The truth about the military gender integration debate

History of women in the U.S. military
History of women in the U.S. military

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  • Julie Pulley: Most reasonable people support equal opportunity for women
  • But once in a while, the push for equality has unforeseen and unpleasant consequences, she says

CNN's "Presidential Town Hall: America's Military and the Commander in Chief," with President Barack Obama, airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Julie Pulley is a former Army captain, veteran of Afghanistan, and graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. The views expressed are her own.

(CNN)Unprecedented change is underway in our military. But as a former woman paratrooper who supported both the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan and the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea, I am concerned that Americans are only hearing one side of military gender integration debate.

I hope that CNN's military town hall meeting on Wednesday night will show that these concerns -- shared by so many who have served the country -- are being addressed.
    Back in January, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all military jobs to women. The following month, lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced the "Draft America's Daughters Act of 2016" proposing extension of Selective Service registration and conscription requirements to women between the ages of 18 and 26. In June, the legislation passed the Senate.
    Many who advocated opening all combat occupations declare women should be subject to the draft. They assume women will only serve in support roles unless able to prove via physical strength test ability to fill more physically demanding combat occupations. But such testing would allow capable people to intentionally avoid difficult, high mortality assignments. Simply put, reserving all the support jobs for women constitutes unequal treatment, and drafted men aren't likely to accept women occupying an unfair share of low-risk jobs.
    Some allege the Draft America's Daughters Act is reprisal for gender integration. However, not requiring women's draft registration when they are now permitted to serve in every capacity is sexist. As Sen. John McCain wrote in a statement, "It is the logical conclusion of the decision to open combat positions to women."
    Yet while Sen. McCain's statement is true, the implication that all military leadership supports the notion of women joining the infantry is untrue. Last year, for example, then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford recommended that infantry jobs remain closed to women, based on findings of the Marine Corps' yearlong gender integration study.
    Some in favor of military gender equality argue the draft should be abolished. After all, it hasn't been used for 42 years. But a half a century passed between the federal draft for the Civil War and draft registration for World War I. The Washington Post quoted Director of the Selective Service Lawrence G. Romo as saying: "You can never say never. We are a deterrent. We want to make sure our adversaries understand that if we had an extreme national emergency, we would have the draft."
    It's a good point. So why not force women to register for the draft? For one thing, both the Army and the Marine Corps reported women were between two and six times more likely than their male peers to suffer training injuries. Research from both Israel and the United Kingdom indicate considerable injury inequity, as well, with the UK noting that "in general, women have smaller hearts, about 30% less muscle, slighter skeletal structure and wider pelvic bones ..."
    These findings are significant in light of individual infantrymen load weights topping 127 pounds. Armor soldiers handle rounds weighing over 50 pounds and must accomplish physically demanding duties such as "breaking track".
    Another flawed assumption made by gender integration supporters is listed in the 2015 Army Gender Integration Study. It reads, "Women who enter formerly closed units and MOSs [Military Occupational Specialty] will be volunteers."
    This assumption is erroneous not only in the aforementioned draft scenario, but also in peacetime. Numerous examples exist of men routinely forced into these same units either permanently or temporarily when vacancies are not willingly chosen. Cadets typically are not assigned a specific occupation until after they are contractually obligated to service.
    In 1999, at West Point, a number of men were forced into permanent infantry assignments. Every year, per Army Regulation 614-100, men are branch-detailed from their chosen branches into the infantry. In 2010, for instance, over 300 male officers were branch-detailed infantry for a period of three years. Again, by this point in their career, cadets are committed to service and can't simply decline assignment. If treated equally, women officers should expect to be involuntarily assigned at an equal proportion to branches such as infantry just as their male counterparts are presently.
    Enlisted women aren't safe, either. Women who enlist into formerly restricted occupations should not expect to simply transfer to another job should they find their initial selection too strenuous. The military currently prefers to remediate those who can't meet physical standards. An infantry soldier unable to keep pace can't just drop out of the infantry. The military enforces officer obligations and enlistment contracts because initial job training is expensive -- over $30,000 for enlisted occupational training, according to an Army estimate obtained by the Center for Military Readiness.
    This is especially alarming in light of last month's Associated Press report of aggressive recruiting of women high school athletes by the Marines. Disturbing, also, is the Army Gender Integration Study's proposed mitigation control: "Reclassify or take administrative action against Soldiers who fail to meet specified physical standards of their MOS. Administrative action includes possible separation from the Army."
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    Those champions of change would have Americans believe that the majority of servicewomen wanted formerly out of reach opportunities. In fact, 92.5% of 30,000 Army women responding to a 2013 Army survey weren't interested. Three years later, the survey data seems to be holding true.
    The Army Times reported last month that Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey said there are not enough female NCOs and officers looking to transfer to combat arms jobs A similar scenario is playing out in the Marine Corps, where, according an August Marine Corps Times report, no women are enrolled or slated to attend the Infantry Officer Course.
    Most reasonable people support equal opportunity for women. Often, they are women themselves, or are men with mothers, sisters, daughters, or wives. But once in a while, the push for equality has unforeseen and unpleasant consequences. In the case of opening restricted military occupations, American women are now vulnerable to involuntary military service that will without question subject them to unequal danger and suffering.