What Are the Odds?

Leslie's Avatarby Leslie Jones

In 2013, the Pentagon mandated that all jobs in the US Armed Forces be open to women by 2016. Senior military leaders attempting to obey this directive are running into the usual naysayers, who insist that women are not tough enough for combat.

Unless you were looking for it, you might have missed one of the historic events that marked a major step towards creating gender equality in the military. On April 20, for the first time, women were admitted into the traditionally all-male U.S. Army Ranger school. This momentous event received very little mainstream attention. Nevertheless, this test case had 19 female and 381 male soldiers starting Day One of one of the most arduous training courses the military has to offer.

A few facts for you: Ranger School is a harsh 2-month-long combat leadership course focusing on small-unit tactics, with the Ranger candidates getting very little food or sleep. It starts with the 4-day Ranger Assessment Phase – during which period about 36% of the candidates wash out. The overall graduation rate for the school is about 45%.

Using these statistics, we would expect 12 women and 241 men from the April 20 class to pass the 4-day Ranger Assessment Phase. In fact, 8 women and 184 men passed and went on to start the next phase. That’s a 42% percent success rate for the female soldiers and a 48% percent success rate for the male soldiers.  According to the Ranger instructors themselves, they’ve seen little difference so far between the men and women, except, says Sergeant 1st Class Andrew Peddycord, “<the women> are the only ones not complaining.” Despite these successes, opponents of gender equality continue to shout that women are not tough enough to serve in combat roles.

The high standards of Ranger School have not changed one whit with the addition of the female soldiers. If they earn the prestigious Ranger Tab, they will have met the exact same standards as their male counterparts. Those who have met the standard and proven they can do the job ought to be eligible, in my opinion, for jobs in the combat arms.

While not slotted into combat roles, nearly 280,000 women in Iraq and Afghanistan have already served in a combat zone, with 50% of those having been in combat. Women have already been there, done that. But because they have not been permitted the same training or opportunities for promotion, they’re unsung heroes hitting a Kevlar ceiling. Regardless of female soldiers having proven themselves in these roles, the current framework for military assignment will not allow these individuals to reap the career benefits enjoyed by their male counterparts. When it comes to senior-level promotions, 80% of the US Army’s generals come from the combat arms. This percentage makes sense for an organization whose business, at the end of the day, is warfare. Despite having proven themselves in combat situations, however, 15% of the Armed Forces – patriots who love their country and have demonstrated a proven desire to serve – will remain ineligible for these top tier positions. Obviously the inability to serve in combat roles limits a woman’s military career opportunities.

This may all change.

It’s a fact that women are generally smaller than men. Our hearts, arteries, and lung capacity are 25-30% smaller. Our muscle mass is at about 50% of men’s, and we carry about 10% more body fat. Because our hearts beat faster and our lungs are smaller, we’ll tire faster than a man doing the same thing. Our center of gravity is lower and our pelvis is wider, leaving us at a disadvantage while running. The deck is already stacked against women simply because of biology.

But we’re not talking averages here. We’re talking about top female athletes. As we enter the final 17 days of training at Ranger School, there are still several women positioned to graduate. The odds are high they will pass the course.

I, for one, am rooting for them 1000%.


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