December 2, 2016, by David McCauley – The U.S. military has segregated men and women for decades, but last year Defense Secretary Carter announced that all combat roles are now open to women. It’s a controversial topic whether women are capable soldiers and athletes or not. The U.S. military has maintained that men alone are allowed to fight on the front lines for much of its history. Reasons cited for this are varied and seem to depend on the cultural norms and beliefs of each era. Many have called it a sign of the times and a victory for equality. Others believe it will hinder the combat readiness and effectiveness of the U.S. armed forces. Every occupation that was previously only open to men is now also open to women. It’s a groundbreaking decision to lift all restrictions on women and allow them the opportunity to prove what they’re capable of.
It is only a matter of time until women serving as Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Green Berets is commonplace. In many ways the progressiveness of the military seems to mirror the evolution of women’s professional sports. Women’s professional sports is relatively new in the history of our country and still does not receive the same respect as men’s athletics. This is interesting in part because 40% of all sports participants are female, yet women only receive about 4% of all sports media coverage in the US. There they remain out of sight and out of mind, never really given the opportunity to prove themselves. A study that compared coverage of ESPN’s SportsCenter and Fox Sports Live discovered that each program featured women’s sports on their show less than 1% of the time. How is it that nearly half of all sports participants are women yet women’s athletics receive less than 1% of the coverage? It’s my belief that this practice of relegating talented women to the wastelands of non-visibility have hindered their opportunities.
There are many people – veterans or otherwise – who object to women assuming their place in combat units. You’ll see many arguments about how it will reduce unit cohesion and prevent soldiers from forming bonds that will help them survive in combat. Other arguments put forward are the notion that women just can’t keep up and they’re not fit to fight on the front lines. It all sounds very similar to the arguments for why women should not be able to participate in coed sports leagues, for example a coed NFL. What these detractors seem to miss is that talent and physical capability do not discriminate. Having a shrewd mind and formidable leadership skills is not a uniquely male trait. We’ve seen the same play out in law enforcement with highly capable and fit women officers excelling among their male peers, despite their low representation. If you can keep up in every aspect, why shouldn’t you have a place at the table?
No one is calling for the removal of combat fitness standards. Man and women incapable of meeting those standards should not be allowed into combat roles. The military – just like professional sports – is focused on cultivating the exceptional qualities of their recruits. Some women may not have the physical fortitude necessary to become a Navy SEAL, but couldn’t the same also be said of most men?
Any applicant male or female who can run, jump, swim, climb, shoot, and lead with the best should be allowed to fight alongside the best our nation can offer. No exceptions. Whether you’re defending a nation or leading a team to the Super Bowl, the people counting on you deserve to know that the best and brightest are in and on the field. When lives on the line, we cannot allow prejudice or preconceived notions to impair the defense of the country.
About the Author: D.M. McCauley is a former U.S. Navy sailor who worked in Intel. After the service, he has dedicated his time to writing and traveling with his significant other.