Should the Marines put women in the infantry?
The Marine Corps is currently taking steps in this direction. Why?
Do they believe that gender parity will make the Marines better able to defend the nation?
Or are they willing to compromise military effectiveness to promote an ideological agenda?
Naturally, the ideologues among us will tell you with a straight face that having more women in the combat infantry will in no way compromise the fighting ability of the troops.
And then, what of the women? Ideologues believe that men and women are equal. By that they mean that men and women are the same, mental, emotionally, and physically. Yet, when you read about the effects of long deployments on the female body you come away thinking that we as a nation have gotten into the business of torturing women.
But now, Marine Captain Katie Petronio, a woman who has had considerable combat experience, is telling the Defense Department to stop and consider the problems inherent in this policy. In her experience her body could not take the long deployments.
The longer the deployments the worse her medical problems became. And her medical condition was very bad indeed.
Captain Petronio begins by describing her tour in Iraq:
I was a motivated, resilient second lieutenant when I deployed to Iraq for 10 months, traveling across the Marine area of operations (AO) and participating in numerous combat operations. Yet, due to the excessive amount of time I spent in full combat load, I was diagnosed with a severe case of restless leg syndrome. My spine had compressed on nerves in my lower back causing neuropathy which compounded the symptoms of restless leg syndrome.
During her deployment in Afghanistan her health deteriorated more:
At the beginning of my tour in Helmand Province, I was physically capable of conducting combat operations for weeks at a time, remaining in my gear for days if necessary and averaging 16-hour days of engineering operations in the heart of Sangin, one of the most kinetic and challenging AOs in the country.
By the fifth month into the deployment, I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. My agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering my response time and overall capability. It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. At the end of the 7-month deployment, and the construction of 18 PBs later, I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment.
Putting women in the Marine infantry is bad for women and would be bad for the Marines as an institution. Capt. Petronio explains:
Regardless, I can say with 100 percent assurance that despite my accomplishments, there is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside as their combat load and constant deployment cycle would leave me facing medical separation long before the option of retirement. I understand that everyone is affected differently; however, I am confident that should the Marine Corps attempt to fully integrate women into the infantry, we as an institution are going to experience a colossal increase in crippling and career-ending medical conditions for females.
Obviously, introducing females into the infantry would require the corps to lower its standards. This, in turn, would compromise a woman’s ability to command the respect of her troops. It would compromise combat readiness.
In Capt. Petronio’s words:
… let’s be honest, “modifying” a standard so that less physically or mentally capable individuals (male or female) can complete a task is called “lowering the standard”! The bottom line is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads don’t get any lighter, regardless of gender or capability. Even more so, the burden of command does not diminish for a male or female; a leader must gain the respect and trust of his/her Marines in combat. Not being able to physically execute to the standards already established at IOC, which have been battle tested and proven, will produce a slower operational speed and tempo resulting in increased time of exposure to enemy forces and a higher risk of combat injury or death.
The question remains: how much are we willing to sacrifice to a dumb idea?