Skip to main content

Women in combat a dangerous experiment

By Jerry Boykin, Special to CNN
January 26, 2013 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
From left, Marines Sgt. Sheena Adams and Lance Cpl. Kristi Baker and Navy Hospital Corpsman Shannon Crowley work with a Female Engagement Team in Afghanistan in November 2010.
From left, Marines Sgt. Sheena Adams and Lance Cpl. Kristi Baker and Navy Hospital Corpsman Shannon Crowley work with a Female Engagement Team in Afghanistan in November 2010.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin: Allowing women to fill combat roles is a deeply flawed idea
  • He says women already serve ably without being placed in infantry, Special Forces
  • He says move an untenable social experiment that will affect effectiveness of ground forces
  • Boykin: Congress should form committee to examine impact of this decision on the ground

Editor's note: Lt. Gen.(Ret.) Jerry Boykin, is executive vice president of the Family Research Council. He served in the U.S. Army for 36 years, is an original member of the Delta Force and former commander of the Green Berets. He formerly served as the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence.

(CNN) -- On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the Obama administration would allow women to be placed in positions that will expose them more directly to fighting with enemy ground forces. It is said that this will allow women to fill hundreds of thousands of combat roles from which they are currently excluded. Substantively, this is a poor idea. Furthermore, the decision-making process used to bring this change about is deeply flawed.

America's ongoing war against terror-supporting states and terror networks, commenced after 9/11, has seen an increased combat role for women in the U.S. armed forces. According to recent news accounts, more than 800 have been wounded and more than 130 have died. Clearly, women have fought honorably, bravely and with great distinction.

Lt. Gen Jerry Boykin
Lt. Gen Jerry Boykin

The greater inclusion of women has allowed our armed forces to tap into an enormous pool of talent and character. And as the casualty figures above indicate, the current posture of the U.S. armed forces is not one in which women are leading cloistered, sheltered lives. They are often exposed to great danger. So, what is it then that President Obama and Panetta are doing?

Under the policy, women may end up being placed in infantry and Special Forces battalions and other front line combat units. To doubt the wisdom of this action does not reflect on the courage or abilities of female service members. But the step crosses a line worthy of greater deliberation and public debate.

Opinion: The challenge of incorporating women into the infantry

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



The proof that this decision is ideologically and not militarily based is its very sweeping nature. It appears that the people who did this are engaged in a vast social experiment in which hundreds of thousands of men and women will be the guinea pigs. We are now testing a hypothesis that may impair the military effectiveness of our ground forces.

The slots that may be opened are in our infantry and Special Forces units. The purpose of such units is to directly and physically engage enemy forces. This can often involve personal, hand-to-hand combat in which women will now have to fight men.

These units can often be deployed in prolonged operations that can last for months. The physical toll is constant and wearing. During operations of this kind there is typically no access to a base of operations or facilities. Consequently, living conditions can be abysmal and base.

There is routinely no privacy or ability to maintain personal hygiene for extended periods. Soldiers and Marines have to relieve themselves within sight of others. Think back to those scenes of combat in Vietnam, the Pacific in World War II, or the frozen mountains of Korea. It isn't pretty, and the same is happening now in Afghanistan.

Rangel: A more equal military? Bring back draft

Debating women in combat roles
Veterans debate women in combat roles

This combat environment -- now containing males and females -- will place a tremendous burden on combat commanders. Not only will they have to maintain their focus on defeating the enemy in battle, they will have to do so in an environment that combines life-threatening danger with underlying sexual tensions. This is a lot to ask of the young leaders, both men and women, who will have to juggle the need to join and separate the sexes within the context of quickly developing and deadly situations.

Is the experiment worth placing this burden on small unit leaders? I think it is asking too much.

Something as momentous as this should be endorsed by the Congress of the United States. Ideas like these have been percolating within corners of the Defense Department for years waiting to be unleashed. One study by the Congressional Research Service recommended that "women should be excluded from direct land combat units and positions." Now, ideologues within the bureaucracy have prevailed, but a volunteer force has to maintain its legitimacy with the wider public. That is why the Constitution gives the Congress the power to shape and structure the military.

I worry about the women who are currently in the military. They have to know that the lines keeping them from infantry and Special Forces battalions will get blurrier and blurrier. What protections will they have against being thrown into front-line infantry units as organizational dividers soften and expectations change? Very little protection, I am afraid. Will they leave the military? This policy change may have the ironic effect of forcing women to reconsider their place in the armed services. If true, that would be tragic.

By the numbers: Women in the U.S. military

Congress should examine what the Department of Defense is doing here -- really. The Congress must do some hard, nonideological work and assess job categories and physical requirements. Perhaps a special committee could be formed whose members actually served in the infantry and Special Forces. If it will not reverse the policy, then Congress needs to put in place a comprehensive, nonpoliticized system that will track the physical effects of these changes on women. The data needs to be made public, so there can be a fair, scientific assessment of this great experiment.

President Obama and Panetta have their agenda of change and transformation. The American public, however, should not sit back and leave the brave members of our armed forces susceptible to the whims of ideology. Men and women can serve together in the armed forces productively, but that service needs to be prudently structured in a manner that reflects the differences between the sexes and the power of their attractions.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jerry Boykin.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1615 GMT (0015 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1728 GMT (0128 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT