Christianity,  Politics

The reality that awaits women in combat

Ryan Smith writes in The Wall Street Journal about the reality that awaits women in combat. Smith illustrates the problem by describing his own experience as a Marine during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Readers should be warned that what you are about to read is not for the faint of heart. But I think it is important for people to consider the reality of what will be required of female infantrymen.

Many articles have been written regarding the relative strength of women and the possible effects on morale of introducing women into all-male units. Less attention has been paid to another aspect: the absolutely dreadful conditions under which grunts live during war…

We rode into war crammed in the back of amphibious assault vehicles. They are designed to hold roughly 15 Marines snugly; due to maintenance issues, by the end of the invasion we had as many as 25 men stuffed into the back. Marines were forced to sit, in full gear, on each other’s laps and in contorted positions for hours on end. That was the least of our problems.

The invasion was a blitzkrieg. The goal was to move as fast to Baghdad as possible. The column would not stop for a lance corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, or even a company commander to go to the restroom. Sometimes we spent over 48 hours on the move without exiting the vehicles. We were forced to urinate in empty water bottles inches from our comrades.

Many Marines developed dysentery from the complete lack of sanitary conditions. When an uncontrollable urge hit a Marine, he would be forced to stand, as best he could, hold an MRE bag up to his rear, and defecate inches from his seated comrade’s face…

When we did reach Baghdad, we were in shambles. We had not showered in well over a month and our chemical protective suits were covered in a mixture of filth and dried blood. We were told to strip and place our suits in pits to be burned immediately. My unit stood there in a walled-in compound in Baghdad, naked, sores dotted all over our bodies, feet peeling, watching our suits burn. Later, they lined us up naked and washed us off with pressure washers.

I raise again the question that I brought up in my previous post. What if the draft were reinstituted? Under the right conditions, the draft would be a very real possibility, and that specter of a draft is really clarifying. It’s one thing for women to volunteer for combat service. It’s an entirely different matter for them to be drafted into it. I have a hard time believing that the women of America would want to be forced into such conditions. Any man that would countenance for one second his 18-year old daughter being pressed into this kind of service is abdicating his responsibility.

Men and women are different. The roles that each of them play during wartime ought to correspond to those differences. I have a feeling that more people feel the same way as I do than are willing to admit it. We live in an egalitarian age that can hardly tolerate the “quaint” notion that men and women are different. So very few are willing to speak up. But on this one, reality is staring us in the face. And the welfare of our mothers, wives and daughters rightly tests our nation’s near total capitulation to feminist propaganda.

All of us ought to demand of our congressional representatives that this is not the kind of military that we want to have. Why? Because this is not the kind of society that we want to be.

So I make an appeal to you. If you have that feeling in your gut that something is wrong with this, your gut is right. No matter how much the spirit of the age tries to shout her down, Wisdom is crying in the streets. And you ought to pay attention to her (Prov. 1:20).


  • Paula Bolyard (@pbolyard)

    My husband, who spent time in the Army and Army National Guard (though not in wartime), said he is concerned about both men and women who would be captured. What would it do to a man to have to watch a woman being beaten and tortured or raped? Would he be able to watch that happen and fight his God-given instincts to protect her or would he give up intel to defend her? It’s one thing to see a man being tortured, but when a guy grows up being taught to protect women (as many still are) and God has designed him to feel that way, what does it do to him to stand by and watch and do nothing?

    There are so many potential scenarios like this that are not being address. The only discussions we hear are about whether women can physically handle the job and whether it’s good for their career advancement. The larger question is about what this does to the fundamental God-ordained relationships between men and women.

    • David Spaugh

      Paula: Here is something I posted on Nancy Pearcey’s FB page yesterday, regarding this issue:

      ” I wish I could document this, and may be fuzzy on some of the details, but I recall several years ago Patricia Schroeder(?) (D, Colorado) was advocating using women in combat. When it was argued that this would be dangerous, since women captives might be tortured to get our servicemen to give information to our enemies, her reply was “then we need to desensitize men so they won’t feel the need to come to a woman’s rescue.” Of course those holding such sentiments are quick to scream about “violence against women.” Again, professing themselves wise, they became fools….”

      In short, Schroeder’s answer is what we’ll get from a godless world. Or else, the powers that be will continue to ignore the obvious, and claim “it ain’t so.”

  • Daryl Little

    I agree. It seems that those who want women in combat have a child’s romantic view of war as an adventure, and not the ugly, horrible, boots-on-the-ground reality that it is.

    There’s a reason for the phrase “the horror of war”.

    I would break the law to keep my daughter out of the military were the draft to be reinstated.

  • Nell Parker


    I do not believe that draft the should be instituted to force women to serve in military combat. At the same time, I am not so sure that the “coward” word should be used to describe a man who might allow his daughter to serve in combat.

    I know some daughters of military leaders who would want to serve in such a capacity. Their fathers have fought in harm’s way and could not be considered “cowards” by any stretch of the imagination.Yet they support their daughters’ wishes in this area.

    These are complex issues. I just heard Leon Panetta speak to this issue. They are taking into consideration both standards for strength and the difficulties of cohabitation.

    • Denny Burk

      Nell, thanks for the push-back. I removed the word “coward” from the original post.

      I still feel strongly that fathers and husbands have a special responsibility to protect and to provide for the welfare of the women in their lives. Many men have abdicated that responsibility, and we are all the worser for it.

  • jake

    Hey all, I am an Army Chaplain. There are some things to point out. 1. Women have been killed, captured and maimed already in the service to our nation. They have served bravely and with honor on many varying missions. But these past two was have been unique and I think we have forgotten that. We are currently operating in a COIN (counterinsurgency) environment where there are no real ‘frontlines’ because everything off the FOB (Forward Operating Base) in a sense is the frontlines. Certainly women have been off the FOB doing convoys, route clearance, working on PRT’s (Reconstruction teams) and in these cases they have been in harms way and have been in some circumstances killed in action. However this is dramatically different that what many infantrymen and combat arms men have been doing and will do in direct action missions of the future. Living isolated in outposts, in the mountains, on patrols for weeks on end and living out of their truck (whatever vehicle that may be.. Stryker, Bradley etc. ) These conditions will be an overwhelming obstacle for the very reasons the Marine mentioned above. We have been and will be in fights where when you are done you don’t get to go back to the FOB and shower.
    Even as you train for these missions you can find yourself getting stripped naked and having your rectum checked in casualty training event like one I witnessed two months ago.. 1-17 IN!
    I truly do not believe that the policy that existed for years was because we are barbaric and chauvinist (which most infantrymen are)… The military is way to pragmatic and uncaring for that. It was made based on practical reality, speed in combat and survivability. I served in a Infantry BN and now serve with a support battalion and the manuever abilities aren’t even comparable based on personnel. This will be bad.. or the military will become much weaker.

    • Ralph Otte

      I was also an Army chaplain (Gulf War) where our conditions were NOT all that bad, although living in somewhat crowded GP large tents. We had showers and reasonably good food (Evac Hosp), long days but no combat. One of the things mentioned before the war was that regs required women have access to showers at least every 72 hours. That’s not going to happen in full combat units, let alone a time to change a pad or tampon. It was hard enough to function in MOPP gear as it was. Women are in harm’s way with the way our current operations are, but no one should go into this call for opening up combat specialties without realizing what will transpire.

  • Gregg Barnes

    Well, woman want to be totally equal to men, so here you go. This is what they want, and with it comes all the good and bad.

  • Elisabeth Orr

    I think the fact women can’t register for the draft is an ongoing blow to the cause of equality. If I want to be paid the same and have the same rights, why the hell *shouldn’t* I register? I’m pretty sure the guys defecating inches from each other aren’t having a totally awesome time of it, either.

    The urge to protect women from the horrors of war, while no doubt rooted in chivalry, is oppression itself. And it disappoints me feminists — and I am one — tend to respond to this point by arguing that they oppose war itself, which is so far beside the point it may as well be on another planet.

    • David Thomas

      I would agree with you on the final point–it drives me nuts when, while engaging someone on this point, they wave their hands and say, “No one would even want their /sons/ involved in this!” (as many in these threads are absurdly stating). Well, duh! No one stating they don’t want women in combat is at the same time /rooting/ for wars to break out so they /can/ see men in action. That’s a straw man argument.

      But it saddens me deeply that you cast my efforts to intercede on behalf of my little girl to keep her from combat as “oppression itself.” She is as girly and feminine as they come, and delighted to be so. To see her forced into combat completely against her will and nature makes me shudder and weep. There is no arguing with your mindset–it is so far removed so as to be impossible to reason with.

      Chivalry is a romantic medieval ideal. My stance goes much deeper than that, and is rooted in the biblical dignity I see God granted women and the charge laid upon me to lay down my life for the women in my life. The continual sacrifices I have made (which I won’t bore you with) did not feel romantic, and I surely didn’t do it out of chivalry. To cast that protective action–when my wife and daughter were very much depending on me to carry it out–as nothing more than oppression makes me very sad indeed…for you.

    • Bryan Kautzman

      Ummm….. Elisabeth… is an “urge” or an evolutionary predisposition (I would say creator inspired) toward something oppression? Oppression is where dominant groups use real power to control and disadvantage another group. The way radical muslim cultures treat their women is REAL oppression. Why isnt the feminist movement more vocal and outraged about real injustice? Thats easy. THEYRE COWARDS. Its very easy in america to attack men and our silly antiquated notions like chivalry. Ideas that most women I know deep down wish the men in their lives embraced more fully. There are much bigger issues facing women today in the world. Try doing something worthwhile and crusade against them. ALSO, what exactly is the equality you are concerned about? I mean the differences bt men and women go far beyond our “genitalia”. The physical emotional and mental differences are obvious. Is it equality of opportunity? Not everyone is suited for any and all opportunities. There are reasons that I am not suited to playplay professional football, be an accountant, or be a hostess at HOOTERS restaurant. I am not strong enough or fast enough, Im not great with math or details, and HOOTERS would not do well with middle aged hairy guys working as hostesses. The military should only be concerned about efficient operations not making accomodations for people. It is not the proper place for social experiments. The abilities to vote and own land are rights that were worth fighting for. Having women on the front lines fighting will only serve to degrade our military further than it already has been by political correctness and the dangerously misguided Progressive movement

    • Daryl Little

      That line “The urge to protect women from the horrors of war, while no doubt rooted in chivalry, is oppression itself.” betrays you.

      It demonstrates the attitude of someone looking to find oppression wherever it can be imagined to be.
      That’s not to say that men have not failed in their treatment of women. We have. But to call protection, oppression is blindness at it’s height.

  • Robert Vaughn

    Denny, I just want to say that I appreciate that you have been very active on your blog in highlighting this issue and the abortion issue (and other things as well). Your quantity of output is amazing. I don’t know how you do it, but keep up the good work!

  • Matthew Dwyer

    I would think that any parent that countenances their son being drafted into these conditions against their will is abdicating their responsibilities in much the same way as if it was their daughter.

    • Daryl Little

      Men have to make sacrifices that they can never put onto women. To our shame, we too often haven’t done that.

      No one likes the draft, but if my sons are called to sacrifice, then sacrifice they must, as men.

  • Eric Lallana

    Mr Burk, your piece is of course very compelling but I worry more about the women who serve are great country in the military getting raped by their male colleagues and never receiving any form of justice. This is all factual thank to the Oscar Nominated Documentary THE INVISIBLE WAR. See the movie first then refer me back to your article. Thank you.

  • Andrea Collins

    If we’re so disgusted by the idea of women dealing with the conditions described above, why aren’t we disgusted by MEN having to deal with the same conditions? I don’t think there will be a self-consciousness from the woman having to urinate in front of a crowded AAV that didn’t exist among the men having to do the same in front of other men. Is it because they have different genitalia? Because there’s certainly nothing sexual about that situation. Also, why would a man be any more likely to want to save a woman than to save a man in the capture situation described?

    • Daryl Little

      “why would a man be any more likely to want to save a woman than to save a man in the capture situation described?”

      Because that’s wheat men do. We expect men to be men. We don’t expect women to be men.

  • Eliza Breen

    These conditions arn’t ok for women or for men. I wouldn’t want my son or daughter to be in these condition, but it is no more ok for men and we need to move past these archaic ideas for what women can do.

  • buddyglass

    “I raise again the question that I brought up in my previous post. What if the draft were reinstituted?”

    Then I’d support it, assuming it incorporated realistic assumptions about female draftees. Namely, that the average female draftee is not going to be able to perform in the same variety of roles as the average male draftee.

    Specifically, it’s not realistic to expect the average female draftee to perform adequately in a combat role, including those that aren’t physically demanding (e.g. rear support).

    That doesn’t render the conscription of women useless, though. If nothing else, they could be used in non-combat positions currently occupied by men, freeing up those men to move into combat roles.

    Given their lack of relative role-flexibility, though, I’d expect the demand for female draftees to be significantly less than for males, even in the case where they’re eligible.

    • David Thomas

      Buddy, your “assumptions” and “expectations” load a matter completely outside your control with qualifiers NO ONE is guaranteeing. For you, this seems to be a discussion to be tapped out on your laptop while comfortably sipping a low fat soy latte at the local Starbucks. For me–who has a daughter–it is life and death.

      If you /really/ believe those qualifiers need to be in place, then quite with the lame adjustment of your spectacles as you lay down platitudes and fight like a hellion to make sure they are. As it goes, your “stand” is no stand at all.

      • buddyglass

        If we start talking about re-instituting the draft and it became apparent that women were going to be put in positions where they couldn’t hope to perform then, trust me, I’d strenuously advocate for a wiser policy.

        Since we’re *not* currently talking about a draft and it is *not* apparent that, even if we were, women would be utilized in completely stupid ways, I don’t see the point of your preemptive freakout.

        I laid out the conditions under which I’d support a draft because that’s the only way to accurately express how I feel about drafting women. If it’s done right then I could support it. If not, then I couldn’t.

          • buddyglass

            So, one guy’s analysis. These combat positions still have physical requirements, which the vast, vast majority of women will fail to meet and be excluded from them on that basis even in the event they’re drafted.

            For the few women who are physically and psychologically capable of contributing in those roles, I’m fine with them being drafted and being relied upon in that capacity.

            • David Thomas

              With all due respect, it is not “one guy’s analysis.” It is the common analysis between TWO individuals, one a law professor at UVA who has advised cases dealing with this issue before the Supreme Court, and the other a retired brigade commander who teaches military history at OSU. They are hardly your average “guys” and there was no shadow of turning in there assessment. So please, leave off with the patronizing talk of me “freaking out”–if anything, you are under-reacting. And you’ll forgive me if I pay more attention to their read of the matter than I do /yours/.

              As for the supposed physical requirements that will “screen” so many from combat, you are living in a fantasy world, like a fictional scientist at Jurassic Park filling in the DNA of extinct creatures with frog DNA. You cannot pick and choose the realities you want and say you are “for” something based upon what you imagine or think /might/ happen. The reality is that as things stand, boot camp IS the apparatus that prepares people for the battlefield–as it has been for many years. And as as things stand, women in boot camp may significantly underperform in physical tests and still pass and even be praised, while men performing the same way are roundly upbraided. There is a curve–period–and it is significant.

              The fact is, women will be taken as they are, and forced to fight whether they will or no–just as men have for generations–if the draft is enacted under national emergency.

              From where I stand, you are perpetually hiding your head in the sand from the hard realities of both military life AS IT NOW IS as well as WHAT WILL BE.

  • David Thomas

    How very, very tragic this all is. In Genesis 2, Adam burst into song when Eve was presented to him. She was amazing to him, to be honored and appreciated for what she meant for him and the future of the race. Even if some view the story as myth, it is certainly /true/ myth (as J.R.R. Tolkien would put it).

    Now we are reduced to the brutal, staccato prose of the casualty list press release when speaking of women. How upside down we’ve become! Elsewhere in this thread a woman calls it “oppression itself” that women should be shielded from combat. So every man who stood in the way of the invading horde, willing to fight a delaying action at the cost of his life so his wife and children could escape was an “oppressor.” My great-grandfather, David McNair, who died of his wounds after the Trenton-Princeton Campaign in the winter of 1776-77 was an “oppressor” because he insisted his wife stay at home and care for the family–and raise a son, the future first governor of Missouri, Alexander McNair. What did he fight for? Where is the country he and my other Revolutionary War ancestors died to free?

    The social machinery that had legitimate quarrels with the oppression of women in things like the vote and sexual harassment issues has outsmarted itself and has begun to grind up the very people it purported to defend.

    Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter~Isaiah 5:20.

    • buddyglass

      “So every man who stood in the way of the invading horde, willing to fight a delaying action at the cost of his life so his wife and children could escape was an “oppressor.””

      No, but the man who forbids a woman from participating the delaying action *who is not his wife or daughter* is.

      • David Thomas

        So if it’s someone else’s wife or daughter, to h*ll with them? God in heaven what barbarians we’ve become. If you’ll read her post, Buddy, Elisabeth Orr didn’t even lay down the heartless and nihilistic qualifier you have.

        Beyond that, your so wrong words fail to describe how twisted your thinking has become. You’re just wrong. Talk about exalting “principles” completely divorced from the reality of war to a level of godhood. Civilization ends and you’re just glad a party platform “won.”

        Thinking they were wise, they became fools…

          • David Thomas

            Buddy, to answer your question–which phases me not a bit (though people like you always glibly play it as if it is some sort of all-powerful trump card), I will ask a couple of questions of my own:

            1) Do you really think I am speaking for “me”–personally–or do you think I am speaking as a mouthpiece of what I view as best for society?

            2) Do whom does each individual belong?

  • Nell Parker

    Thank you for your kind consideration of my comment. I would like to make one other observation. It is important that everyone understand that we are talking about adult women here, not little girls. When they reach their majority, they may listen to our opinions but will often have thoughts of their own.

    Once again, I am not in favor of drafting woman but if one of my daughters, who are in their 20s, said she wanted to serve in combat, I would respect her decision. Frankly, there are worse things she could want to be.

  • Suzanne McCarthy

    My guess is that this isn’t even remotely about combat but something else altogether. For example, if the war is on our own turf, then women must, for self preservation, participate fully to the best of their ability. It would be suicide not to. Any woman whose home is attacked while the men are away from home, must be prepared and able to respond. That is simply obvious fact.

    Well, I don’t have to mention all the countries where war happens on their own turf. That is self evident. But historically also, in England during the civil war, when some men of the upper classes were thrown in dungeons, the wives took over active leadership in the defense of the family home, castle or whatever. Upper class women naturally moved into the positions made vacant by their absent husbands.

    This makes it obvious that it is only wrong to send women outside of the country to participate in combat. It is not wrong by any standards for women exposed to threat of war in the home to engage in combat.

    So, in fact, if the circumstances were different nothing would be said about women and combat. Let’s be clear about how desperately some want to use this argument to dominate women.

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