As you may have figured out by reading this blog, I usually work from small to big to small. That is, I take something that I have seen, find it's larger thematic idea and then try to return to the original thought. In essence, without always knowing I was doing it, I have learned to OODA my immediate environment and then tried to make it fit into a larger scale or scope. Yesterday's post "What a Week" is an example. A small comment by one person, coupled with a normal training event by a unit, take on much larger thematic views ( i.e that leadership requires a very honest sense of self and that any training properly conducted can have 2nd, 3rd, and 4th order effects that may actually outweigh the actual purpose of the training itself), but always returned back to the original person or observation.
This method of thinking has allowed me to develop an ability to take large themes and give them an immediate local impact, or conversely, take a small local observation and follow it outward to it's larger thematic implication(s). Sometimes this thought process works very well and other times it doesn't, but when it fails, it allows for another OODA cycle and forces a reevaluation of the original premise.
To the right of this post are a listing of websites that I follow or use for resource material. Last night I found the "Women in Combat Compendium" http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=830 on the Strategic Studies Institute page and began to read it. It presents a historical, anecdotal, and scientific review of the issues surrounding the assignment of women in the Army - a subject that I have an interest in due to my involvement with units that are gender neutral.
In an earlier post "Further Up the Road" I included a thought from my friend Erica that Millennials might be more comfortable dealing with vague and ambiguous situations than are earlier generations. As I was reading the "Women in Combat Compendium" (WICC) document last night that thought came back to me in a different light. As you read the it you see that (1) We have a policy in place that is almost impossible to strictly enforce and therefore leads to local interpretations based upon senior leader thoughts and feelings about the issue, (2) The Army absolutely needs all the Soldiers it has - male and female - in order to function, (3) Social attitudes towards women have changed greatly (at least in current generations) and slide back and forth along a generational scale, and finally that the actual physical nature of the current fight could be the final straw that breaks the back of exclusionary practices throughout the Services. It's awfully hard to find the 'front line' anymore both literally in combat and figuratively with regard to the current law. Additionally, I had never considered the cultural effects that the current laws have on female Soldiers, both officer and enlisted. It's an interesting read, and the comment section that begins on page 13 of Appendix 1, shows how much societal expectations and norms in the Army have changed - in some cases - and how much they have not in others. But I also think it is critical to point out that the respondents in this study are all senior (Lieutenant Colonel and above) officers who would be approximately 40 - 50 years old.
The second O in the OODA cycle stands for Orient. As I have mentioned before, this is the most critical and complex part of the cycle because it requires self awareness - why you are the way you are - and an awareness of why the adversary is the way he/she is. All seen without judgement or moral implication. Your attitudes, beliefs and behaviors become the prism through which you make your Observations (the first part of the loop) and will likely guide your Decide (the third part), which will determine your Act(the final part). So, in order for me to explore this issue fairly, it is helpful that I try to understand my Orientation. Without it, there is no frame of reference to explain my attitudes, beliefs and behaviors.
I was cultured into the Army in an all male infantry unit in 1990. I remained in that world until 2001 when I was assigned as a Drill Sergeant at Ft. Jackson, SC. My early frame of reference therefor is from an 18-24 year old, all male environment. I am also a Gen Xer, born in 1968, who brings with him the prevalent attitudes and ideas of my formative years, roughly 1980 - 1990. As infantrymen, we were bred to eat it, kill it, or fuck it. We lived in a type A, macho world of young men trying to prove who was the toughest. Alpha male stacked against Alpha male. Women were so rare in our barracks and unit area that when the pizza delivery girl would show up at the staff duty desk, you could smell her perfume and deodorant. The smell of baby powder was so foreign to the antiseptic smell of floor wax and pine oil coupled with sweat, funky clothes, and testosterone that it stuck out, and we would go find a reason to pass the staff duty desk to see what she looked like. She was an object. Wallpapering our rooms with centerfolds was acceptable behavior. We were guys. We believed we were the kings of the world. And, as harsh as the "eat it, kill it"sentence above may sound, in many ways those things are a baseline requirement for inculcating the required behaviors for the violent, disturbing contest that is direct, close-quarters combat. You really don't ever want to completely lose the basic human domination, survival oriented, kill-or-be-killed, behavior mechanism. Not if you intend to survive close combat.
By the year 2000, women had begun to show up in Infantry brigades in staff sections and in support roles and I somewhat understood that we were slowly turning a corner with regard to the assignment of women in general, so when I went to Drill Sergeant school, I did not protest when I was assigned to serve at Ft. Jackson. In fact, I welcomed the assignment because I knew that my first real interaction with female Soldiers would happen in a very well controlled environment. There were rules and regulations and policies for training and safety that would both protect her and me if required. If the Army was going to have more women in it, what better place to see how they work than a hugely controlled environment like Basic Training?
Ft. Jackson is the Army's largest Basic Combat Training center, assimilating almost 30,000 Soldiers a year into the Army. Using the generalized figure that 15% of the Army is female, that equates to 4,500 enlisted Soldiers per year. That number does not account for officer assimilation's from West Point or ROTC programs. However, it is likely that the Ft. Jackson number is actually higher than 4,500 because the Military Occupation Specialties (MOS) that regularly enter the Army there are all coded mixed gender. There are no male only units on Ft. Jackson, as there are at Ft. Benning where all Soldiers who have chosen infantry as their MOS attend Bsaic Training.
Sometimes the Army can be quite progressive. An example is a small line in the training guidelines that mandates that 2 training events must be gender neutral - combatives and pugil stick. The regulation specifically stated that you could not intentionally seperate the genders during these events. Soldiers would only be separated by general body size and weight. If you had a small, medium, or large framed male and a similarly sized female, then they could fight each other during these events. In fact when our company conducted combatives training, we intentionally trained one male and female per platoon and they would become the demonstrators during larger unit training. This had the effect of (1) Showing males that their female counterparts could present an equal threat on the battlefield; thereby discounting the western cultural belief that women are not combatants and are to be protected, and (2) It proved to women that they could compete and win in physical events against male counterparts. The same held true for pugil sticks. Watching a male and female Soldier battle each other with an huge padded jousting stick is to watch an entire behavioral and cultural system turned inside out in 3 minutes or less. Once she hit him hard enough to ring his bell during a bout, he rapidly ceased to see her a a woman and only as a threat. Conversely, once she figured out that it was possible to beat a man in this physical challenge, she fought as viciously as any of her male counterparts. Mutual respect for the warrior abilities of the Soldier (not male or female) was the general outcome.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to be the first 1SG for a Forward Support Company as the Army went through the transformation process. By definition, my company - while legally assigned to a Brigade Support Battalion (therefore skirting the legal issue of women in direct combat) - it would be permanently attached to an Infantry battalion. Our company would provide the cooks, mechanics, truck drivers, fuelers etc to an Infantry battalion preparing to deploy to Iraq. There I saw men and women serving equally next to each other without regard for gender. We all slept in the same tent in the field, we grew the company together, my Soldiers lived in the same barracks complex etc. We were E Co, and E Co had men and women in it. We were also supported by an awesome Infantry battalion chain of command who accepted, respected, and supported our efforts. We faced some unique challenges in the early days, but overall, the infantry battalion treated us as much a member of their family as they did any of their all male infantry companies. Gender didn't matter - work ethic did.
I guess my point in this post is that we are in a strange new world with regard to the Combat Exclusion Rule and the assignment of female Soldiers. I have been fortunate enough to see the positive change that they have had on units both in garrison and deployed. Although they may find it somewhat confusing that we even have this law, it grew out of a cultural norm that colored the Army (and society at large) for many years. It is very much a product of my lifetime. Now we find ourselves in a place where senior leaders need to examine the practical realities of the current war, the requirement for talented Soldiers in all aspects of the Army, and look at what the future requirements are likely to be and have the political and practical courage to make the appropriate adjustments to the law. Only then can we make assignment and administrative policies aimed at retaining the female Soldiers that we have - and attracting more - instead of forcing them into jobs they don't want, with rules that aren't applied equally and putting them on the slippery-slope side of political intervention.
If we do this, we will be one step closer to achieving the parity that all Soldiers deserve. That being, the right of an individual to serve their country in the manner that best suits their talents, motivations and professional desire.