté is quite wise because it is just so pure and uncorrupted.
Before our minds become adulterated by small-mindedness and institutional and societal norms, we innately know that it is not gender, but rather proficiency, leadership, and integrity that matter when it comes to who we want serving alongside us in our profession of arms.
In the Army, I worked in logistics, which is where I encountered one of the worst officers I've ever met. He was not a logistician, but a combat engineer captain who'd been exiled to a staff position at the logistics battalion because every time he went outside the wire in Iraq, he would become so scared, he'd cry. Yes, cry. I imagine serving under such a leader must have inspired poor morale, unit cohesion, and esprit de corps in his platoon, despite that he was so highly qualified to lead in combat, being of the male gender and all.
I had the displeasure of serving alongside this person for almost a year — thankfully while in garrison, not while in a combat zone — and he continued to prove a terrible soldier, through and through. And the more evident this fact became, the more confused and disheartened I became to know that while I was quite sure that I (and any number of my peers, for that matter) was a better leader than he was, I would have been “unqualified” for his former job simply because I am a woman, and until recently, even though women could serve in the engineer branch, we weren't permitted to serve in combat engineer units. It no longer seemed like a mere technicality, but instead a real tragedy, that a man so lacking in personal courage had been trusted to lead troops in combat while so many more qualified and courageous women were never even afforded the chance.
We owe it to our military and to our nation to have the best leaders leading our troops, which means they should be selected from the widest pool of highly qualified candidates. That’s why integration will undoubtedly make our military stronger. It isn’t the right answer for women. It’s the right answer for everyone, and if we dare to be honest with ourselves, we’ll find we’ve known that to be true all along.
Editor's note: A combat wounded veteran, Ryan served in the U.S. Army as an armor officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 13th Armor Regiment. While deployed to Iraq in 2005, his vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device buried in the road. He works as the Wounded Warrior Project's national Combat Stress Recovery Program director.
On Nov. 29, 2005, my life changed forever. I was a 24-year-old U.S. Army armor captain deployed to Taji, Iraq, when my vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. On that day, I lost two of my soldiers, Sgts. Jerry Mills and Donald Hasse, and I lost my right arm and left leg.
Fatal training accidents are on the rise. Now the families of the fallen are pushing lawmakers to do something about it
CAMP PENDLETON — Susan and Michael McDowell attended a memorial in June for their son, 1st Lt. Conor McDowell. Kathleen Isabel Bourque, the love of Conor's life, joined them. None of them had anticipated what they would be going through.
Conor, the McDowells' only child, was killed during a vehicle rollover accident in the Las Pulgas area of Camp Pendleton during routine Marine training on May 9. He was 24.
Just weeks before that emotional ceremony, Alexandrina Braica, her husband and five children attended a similar memorial at the same military base, this to honor Staff Sgt. Joshua Braica, a member of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion who also was killed in a rollover accident, April 13, at age 29.
Braica, of Sacramento, was married and had a 4 1/2-month-old son.
"To see the love they had for Josh and to see the respect and appreciation was very emotional," Alexandrina Braica said of the battalion. "They spoke very highly of him and what a great leader he was. One of his commanders said, 'He was already the man he was because of the way he was raised.' As parents, we were given some credit."
While the tributes helped the McDowells and Braicas process their grief, the families remain unclear about what caused the training fatalities. They expected their sons eventually would deploy and put their lives at risk, but they didn't expect either would die while training on base.
"We're all still in denial, 'Did this really happen? Is he really gone?' Braica said. "When I got the phone call, Josh was not on my mind. That's why we were at peace. He was always in training and I never felt that it would happen at Camp Pendleton."
North Korea threatens to resume nuclear weapons and ICBM tests if US-South Korea military exercises proceed
SEOUL (Reuters) - The United States looks set to break a promise not to hold military exercises with South Korea, putting talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons at risk, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday.
The United States' pattern of "unilaterally reneging on its commitments" is leading Pyongyang to reconsider its own commitments to discontinue tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), the ministry said in a pair of statements released through state news agency KCNA.
Customs and Border Patrol denied a Marine vet entry into the US for his a scheduled citizenship interview
A deported Marine Corps veteran who has been unable to come back to the U.S. for more than a decade was denied entry to the country Monday morning when he asked to be let in for a scheduled citizenship interview.
Roman Sabal, 58, originally from Belize, came to the San Ysidro Port of Entry around 7:30 on Monday morning with an attorney to ask for "parole" to attend his naturalization interview scheduled for a little before noon in downtown San Diego. Border officials have the authority to temporarily allow people into the country on parole for "humanitarian or significant public benefit" reasons.
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer took the reins at the Pentagon on Monday, becoming the third acting defense secretary since January.
Spencer is expected to temporarily lead the Pentagon while the Senate considers Army Secretary Mark Esper's nomination to succeed James Mattis as defense secretary. The Senate officially received Esper's nomination on Monday.