Dr. Ed Davis: U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta caused quite a controversy when, in his final days in office, he removed the prohibition against women serving in combat arms positions. The decision was concurrently hailed by supporters who congratulated the military on entering the 21st century and derided by critics condemning the decision for its total insanity.
I have a unique vantage point, especially as it relates to Texas A&M University. Some people actually think I’m old enough to remember when women could not vote. And while that’s not true (barely), I am old enough to have observed the integration of women into the workplace in almost every conceivable way. Allowing women in the military to serve in combat units seems just a logical progression of that evolving workplace integration.
It’s interesting to note that initially not everyone accepted the idea of permitting women into the workplace, especially for jobs typically held by males that required certain skills, aptitudes or strengths. What the world of work finally figured out is that individuals—men or women—should be considered for positions based on their ability to perform the required job description. In essence, the same criteria should be applied as it relates to women serving in combat units.
When I served in the Army Reserve as late as the early 90s, there were still different physical performance standards for women and men in the military. The reasons for this are both God-gifted and physiological. However, to maintain combat unit proficiency, the dual standards would have to be eliminated. One uniform criterion for performance in combat would become essential, regardless of gender.
So my conclusion is that this is simply another step along the way. It will work if the performance criterion in combat units is unisexual, allowing anyone who can perform and maintain standards to be accepted into the units. The logical follow-up to that admonition is that the standards cannot be modified or adapted over time or the combat effectiveness of the organization will be substantially denigrated.
Whatever my opinion, it is one formed two decades removed from military service. I thought it might be interesting to pose some questions to our Corps of Cadets commandant, Brigadier General Joe Ramirez Jr. ’79, who is responsible for implementing this policy as it relates to women in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets and their preparation for military service.
Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez Jr: First, I think the term “women in combat” is a misnomer. Women were in combat since we first started operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both of those theaters, once our troops left the Forwarding Operating Base (FOB) they were in the combat zone. This included our female service members in logistics, military police, engineers, aviators, etc. More than 150 women have died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
What we’re talking about is the recent decision to open up military specialties to women that were previously open only to men—infantry, armor, special forces, etc.
DAVIS: Do you think allowing women in combat will eventually lead to eroding standards for physical and physiological performance in the military?
RAMIREZ: The big debate right now in the Pentagon is: do we alter standards to allow women in these combat military specialties or do we keep the standards the same and if women can meet those standards then they should be allowed to work in that specialty? That is the question that needs to be answered by our senior military leaders.
I firmly believe that the decision will be to keep standards the same. They are tough—many men don’t make it—but there is a good reason they are that way, and I don’t believe we should alter them in any way to accommodate women. Women can and will compete, and I have no doubt that some women will make the cut. And if they do, they should be allowed to work in that combat military specialty.
DAVIS: Taking your own military experience into consideration, do you think women should serve in combat roles?
RAMIREZ: As a combat arms officer, I firmly believed that women did NOT belong in combat military specialties. That was until I saw what women did in combat roles in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are fully capable of dealing with the rigors of a combat environment and have acquitted themselves well in Iraq and Afghanistan. I currently have two female captains working on our ROTC staff in the Trigon. One flew Apache helicopters for the Army in Afghanistan for a year before coming to A&M. The other is a Marine military police officer who has also been deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan. They are both great examples of just how well women have done in combat roles in combat zones.
DAVIS: What is your response to arguments that women in combat roles will negatively affect unit cohesion?
RAMIREZ: Bogus argument. Women are already in combat, and they have done well in those roles alongside the men. It hasn’t had a negative impact on units thus far, so why should that change in the future? I think that argument is very shortsighted and uninformed. This decision will allow women to play a more integral role in our military—something they are already doing in virtually every other aspect of our society. I believe there is definitely a risk associated with this decision, but I believe it is a prudent risk that will only serve to strengthen our military and make it even better than what it already is today.
DAVIS: How might women in the Corps of Cadets planning to commission need to be prepared differently now than before?
RAMIREZ: As we look at the future, we—ROTC leaders and the Office of the Commandant—need to sit down and determine what we can and must do in order to prepare our young women who want to compete for combat specialties just like the men. Women already hold key leadership positions across the Corps, and I have no doubt that we will soon see women express a desire to go into a combat military specialty in one of the services. We will have to look at what we must do to prepare them for that eventuality, just as we do the men.
DAVIS: How will this change affect recruiting for the Corps of Cadets?
RAMIREZ: I think this presents an opportunity for us to recruit for the Corps—especially among women who are seeking to join the military. We won’t know for a while yet, but I firmly believe there is an opportunity to increase female recruiting in the future as a result of this decision.
You can support the Corps of Cadets with a gift of an endowment to the Texas A&M Foundation. Request your A&M Support Kit to learn how you can help.
Jerome Rektorik ’65
Director of Development
Corps of Cadets