Skip to main content

Women in combat a dangerous experiment

By Jerry Boykin, Special to CNN
updated 10:35 AM EST, Sat January 26, 2013
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
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT