Are women FIT enough to fight in combat?

Are women FIT enough to fight in combat?
Taken from: Deborah Sampson, the first female American soldier, enlisted in the Continental Army

It was a little over a year ago (January of 2013) that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chief of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey ordered that combat-arm roles will be opened to women in all areas of service.   Even Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) supported the 2013-policy reversal that excluded women from front line positions and elite command jobs (put in place in 1994). Women, which make up 15% of the armed forces, have found themselves in reality combat more and more over the past decade.   Moving forward women will now be potential candidates for more than 230,000 jobs in Army and Marine infantry.

President Obama reminded the nation that “valor knows no gender,” which was a poignant statement considering that 150 American military women have died recently in Iraq and Afghanistan (out of 6598 total fatalities) and another 1000 have been wounded, just in the past two years.  This new policy is parallel to America’s manifesto - committed to equality and standards of fairness.  Applying it to US Military is a progressive and noble evolution.  But if I am being honest, the concern is whether physical fitness standards and testing will be lowered to accommodate the variances between men and women, to allow women to pass and qualify.

imagesWith the acceptance of women in boxing, the sport of MMA and the demonstration of strength by female Cross-Fit Games competitors, I believe it is time to realize that women are equally ‘trainable.’  Granted these sports and events are scaled according to gender differences or matched to fight within equal and fair weight classes; but front line fighting capabilities should not come down to the number of push ups, sit-ups and chin ups you can do for time.  If fact, the standards in which most of these female athletes meet exceed far above the average man.  I will be the first to admit that I want our soldiers in all positions to be leagues above the average American man’s fitness level.  My point is that women can be trained to develop skills sets that rely on physical strength, power and pressure.  Performance training is a remarkably capable science today.

The evolution of fitness training and performance research is flooded with quality data showing that power, speed, strength and recovery exists far beyond a basic push-up test.  Functional training and training for specificity is the name of the training game today.   My hope is that both the Army and Marines are making changes to training that are specific to combat roles (MOSs), modernizing the training and development of skill sets for the various combat responsibilities to ensure combat-readiness.  Combat readiness training should be the priority even if it takes longer to assign women their combat positions.

Taken from : Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

Taken from : Lynsey Addario for The New York Times

By 2016, all roles will finally be opened to women.  Thus far, the Marines have exposed more women to the physically demanding standards that male soldiers must meet than the Army.  But the change is happening.  So how are standards changing to exactly make room for women in these specialized training programs? How is the US government evolving their standards of equality without jeopardizing the overall safety of units, battalions, soldiers and freedom.

‘Gender-neutral’ standards will continue to be defined by the military.  Documents like the “Double-Think About Double Standards” have been created as a guide. They are also identifying the most physically demanding tasks like artillerymen and armored crewmen and assessing whether these positions have appropriate physical standards and if the training is specific enough to the realities of the job.

Although ‘proxy testing’ was conducted looking at 400 females and men at Quantico Marine Base last year there still seems to be contradictions in the ‘gender-neutral’ standards and testing procedures (I have summarized some f the test below - click here to see report).

Women are still receiving significantly higher scores for physical tests that would be considered low or failing for men.  So I have to ask again, is scaling helping or hurting our female soldiers become prepared?  Or, are the training programs not designed well enough to develop the level of physical performance needed?  Or, is the physical testing score a less important portion of a soldier’s overall skill sets?  Are women equally performing in areas also critical to combat, intellectual resilience, pressure thinking, firearms skills, engineering aptitude and leadership?

I realized I might have asked more questions than I answered.  I am clearly on the side of equality.  But equality cannot just be ordained.  When I think about the performance increases of women in the sport of MMA, a multi-discipline study, triathletes, a multi-discipline study and cross-fit competitors, a multi-discipline, it makes me realize that women are as trainable as men.

SAMPLE TESTING - To take a look at the charts and scale click here.

General Physical Fitness

gender-neutral exercises

  • dead-hand
  • pull-ups
  • crunches
  • 3 mile run

Thought you'd like to know: Women must do 3 pull-ups to pass which is just above the failing grade for men.  If women can do 8 pull-ups they receive 100 extra points and men only 40 points.   Men must do 20 pull-ups to receive 100 extra points.

Combat Fitness Course Requirements ( a pass/fail test)

gender-neutral exercises

  • 800 meter run in utility uniform
  • ammunition can lifts (30 lbs) over head for 2 minutes
  •  training course run that simulates being under fire

Thought you'd like to know: That the average cross-fitter does the 800 meter run between 2:20 and 5:00 min.  The standards for military is 3:40 to 4:30 for men and 4:34 to 5:20 for women.

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