Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guest Post: That (Fe)Male Thing, Again - Heavy Sigh

That (Fe)Male Thing, Again - Heavy Sigh
By Andy Weddington, Colonel, USMC (Ret)

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;" William Shakespeare

I'd not planned what follows as today's comment - for something else Marine was on my mind for tomorrow. But today, Thursday, by tradition, is 'Field Day' in the Marine Corps so a good day for the topic at hand.

Though I confess a while back, bewildered and disgusted and not knowing what else to say after more than a handful of commentaries, I vowed to leave the topic alone.

But for hearing and reading more in the media this week, I cannot, must not, be quiet. And will not! For there is sworn duty to speak. 

Women in ground combat - especially the infantry - is the matter.

More quantitative articles. More let's be sane, be reasonable, be "fair" articles. More articles. More interviews. More let's bury the truth, reality. More forget the studies. More we need more studies and testing. More forget the data. More of you can't say that. More of this and more of that. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

But the article that brought me to this point I read Tuesday evening - sent to me by a Marine infantryman who has fought in some awful places. My senior, I pay attention when he opines.

The article was penned by a retired four-star U. S. Navy admiral. He wrote opinion supporting women in ground combat. To me (and the Marine who sent the article) his logic flawed - on sundry fronts. And, his conclusion, that demanding physical standards (for infantry and special forces) will not be compromised during the breakneck speed forced march, without pause for breath of sanity nor change of socks, towards "equality" under the guise of "gender neutrality" to meet political objectives is, putting it kindly and offering benefit of the doubt, naiveté.

After reading his biography, it is astounding that he decided to weigh in, in the public arena, on a matter of which he is not intimately familiar.

On the other hand, there is a four-star who, though no longer amongst us living, left recorded sworn testimony about the matter. He is an expert. He is an unimpeachable authority on the topic. And though he spoke some 22 years ago, his perspective is as germane today as during his time in uniform and thereafter. And today.

A snapshot of his biography: infantryman; three wars; command in all three; special ops behind enemy lines World War II; Inchon and Chosin Reservoir, Korean War; Operation Dewey Canyon, Vietnam War; close combat to include hand-to-hand; Navy Cross; Distinguished Service Cross; Silver Star; Bronze Stars with combat 'Vs'; etc., etc., etc.

That is, he has the qualifications to comment. Any man, or woman, with more authority, more credibility, please rise and speak.

Otherwise, no matter who you are or what you think you know, take a few minutes and listen to a genuine authority, General Robert H. Barrow, USMC (27th Commandant), address the hardships and horrors of ground combat. And hear out his beliefs, based on nature, as to the disastrous inevitability (some of which is now playing out - not prophetic but logical, predictable) of mixing males and females in combat units - ground and aviation alike.

Pause, and listen, closely, to a wise warrior:

Now, some critics have chosen to focus on a remark or two he made that, for some, come across as sexist. Perhaps. I don't think so. Not at all. I think that conclusion is thin-skinned, shallow, and presumptuous. His remarks were part of his upbringing, his character, and offered for context - or so they came across to me.

But it was his remarks clearly defining combat and humbly recounting his awful experiences that merit the focus.  


General Robert H. Barrow, USMC
05 Feb 1922 - 30 Oct 2008
Recruit to Commandant
Years of Service: 1942 - 1983

By the way, those hardships (and gender mixing problems) apply equally to the grueling training necessary to prepare men for combat. And there can be horrors, too. Difficult, dangerous training is not without tragedy.

So, I ask, who's the authority? A living four-star et al. without experience or a four-star who's lived of that he speaks?!

Clearly, extreme measures are required to kill stupidity. Therefore, I have a suggestion, direct and to the point, for those advocating women in ground combat. And for those against but deficient the chemistry and courage to rise and speak...

"Enough pussyfooting! USMC - flip, immediately, the combat exclusion paradigm. No men in combat arms. None. Period. The issue would be settled and damn quick. Executive Summary of the social experiment: Balls, literally, required to play a man's 'game'."

Yet let's make no mistake, combat is not a "game."

No, not kidding and no apology for slightly off-color language. For now is not the time for androgynous tea-sipping pinkie finger extended dialogue. No, sir, it's time for bare knuckles and K-Bar "discussions." That's the business at hand. And well know, I am but a messenger - searching for Garcia - many a Marine, all ranks, are forming a giant regiment.

So quick, change recruiting quotas and change all enlisted and officer MOS assignments. Get it done. Get it done, now. After all, men and men and women and women and men and women are interchangeable - combat readiness "standards" can make it so. And will, if this madness is not stopped.

God forbid it takes combat to prove the absurdity of it all. Last night I dined with a retired sergeant major, an artilleryman, landed at Gavutu, Saipan, Guadalcanal, and on a handful of other beach heads in the South Pacific during World War II. He missed Iwo Jima because he was so ill he was evacuated. He's nearly 94, mentally sharp; rattled of the names of his DIs in seconds (boot camp 74 years ago), and thinks women in ground combat units is insanity. He confirmed having seen General Barrow's testimony and just smiled.

In closing, something else I learned from General Barrow, through his son - a retired Marine and gentleman and longtime friend, "In all things be a gentleman."

I ever struggle (above off-color word or two noted) to live up to that noble standard, so as not to disappoint nor embarrass family, Marines under whom I have served (that I know read this forum and greatly respect), and to honor a fellow Marine, a commandant, whom I admire for his physical and moral courage on and off battlefields.

Those are some of the reasons for drawing sword on this matter. Not to mention heritage, Corps Values, national security, and more. And, doing what is right vice doing what is politically correct or personally convenient and self-serving.

Leadership - it is damn lonely at the top.

I read the other day the current commandant has a reprieve, until 2015, for making recommendations regarding women in the infantry.

Why? To "test" and "study" the unnecessary, the known? Really, at this point, what difference does it make? The truth is not going to change.

Finally, (Fe)male, noted the Periodic Table's symbol for Iron is Fe. But Iron alone is not good enough - it rusts. To endure, Iron must be forged into steel, that which makes infantrymen; especially the infantrymen, the officers, who lead infantrymen. As I recall, to date four young, physically fit female lieutenants have volunteered for the Infantry Officers Course (IOC) - none have come close. Nor have some men. The course's only purpose is to produce Marines who will lead Marines in ground combat. With the aim of as many of those Marines as possible surviving hell. Male infantryman.

Every Marine is a rifleman. But not every Marine can be, nor should be, an infantryman.

Alas, will the traditional U. S. Marine's Mess Night toast, "Long live the United States and success to the Marines," - two institutions inextricably linked - endure? For that matter, will either survive?

For Mother Nature and time are the truth-tellers - not a politician; not an admiral; not a commandant; and certainly not a mere retired colonel, unafraid to speak the truth.

Post Script
Following General Barrow's testimony that ended with a prediction of destruction of the Marine Corps if proceeding with putting women in combat units, implementation of President Clinton's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' - to great resistance - happened. Not long thereafter, a courageous Marine, then a major now retired colonel, named Art Corbett went public with a controversial article powerfully and elegantly making the case against. He concluded with words to the effect, 'Better to furl our colors and be remembered for what we once were.' His article garnered the stink eye from seniors but earned a hand-written, one-word note from General Barrow, "Bravo!" A similar time is upon our Corps. Any Iron, forged into steel, majors out there?

Author's Endnotes

1. Field Day - USMC euphemism for housecleaning; from work spaces to living quarters. Everybody pitches in - dusting; scrubbing; sweeping; swabbing; and more. Spit and polish! Inspection Friday morning.

2. The author is an infantryman - 0302 - familiar with the field and Field Day.

3. Iron's atomic number is 26 - my first unit after graduating the IOC was G 2/6 - Golf Company, 2nd Battalion / 6th Marines. Ironic. 


  1. Bob, I know that your health no longer allows you to continue the blog but I know many that are going to miss it dearly. You've posted innumerable issues of my blog and I am grateful....but I was even more appreciative of your fine taste in selecting such writers as Victor Davis Hansen and Thomas Sowell and other fine thinkers and writers. They were all there in a nice neat package for me each day. I thank you for providing that to us.

    I'll be praying that your health issues are worked out and that you're back to this blog someday soon.

    Dearel Friend

  2. I apologize for being anonymous; I have none of the accounts listed, and no URL.

    I believe that there are, rarely, women who would do well in combat. Not women who *think* they could, but who would be fully capable of doing so. (I am not, and never was, one of that tiny group.)

    I also believe that it is very common for men to have an instinct to protect women, especially women they know. It is not the same as the way that members of a unit look out for each other; it is much deeper. And I believe that the men who volunteer for military service - for the right reasons - will virtually all have that instinct.

    Therefore, a mixed unit of men and women would be a horrible failure. But I think that a unit of only women could be effective. (Note: I said "could.")

    And I have believed for a long time that the standards that measure the ability to do *any* job should not be lowered to comply with political correctness.

    signed, a gun totin' broad in the high plains

  3. "Therefore, a mixed unit of men and women would be a horrible failure. But I think that a unit of only women could be effective. (Note: I said "could.")"

    I have often thought this same thing. While my time spent in the AF, working alongside all males, had its own challenges, I could not imagine myself in an actual front-line situation with any of "the guys"; of course, we weren't trained for it, we were trained to do aircraft maintenance. But back in BMT, before we had job-specific training, I could see any of us in our flight "taking care of business" as a unit - and with few exceptions, we would have been as effective, in my opinion, as any male unit trained accordingly.

    I am not adverse to women in combat, if that is what they really want to do - and like Gun Totin' Broad above, I agree there are plenty who WOULD be fully capable - I'm just not sure we're quite ready, evolutionarily speaking (so to speak), for mixed units; there's training, and there's stuff that is just hard-wired into the human brain - and there's that place where those two things meet. Since there are always exceptions to every rule, I'll be curious to see how this plays out in years to come....