A reader complicates the thread:
As a woman and veteran, I struggle with the idea of women on the front lines. There is a battle between the pragmatist in me and the idealist. Before I joined the US Army, I was much more able to side with my idealist self. Several weeks of basic training in a co-ed cohort is how my internal conflict started.
I was one of the most physically fit females in my unit – easily in the top 5% of my company, which had 60 women in it. There were the chivalrous men not wanting to see a woman struggle to carry a sandbag, or get over a wall, or that fall behind in a run … which happened more often than not. Actually, it wasn’t that the men felt solely compelled to help us as women, but as soldiers. They didn’t want to leave us behind. We slowed the men down. We did. It was a harsh reality to face and it hurt my idealist heart and mind, but it's the truth.
I thought about what it would be like in the heat of a battle and couldn’t imagine putting my fellow male soldier’s life at risk for my ideals. If we had to carry a wounded soldier much larger than me, I wouldn’t be able to! If we had to build a bunker quickly, I could manage one sandbag for the weakest male soldiers four sandbags. If we would have had to run long distances or go on long patrols I – again, at the top 5% of physical fitness standards in the military for females – would have fallen behind. I struggled to even carry the tripod of a M60 during our practiced road marches, so I could have never carried an actual M60. Thirty pounds of my own equipment was about all I could manage for 12-miles hikes.
I am sure there are women who can do these things, but in my experiences in the military (4.5 years) I can only recall one woman who was up to that standard, and even then she was barely stronger than the weakest of the males soldiers. It’s just biology; men have more muscles in their bodies. It may seem unfair, but physical fitness matters in battle.
There have to be some instances where we say yes, you have to meet a physical standard to do this position. My guess is though, if we force women to pass physical fitness test, the same test men do, very, very, very few will pass. Then the military will be blamed for denying women the opportunity to serve on the front line.
(Photo: Israeli Army female soldier Yael Suissa competes in a push-up competition with U.S. Army sergeant Aaron Thomas during a joint U.S.-Israeli military exercise in the Negev desert in southern Israel on February 4, 2003. Israeli and American forces fired a salvo of Patriot missiles as part of their joint exercise, codenamed Juniper Cobra, to test air defenses ahead of a possible U.S. war with Iraq. By Alberto Denkberg/Getty Images)