The Thinking 

A Military Woman Bravely States the Obvious about Women in Combat

July 24, 2012


AMERICA at last has an articulate and impassioned military woman to speak out against the planned expansion of the role of women in combat. Capt. Katie Petronio, of the Marine Corps, challenges in The Marine Corps Gazette the recently-announced proposal to integrate women into the infantry, arguing that there is no military rationale for a plan that obviously and necessarily entails a lowering of standards. Women, she states, are unequal to the demands of combat.

Petronio was a star athlete who excelled at Marine female fitness tests, but at the end of a seven-month deployment in Iraq, in which she was heavily involved in combat operations, she had lost 17 pounds and had been rendered permanently infertile due to an ovarian disease directly related to the strain. This is bleakly fitting given that the mission to integrate women into combat is effectively a war against procreation. “I am physically not the woman I once was,” she writes.

Petronio goes on:

I was the senior Marine making the final decisions on construction concerns, along with 24-hour base defense and leading 30 Marines at any given time. The physical strain of enduring combat operations and the stress of being responsible for the lives and well-being of such a young group in an extremely kinetic environment were compounded by lack of sleep, which ultimately took a physical toll on my body that I couldn’t have foreseen.

By the fifth month into the deployment, I had muscle atrophy in my thighs that was causing me to constantly trip and my legs to buckle with the slightest grade change. My agility during firefights and mobility on and off vehicles and perimeter walls was seriously hindering my response time and overall capability. It was evident that stress and muscular deterioration was affecting everyone regardless of gender; however, the rate of my deterioration was noticeably faster than that of male Marines and further compounded by gender-specific medical conditions. At the end of the 7-month deployment, and the construction of 18 PBs later, I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment. Regardless of my deteriorating physical stature, I was extremely successful during both of my combat tours, serving beside my infantry brethren and gaining the respect of every unit I supported. Regardless, I can say with 100 percent assurance that despite my accomplishments, there is no way I could endure the physical demands of the infantrymen whom I worked beside as their combat load and constant deployment cycle would leave me facing medical separation long before the option of retirement. I understand that everyone is affected differently; however, I am confident that should the Marine Corps attempt to fully integrate women into the infantry, we as an institution are going to experience a colossal increase in crippling and career-ending medical conditions for females.

Petronio states that the average military woman is not pushing this agenda. A small group of civilian activists is.

Who is driving this agenda? I am not personally hearing female Marines, enlisted or officer, pounding on the doors of Congress claiming that their inability to serve in the infantry violates their right to equality. Shockingly, this isn’t even a congressional agenda. This issue is being pushed by several groups, one of which is a small committee of civilians appointed by the Secretary of Defense called the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS). Their mission is to advise the Department of Defense (DoD) on recommendations, as well as matters of policy, pertaining to the well-being of women in the Armed Services from recruiting to employment. Members are selected based on their prior military experience or experience with women’s workforce issues.

She also contends there is an appropriate role for women in certain combat operations on “engagement teams” that interact and establish relationships with civilian women in occupied countries. But there is no need for women elsewhere in the infantry:

There have been many working groups and formal discussions recently addressing what changes would be necessary to the current IOC period of instruction in order to accommodate both genders without producing an underdeveloped or incapable infantry officer. Not once was the word “lower” used, but let’s be honest, “modifying” a standard so that less physically or mentally capable individuals (male or female) can complete a task is called “lowering the standard”! The bottom line is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads don’t get any lighter, regardless of gender or capability. Even more so, the burden of command does not diminish for a male or female; a leader must gain the respect and trust of his/her Marines in combat. Not being able to physically execute to the standards already established at IOC, which have been battle tested and proven, will produce a slower operational speed and tempo resulting in increased time of exposure to enemy forces and a higher risk of combat injury or death. For this reason alone, I would ask everyone to step back and ask themselves, does this integration solely benefit the individual or the Marine Corps as a whole, as every leader’s focus should be on the needs of the institution and the Nation, not the individual?

Which leads one to really wonder, what is the benefit of this potential change? The Marine Corps is not in a shortage of willing and capable young male second lieutenants who would gladly take on the role of infantry officers. In fact we have men fighting to be assigned to the coveted position of 0302. In 2011, 30 percent of graduating TBS lieutenants listed infantry in their top three requested MOSs. Of those 30 percent, only 47 percent were given the MOS.

Indeed, there is only one obvious rationale for the ongoing expansion of women’s role in the military. It is necessary to keep the political project of radical equality alive. A single failure in this mission, which is at war with nature itself, threatens the entire edifice.

Joe Long, the reader who sent the above article, writes:

This is a mind-blowingly honest and forthright expression of the obvious, by a woman who is a Marine combat vet – and, in the wake of this article, now a heroine of mine. Petronio writes:

“Which once again leads me, as a ground combat-experienced female Marine Corps officer, to ask, what are we trying to accomplish by attempting to fully integrate women into the infantry? For those who dictate policy, changing the current restrictions associated with women in the infantry may not seem significant to the way the Marine Corps operates. I vehemently disagree; this potential change will rock the foundation of our Corps for the worse and will weaken what has been since 1775 the world’s most lethal fighting force. In the end, for DACOWITS and any other individual or organization looking to increase opportunities for female Marines, I applaud your efforts and say thank you. However, for the long-term health of our female Marines, the Marine Corps, and U.S. national security, steer clear of the Marine infantry community when calling for more opportunities for females. “

As Chesterton wrote, it is only the last and most desperate kind of courage that can stand before the crowd and tell them that twice two is four.

I strongly suspect that USMC service loyalty and a certain amount of contempt for lesser forces influenced her attitude that full sex integration would be just fine for those OTHER branches of the military.

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