Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's decision to open virtually all positions in the military to women, including those in infantry and front-line combat units, is the wrong policy, adopted for the wrong reasons and implemented the wrong way.
It was adopted in the wrong way because such a significant change in longstanding military personnel policy, with potentially serious implication for the effectiveness of the fighting force, should not be made without holding congressional hearings in advance to explore all the issues involved.
It was adopted for the wrong reasons because it was driven by political and social considerations. Some women have complained that their chances of career advancement within the military are hampered by their exclusion from ground combat positions, and the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on their behalf.
The Obama administration probably does not want to be in the position of arguing against expanded opportunities for women. However, the Supreme Court has always granted great deference to Congress and the military in the operation of our armed forces. Maximizing combat effectiveness, not career opportunities, must always be their top priority.
It is the wrong policy because it ignores fundamental biological differences between the sexes, and the natural implications of those differences. While much is made of new "high-tech" forms of warfare, we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan that ground combat still requires levels of sheer physical strength, speed and endurance that are relatively rare among women. If current physical standards are maintained, few women will be able to meet them, and there will be demands that they be lowered. If those standards are lowered, the effectiveness of the fighting force will be directly compromised.
In addition, troops in ground combat are often in sustained operations for extended periods. Their living conditions offer no privacy for personal hygiene functions or sleeping. This places an undue burden on small-unit leaders to find ways to provide privacy for the separate sexes during high stress and dangerous operations.
Women in the military already serve with courage, putting their lives on the line. However, it is neither in their interest, nor the country's, for them to serve in front-line combat positions.
Retired lieutenant general Jerry Boykin, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, served in the Army for 36 years. He was an original member of the Delta Force and a Green Berets commander.
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