Combat Roles Hazardous to Women's Health

The astounding female injury rates that are being hidden from the public -- and women in the military.

Last week, 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, 25, and Capt. Kristen Griest, 26, became the first women to earn their Ranger Tabs, graduating from the U.S. Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, GA. Maj. Gen. Scott Miller, the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony, emphasized that both women were held to the same standards as their male counterparts, insisting "a 5-mile run is still a 5-mile run. Standards do not change. A 12-mile march is still a 12-mile march.” True enough. But as Center for Military Readiness (CMR) president Elaine Donnelly reveals, there is a jarring flaw in the military’s headlong rush to make men and women interchangeable cogs in combat arms units: previously-undisclosed military combat experiments demonstrate that women sustain injury rates at double the rate of men.

The grueling Ranger course, emphasizing physical strength and endurance, was launched on a one-time basis as part of the Army’s effort to determine which combat jobs can eventually be opened up to women. Women were part of the training at Fort Benning due to a January 2013 directive by senior Pentagon leaders to integrate women into front-line combat units, including the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs, by 2016. 

Haver and Griest were two of 96 soldiers who ultimately passed the course, with 40 of the 364 soldiers who began the training going straight through the course in 62 days. The rest of the graduates were soldiers who repeated parts of the course from earlier cycles. Nineteen women were part of the equation, and although Haver and Greist are the only two graduates so far, another woman is repeating an earlier phase of the training in hope of joining them. Regardless of their success, none of the women will be allowed to join the elite 75th Ranger Regiment, which conducts raids and other Special Ops missions. 

All three women had failed the first phase of training two previous times, but were given a third chance as “Day 1 recycles,” a status given to Ranger candidates who excel in some area of Ranger School while struggling to pass a key component. The component they had trouble with is known as the Crawl or Darby Phase, a 20-day course designed to assess and develop both the physical and mental skill required to complete combat missions. 

The three women were part of a group of eight who made it through the initial Ranger Assessment Phase, commonly known as “RAP Week.” During the training candidates are graded by both their peers and Ranger instructors (RIs). Some of the women who failed the Darby Phase were disappointed, and anonymous sources told the Washington Post there's the sense "that no RI really wants to be the first one to pass a woman.” Brig. Gen. James E. Rainey, the commandant of the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning, took umbrage with that claim. “The women did worse than men at patrolling,” he declared. “That’s a fact.”

What’s also a fact is an unmistakable odor of political pressure. Despite the reality this course was launched on a one-time basis, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno insisted the Army will "probably run a couple more pilots,” he told reporters last May. "It's been a real success for us, and we'll see how it goes from there.” 

Odierno’s statement resonated with reserve Army colonel Ellen Haring, a fellow at Women in International Security, an organization that deals with the integration of women in the military. In June she expressed disbelief that none of the 19 women who initially qualified for Ranger School passed the course, questioning how men with no combat arms background could pass Ranger School but no women had. “They just have to keep the course open, because this will normalize over time,” Haring said.

Donnelly disagreed, saying if the Army called the course a one-time event, it should remain that way. “Where do we get to the point where we say ‘Maybe this really isn’t a good idea after all?'” she said. “When they start making accommodations like that when you said that there wouldn’t be, you start to question the whole process.”

The process should be questioned, and nothing makes that clearer than the Army’s combat research on “Exception to Policy” (ETP) experiments, revealing the aforementioned injury rates. CMR explains the findings demonstrate disparate rates of injury in Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), such as field and air defense artillery where women were injured at double the rate of their male counterparts. "In the Field Artillery Surveyor Meteorological Crewmember MOS, for example, injuries for women were approximately 112% higher than men’s. In the Bradley fighting vehicle system maintainer MOS, the rate was 133% higher,” a CMR report reveals.

The U.S. Army Institute of Public Health provided CMR with another document revealing that even in basic combat training, the approximate average injury rates for women were 114 percent higher than for men, and in training for military police and engineers they were 108 percent higher. Moreover, while such training requires informed consent, CMR explains a sample consent form provided to them shows that injury rates were not included on it.

There are cost factors as well. Retraining women reassigned from positions beyond their physical strength would cost the Army $30,697 per soldier. An additional $17,606 in basic training costs, not counting individual recruitment expenditures that are higher for women, would be necessitated following decisions to drop out of courses. CMR wonders how the Army reconciles such “avoidable costs” with the reality that the Obama administration is determined to reduce America’s military to pre-WWII levels.

The British Ministry of Defence conducted a similar study, and the report it issued confirms many of Donnelly’s fears. While conceding that there will be elite women capable of passing entry tests for Ground Close Combat (GCC) units, "these women will be more susceptible to acute short term injury than men” and the roles requiring women to carry weight for prolonged periods of time “will be the most damaging.” Furthermore and far more important, the report reveals that “combat marksmanship degrades as a result of fatigue when the combat load increases in proportion to body weight and strength.” 

Nonetheless, CMR notes the British report is laced with suggestions regarding how to “mitigate” such injuries, relying on social theories and unrealistic expectations completely undermined by the hard data contained in the same report. CMR insists those efforts are “not credible,” and that the burden to prove otherwise rests on "advocates of unprecedented changes affecting military effectiveness.”

CMR also received documents indicating the Army has prepared a Doctrine, Organization, Training, Materiel, Leadership and Education, Personnel, Facilities, and Policy (DOTMLPF-P) analysis. The topics on the analysis, which were almost completely redacted, only address some of the major sticking points.

CMR insists a more comprehensive list would include higher costs associated with recruiting and training, new separate-gender facilities, the remedial training necessary to eliminate attitudinal barriers, and the extra personnel necessitated by pregnancy and other extended leaves. The analysis should also include what social service/legal specialists will be required to deal with sexual misconduct issues in the combat arms arena and the expanded medical needs associated with higher rates of female injuries and disability.

"By any measure, this is an expensive, unnecessary social experiment,” CMR concludes. "Non-disclosure of the full consequences and costs prevents Congress, the media, and the general public from evaluating and criticizing policy changes that will affect every man and woman in the military.” Those changes include the daunting reality that "sequestration budget cuts are taking essential resources away, while heavy burdens of social experimentation are being loaded on.” 

Those burdens may be acceptable to those who view the military as the last bastion of resistance to the social engineering schemes they wish to impose on virtually every aspect of American society. But it is a fool’s errand in the military arena, especially during a period of global unrest that has reached ominous proportions. Inclusion is not, nor will it ever be, the ultimate barometer by which national security will be measured. 

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