Women in Combat: Make Me a Sal Giunta

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I have always been on the Girl Team. I was raised on School House Rock, Cosmopolitan magazine, and the gospel according to Helen Reddy.

So when I saw the announcement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat and potentially opening nearly of a quarter of a million jobs to women, I was glad.

Because I want another Sal. And this time, I’d like that Sal to be a woman.

Can you tell I’m in the middle of reading Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta’s biography Living With Honor?  The guy impresses me.  He ain’t no John Wayne. No Army Ranger. He isn’t the direct descendent of Stonewall Jackson or Audie Murphy. “I am not a hero,” Giunta writes.  “Just a soldier.”

As a member of the Girl Team, that is exactly the kind of spirit we need  in training women who will serve in combat. Whether they will continue in those jobs downrange they have worked for years, or take one of the newly opened combat jobs, we need these women to be soldiers and Marines. Not female soldiers or Marines. Just plain soldiers and Marines.

I know I am probably an idealist here.  But if we Girl Teamers really want combat opened to women, then I think we need to repeat a lot of the steps outlined in Giunta’s story.

First, we have to set aside the civilian idea that the job of a combatant is a job that is open to just anyone. As Giunta’s story reveals, no job in the military is open to just anyone. You have to qualify.

If we Girl Teamers want women to be taken seriously in a physical job like the infantry, the physical standards for men and women have to be the same.  Yeah, it will be harder to find women who can reach the same physical qualifications as men. Infantry standards should just be infantry standards, not standards adjusted for gender. We need to be good with that.

 Next, we have to make sure that our combatant roles attract women with the right kind of personality. Giunta writes:

“See, the thing about the infantry is that it attracts fighters. There are a lot of people in the U.S. Army, but not a lot who are guaranteed to see combat duty…I wanted to join for one reason:  to learn how to shoot my weapon more proficiently, and with greater accuracy, than the person I was shooting at, so that I could kill him and then move on and kill some of his friends, because they were all enemies of the United States.  If that sounds barbaric, well, it was exactly what the infantry wanted:  people who were eager to fight.”

Just like there are differences between men who elect to serve in different roles in the military, there will also be differences in what jobs women will be drawn to in the military.

We may find that particular personality-driven eagerness to fight and kill the enemy may not be as common to females as it is to males. So be it. When we recruit women who are fighters at heart, let them be trained to do the job.

Finally, we media types can’t let women in combat roles be one of those numbers we tend to so carefully with our political correctness stick. As a member of the Girl Team, I will have to remind myself that because of the way women are socialized in this country and because of some very real physical differences (like, say, height) not as many women will serve in these jobs.

If we insist on some theoretical, numerical equality — and get it — then we don’t end up with the right kind of soldiers. In our ever changing world, we need combatants who are aggressive and confident and can be trained to be the kind of skilled fighters who face the enemy. We need more Sal Giuntas.  More Josh Brennans. More Hugo Mendozas. More good soldiers like the ones who fought and died in the Korengal Valley. And we need both males and females trained and able to do the job.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.
  • Ron N

    As a former Army Ranger and Airborne Infantyman I read your article with interest. You are correct one standard. The tip of the sword is no place for politics. You can say as you wish but the “average” female will not be able to mentally or physically complete basic infantry training. Make no bones about it that’s just the beginning I training getting to an infantry unit 25 mile road marches, field deployment no sleep no food sleet and rain no place warm. COMBAT. Close with and destroy the enemy. The only arguments I have heard is about women doing this for promotion. It real ladies. It’s not a card to be punched for a career. There’s killing to be done and at the end of the day The “girl team” won’t be able to be at the very tip of the sword.

    • Nina K

      As a woman, a very athletic one, probably not-so-much-of-an-average-woman, and with the experience of long expeditions in the places where very few people truly want to go, I do agree with you. There are only a handful of women capable doing what it takes to be in an Infantry unit.

      I have witnessed it myself on various mountain climbing expeditions, rescue missions and such, how some women simply can’t push themselves through misery, they can’t deal with the life without showers and other daily “comforts”, they whine and cry when it is cold, wet and windy…. I am not saying that some males don’t do this too, yes, they do. But based on my experience, less so.

      While I support the idea of having women in combat units (well, I would do it if I was younger), at the same time I do have concerns about this change: one way or another it would be necessary to select only the ones who can meet the mental and physical requirements for what it takes to be in an Infantry unit. How that can be evaluated, I do not have an answer to that.

      • Ron N
        • Nina K

          Ron, you hit the nail on the head.

          Females in Infantry units do bring tons of challenges, practical and financial (and the military is already struggling with the budgets…). And all the questions you are posing are very relevant. It truly has to be all for the one standard – physical and mental. Honestly, I think this whole deal should be implemented in a way that women has to fit into that world how it is, not to change it for the women. In the long run, that would probably keep not-so-qualified, not-Infantry-minded women out, or then some feminist groups would get crazy over it. Who knows….

          Your comment about you and your Ranger Buddy made me laugh. I don’t see anything sexist in staying warm with the opposite sex, and can’t really blame you, man. But then on the other hand, my view about stuff like that is probably completely different from all these folks who find everything in the world being sexist and offending, and whatnot.

          But anyways, it all has to start from that one standard. In a small, special op troops the team cohesion is so important that weak links, males or females, do not get respect. And weak women probably even less….. and yes, I do have to admit that I do the months-long mountain expeditions with the most capable people. I want to know my buddy has my back. And in 90% of cases it seems to be that my preferred climbing buddy is a guy who can drag me down from 8,000 meters, and who knows that I can do the same for him.

    • steve

      Wanna bet we have an EPIDEMIC of back problems, and back surgeries, as a result of this type of female participation? I can see explosive hip ailments as they age as well?

  • Ronnie

    Why are we so eager to watch women fight? I hope as a country we are prepared and expect women who have lost multiple limbs, exposed to torched, possibly executed and whatever else comes our way. There is difference between being exposed to danger versus closing within and killing in a gun fight or hand to hand. In Afghanistan I never saw any women partake in an assault. Patrols? Yes they participated and some even got shot at but those of wives or husbands that have experienced “true combat” know that there is more to combat than patrols. Would anybody consider sending women into Vietnam to partake fighting in the jungle? Last time I studied the war we didn’t even want our men there.

    • David

      Study all you want but the only reason we “lost” that war is Congress stopped funding it. It also was fought in the evening news media back home while honing their craft of public opinion manipulation which they now have down to a science. If you want to win a war you go in, fight to win and do it. Send the news to Washington D.C. and practice reporting the truth as a change.

  • Smitty

    I hope they also include the draft for women. This will the diversify the force even more especially in the Navy and the Air Force.

  • Ashley

    Height is the physical difference you want to reference when speaking about the differences that affect a woman’s ability to serve in an Infantry MOS???? That one is not even relevant! Placing women on the front lines is a huge liability. I know other countries have women in their “infantry” but we’re not talking about marching in parades here.

    Why do women have to infiltrate every aspect of the military? Why can’t we stick to what we’re wired for. You don’t see men trying to have babies and breast feed. And that’s not sexist, the truth is, men and women are different in every way imaginable. PERIOD.

    • Smitty
  • Chris Wells

    Do your social engineering and political correctness BS somewhere else. ……….Not in the military, and not in the combat arms……How many of these politicians, political rights activists, and social psycho BS artists have kids in the military? ……They have no right to put people in harm’s way for their political agendas……Glad I am retired….

  • Joe T

    Dear Jacey – I empathize, but…have you ever actually watched men who TRAIN to fight? You’ve seen the Ultimate Fighter competitions on TV, with the lean mean fighting machines in the Octogon? There is a 200 pound bull of a man, all muscle and tattoos, ready – no, make that EAGER – to fight. He will look for any small advantage he can find, and exploit it to destroy his enemy. Now, imagine the most physically fit fighting woman you have ever seen. Would you put her in there against him? Not if you care about winning, and not if you care about her. I’m sorry, but even if you were the most eager woman in the world, with the most Sal Giunta qualities any woman has ever had, I could still take an average young man of 18, feed him, train him, teach him, and in one year, he would be twice the fighter you could ever be. And war is completely unforgiving. All he needs is an extra inch of reach, an extra pound of muscle, an extra ounce of speed, and he will use that tiny advantage to kill you.

  • sickunclesam

    As an “old school grunt” I find it very disturbing that in the very near future young men will have to die because inferior soldiers (females in the infantry) are there as part of some future infantry squad. What makes this even more sad is that it is being done so some women can punch their ticket to higher promotion or so the author of this story can feel proud that someone from the “girl team” got to actually go play like a real soldier.

  • 2433FO

    Weaker standards are coming. This years physical fitness requirements for my unit’s Best Warrior Competition have been made “gender neutral”. No they were not made the same based off of the male fitness scale but dropped to a lower level to make females more competitive.

  • John D.

    Wait until lots of women come back in body bags! Then the tune will change. Get it right, it is not the COMBAT, women have been shot at shoot back wounded, killed and decorated. It is the daily life in the real infantry MOAS 11B, 19K 19D that is the big problem. Sure, things like the EFMB and Sapper is strenuous but it only lasts a short while, Living like a dirty animal out of a rucksack with no clean clothes, no showers and no place to change you rtampon is the big problem. Being in the infantry is more than getting shot at. The last wars did not have weeks and months on end marching thru crap living out of a ruck like in Viet Nam or Korea. Read some history instead of propaganda!

  • John D.

    Oh and your pictures, The fireman’s carry w/ ruck and weapon is hard, where are their helmets? Posed photos, EFMS the weight of the victim is usually 150-200 lbs, I noticed that non of the women are carryin gmen an dI’ll bet those ruck are full of pillows, no one is stooped over like they ar ecarrying real weight.

  • Old Infantry Guy

    Interesing that nobody has mentioned bone structure in this discussion of the difference between males and females. I’ve known several females who were plenty tough enough for the Infantry … but who couldn’t complete training after sustaining stress fracture injuries during Infantry training. There was a comprehensive study completed years ago about females at the Army’s Airborne School. Wish I could find it now. But there was a phenomenally larger % of females (when compared to males) who could not complete training due to injury.

  • manny

    Because of the idiots here agreeing with liberals like obama and panetta is why are going to need a separate military from this ROGUE domestic enemy government being run by liberal democrats destroying every infrastructure from schools to the military. They are even destroying our nuclear force. We will get wiped out in a conventional war with REAL militaries with idiots running our military. Feminization of America has always been the plot of the insane liberals and those who support their cause. The military was not broken until Clinton and Obama came into office and destroyed our forefounding fathers established!

  • Mike Hawk

    Well the way I see it, if woman want to play “real soldier” then the Army needs to stop lowering APFT Standars for females and raise the bar to male standards, since they want equal opportunity. I just dont see how even a single female can last in the front lines without showering for more than 14 days in combat and without the unit having to make special considerations for “her” to return the rear just to “clean up”, since women are physiologically different from men. Hell, women can easily get a UTI JUST FROM HOLDING THERE PISS TO LONG! If they are doing this just to get promoted and earn more ribbons on there Class A’s, then I say go ahead, but raise all there standards to Male level performance and no special considerations since they are females. If they can perform all these tasks without any modification then I might retract my argument. Until then, I know females can not perform at the same skill set or physical requirement standards like the males in combat positions.

    P.S.
    I’d like to see “her” carry the 240-Bravo and ruck with it for 25 mi along with a full combat load.

  • jenschwab

    In my 8 years in the Army, I’ve known women who weren’t cut out for an army desk job, and women who could hang with the toughest men. Make the standards in every MOS accurately reflect the requirements of the job, and then apply them equally. Discrimination – done. If you can hack, you can hack it. If you can’t, you can’t. It’s really that simple. I have no desire to be an infantrywoman – but if you do, and you can do the job well, then rock it.

  • Rich

    It was bad enough having to worry that my son or grandson would be sent to the front lines in combat and possibly get killed. Now I have to worry about the same thing for my daughter or granddaughter. I am sure that a lot of women are very happy about this decision, but as a father / grandfather I am NOT happy at all. Lets just bulk our women up with muscle, shave their heads, put a big gun in their hand, some grenades on their belts and send them to some foreign country in the front line of battle to get killed. Now we can all be happy. Just GREAT!

    • mel

      I hear ya. My first thought when people started mentioning women registering for the draft was my girls. I’m not raising them to be like men. I’m raising them to be independent and strong, but not so they can fight a war. I’m still sporting an old-fashioned mentality in many respects and I am totally ok with it.

  • Liliana

    Females aren’t going to be greeted by males in combat services with open arms. I got just a glimpse of it while I was in Airborne school. A stick (squad) is organized by “rank”…officers, enlisted males, then females. A female E4 gets put behind a male E2. And a female who elects a combat service career, is going to get 50 times more crap. I’m not saying that females, who are physically fit and mentally strong, shouldn’t elect a combat services MOS. I’m just saying, be prepared. Very prepared. It’s going to be a rough journey.

  • Joe T

    Jacey, this article was not about “what would be best for our armed forces”, but rather, about what “I want”. “I want another Sal.” “I want that Sal to be a woman”, etc. Wanting things – ambition – is good. But military service is supposed to be about the best interest of others (the country), not your own personal best interest. When those two objectives work together, great. But when conflicts arise – “Service Before Self”.
    This is not about “jobs”, it’s about military readiness. Yes, the military can be a career. But if you see this announcement as an announcement about “jobs” your head is not in the right place.
    Finally, you end your article with this: “And we need both males and females trained and able to do the job.” Really? Why? Nothing in your article supports that statement. All you have given us is “I want” and “I wish”. Not very convincing. In truth, we dont NEED females trained for this. You WANT females trained for this. There is a world of difference. You, as a military spouse, should know that.

  • Mike ‘DOC’ Simpson

    As an Airborne RANGER former 18th ABN Corp, 187 AbnRCT in RSVN, 1965-67 I am still doubtful about Women in Combat, but then I say what will happen when body Bags start being filled in with the reamains of a Fallen “Girls Team”? Those Brave women soldiers who wish to do what they can for their Country! I say Stay in the Rear with The Gear!

  • BASavage

    This is the third time that the military has brought this up. In the early 1980’s they actually experimented with women in the infantry and ended the program. There are just a few women who can put up with the rigors but the vast majority cannot. Isreal even took women out of front line units when they found that the injury rates and casualty rates were much higher than anticipated. We are not talking about sexism or socialogical issues, its physiology and pshychatry.

  • 4RTroops

    I think there will always be a certain number of women who are born for combat and a certain number of men who aren’t. Probably on the whole, more men than women percentage-wise are born to be warriors, so I think there will still always be more male soldiers than females, but the point is to stop seeing the world in pink and blue absolutes. New brain research suggests that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men are what’s called “bridge brains” and have brain characteristics of both sexes. And that doesn’t have anything to do with sexual orientation, by the way. Those one in five women are better at fighting (soldiers) and leading (politicians) and those one in seven men are good at creating (artists) and nurturing (caregivers). Instead of making those men and women feel like freaks and being threatened by them being “different,” we need to realize that the reality of nature is that we are all human and all individuals, not part of Team Blue OR Team Pink. Whoever can, should serve if they want to, regardless of sex, creed, color or sexual orientation. We are all Team USA!