The question of allowing women to compete to serve alongside men in all military occupational specialties, in all branches, including our special operating forces, is the focus of Congressional hearings today. From my perspective as a former commander of Iraqi forces development in Iraq, I believe that this question, like other questions in history about whether this group or that group should be allowed to compete for military jobs, is an easy one to answer -- "yes."
My experience with female warriors is both professional and personal. My wife, a former Army Captain and I raised three soldiers. Two were non-commissioned officers, our daughter and our oldest son served as tactical signals intelligence operators working with dismounted infantry platoons. Our younger son serves in the Army's Special Forces.
Our daughter served alongside infantry carrying heavy loads and enduring the same field conditions as her infantry comrades. She met the standard. And small unit leadership seemed to manage whatever unit cohesion issues might have arisen given gender integration of a combat unit.
And the United States has seen countless examples of outstanding female performance under highly stressful conditions on dangerous base camps, convoy movements in the face of ambush and improvised explosive devices. The battlefield today is non-linear where ALL soldiers must execute traditional infantry missions like react to contact/ambush and assault an objective. And yes, we have had a lot of women come out of theater in body bags.
One of the prevailing arguments to integrate women throughout the force is a dwindling field of eligible warriors in America. While true given the fact that only 23 percent of the youth of America is eligible to serve in the military, this question of fairness is the lesser argument for integration. The principal argument is that diverse organizations work better.
When I commanded the Infantry Center at Fort Benning, performance standards and enforcement of those standards were the order of the day and my great team excelled, especially in the high-risk training of Ranger and Airborne soldiers. Women graduating from airborne school were unremarkable, very different from the early days of airborne training of female soldiers entering a formerly male bastion in the face of great apprehension. The recent graduation of three women from Ranger school, what I consider the most challenging army training course, the most standards based training I had, is remarkable today but I suspect, like airborne training, will be much less so in the future.
Service in dismounted combat units is likened to Olympic caliber performance, and, as in the sports Olympics, women will train, qualify and serve.
The argument from opponents of opening up jobs to women principally is focused on whether the military can handle such a change. If the past has taught us one thing, it is not only that our military can handle integration, but arguments to the contrary from the time, look foolish now.
Shortly after World War II, fought with segregated units, President Truman issued an Executive Order directing desegregation of the U.S. military, in the face of significant opposition from senior military leadership that fretted over the stamina of black soldiers and unit cohesion.
Years later, the question as to whether white troops could handle integration of black men into their ranks seems ridiculous. Our armed forces remain today the finest on the planet; diverse, smart, agile and have done more than any other American institution to advance the notion of diversity in US society.
More recently, in an ironic twist of fate, a black President faced down significant opposition to implement in 2011 the repeal of the so-called 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' law prohibiting gay and lesbian people from serving openly in the armed forces.
Men and women who had already met performance standards could now serve openly and judging from a complete lack of news on the matter, unit cohesion seems to be just fine, if not better given a more secure ethical foundation.
I am convinced that our standards-based armed forces will maintain the current extraordinary quality of our military and I am also convinced that our marvelous small unit leaders will prove the naysayers wrong and will enforce the good order and discipline of their squads, platoons and companies and maintain the unit cohesion that has made our Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Airfare the envy of the world's leaders.