The Kansas City Star recently carried a column by my friend Jeff Forker arguing that women should serve in Special Forces.
I disagree. I do support female soldiers being attached to Special Forces units as “enablers.” These include female engagement teams, cultural support teams, provincial reconstruction teams and translators, as well as administrative and support personnel. These positions are far different from being a Special Forces-qualified soldier.
True, women are in combat, but women in combat arms is entirely different. Combat arms branches such as the infantry and Special Forces close with and destroy enemy forces. That difference is clear when comparing the mission of a combat arms soldier to that of most other branches, and certainly to those jobs restricted to women prior to Jan. 1, 2016.
Special Forces have five basic missions: counterterrorism, direct action, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance and unconventional warfare. The basic unit is the 12-man operational detachment alpha. Teams, operating independently, may sit in a hide site for days. That means urinating and defecating in bags without leaving the site. Operational detachment alphas train foreign armies, a number of which do not accept women as trainers. Direct action raids involve breaching doors, clearing rooms and hand-to-hand combat.
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My combat experience was in heavy jungle with intense heat and humidity and days of pouring rain. My unit conducted seven to 10-day patrols on foot. Hygiene was practically nonexistent. On one occasion we were so filthy that we secured the area, stripped naked and washed in a stream. This is going to happen in a mixed-gender team? Everything we needed — water, rations, dry clothes, personal weapon ammunition as well as extra machine gun ammunition, radios, mines, batteries, smoke grenades — we had to carry on our backs. All soldiers now wear body armor and carry 130 pounds of equipment.
The Army officially recognizes that women cannot meet the same physical fitness standards as men. Although both genders take the same physical fitness test, the standards for women are much lower than for men. Even at West Point, which has probably the most physically fit women in the country, the requirements for a mandatory obstacle course changed because women could not meet the minimum standard.
An Army Surgeon General report concluded that women in training have twice the injury rate when carrying a 70-pound ruck sack and incur stress fractures at four times the rate. Only three women have been able to complete the Army Ranger course. Only two women have met the standards to attend the Army Special Forces Qualification course and neither graduated.
A 2015 Rand study queried current special operators about integrating women into the teams. Results were that 86.5 percent opposed such a move; 82.5 percent were concerned about the strength and stamina of women. They expressed concerns about “degrad(ing) productivity, platoon morale,” mission focus and effectiveness, and explained that “Most partner forces (especially Arab) won’t work with women.” They raised issues about the effect on marriages and time off for pregnancy (a minimum of 84 days).
Operational detachment alphas should not be saddled with the burden of a team member not deploying because of pregnancy. Should not the views of these professionals who are most affected by inserting women onto these teams be taken seriously? They are the ones whose lives are at risk.
To quote one operator: “Incorporating women into (Special Forces) is simply political, with a real disconnect between policy-makers, understanding of how Special Operations Forces operate, and real-world operations.”
This is not an issue of religion or culture. Integrating women into Special Forces is a bad idea that can only reduce the combat effectiveness of the unit.
Richard Kiper is a Leavenworth resident and a veteran of U.S. Army Special Forces.