Since the release of the Pentagon's Women in Service Review last week that revealed plans to eliminate the co-location policy and open up more jobs for women closer to combat, members of Congress, analysts, advocates and even presidential candidates have thrown out their ideas on what allowing women closer to the fighting means. Most of that bandwidth has been taken up with the same old physical abilities/unit cohesion arguments. Focusing on these issues makes for lively blog debates and nifty television sound bites, but it ignores the larger implications the report has on the future of the military.
"To continue [the combat exclusion policy] is to ignore the talents and leadership that women bring to the military, and it further penalizes service women by denying them the opportunity for future promotions and assignments that are primarily given to personnel from combat arms specialties."
Anyone with an understanding of how the Pentagon staffs high-echelon billets knows that Bhagwati is right. If women remain restricted to combat service and combat service support specialties, we will not see a woman as Commandant of the Marine Corps, or CENTCOM commander, or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
It is easy to see examples of that dynamic in action. General Ann Dunwoody, the only woman four-star General in the history of the U.S. military and otherwise fully qualified in every way, was not considered for appointment to the Joint Chiefs of Staff by then Defense Secretary Gates because of the Pentagon's preference to see "war fighters" in those roles.
Thus women in the military are being held back simply because they are women. Such an idea is not only completely at odds with military ethics, but is distinctly un-American.
Only the Air Force and the Navy (to a lesser degree), have thrown open the doors of opportunity to women, and those two services are positioning themselves to lead the way with women General officers in the next generation. That's when this stubborn adherence to anachronistic personnel policies will bite the Army and Marines where it hurts, particularly when it comes time to staff high-echelon Pentagon billets in charge of appropriations, budgeting, operational plans, weapons programs, etc. Many of these same Generals cross over to civilian jobs at the Pentagon and in the defense contracting industry when they retire. The policies of the Air Force and Navy will ensure that they have plenty of seats at the grown-ups table, while the Army and Marines may just find themselves relegated to the kitchen with smaller slices of the defense budget pie.
And that is already starting to happen. When one realizes that 99% of the Air Force jobs are open to women, and have been for years, it will come as no surprise that on the very same day that this DOD report was released showing the Army and Marines are still playing "Katy bar the door" on the issue of women in combat, the Air Force quietly nominated a woman to be the next four-star general.
So go ahead and keep writing op-eds on how rucksacks are heavy, fill the blogosphere with discussions of how much weight men can bench press, and keep the news cameras rolling on how men are superior because they can stand up when they pee. In the meantime, service women will continue to perform exceptionally well and continue to rise in the ranks. And in a generation from now senior billets at the Pentagon will be filled with women Generals and Admirals, all nominated by the service branches who years ago fully opened their doors to equal opportunity.
In the not too-distant future, women General officers will be found throughout both the uniformed leadership and the civilian leadership of the Defense Department, occupying key positions that control the future of the military. And when that day comes, every chow hall at every grunt Battalion area needs to hang out a sign that says: "Today's Special: Crow."
That is, if they have the money to fund it.