Update: Women in Combat Operations

This is an update to a earlier post I made a while back Women in Combat Operations in which I expressed some of my mixed feelings, both for and against the future of women serving in combat centered missions. In any case, I am glad that actions are being taken by the Pentagon and the Marines one way or another.

This Monday Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, announced that actions were going to be taken by Marine Corps command to study how women would be able to adapt to the combat environment by introducing a select number of women into the  infantry officer school at Quantico, Va., and ground combat battalions that had once been closed to women.

This new effort will, as I understand it, focus on female officers. As my post said many of the women I dealt with in military were officers. One in particular stood out for excellence among Marines, male or female. I think this is an important prospect for the military. It will be putting the women who are the most dedicated, most ambitious and hopefully the ones who will serve the greatest example to future Marines, notably the women.

Although there is great controversy over this debate, much of it in my previous article, and it will likely be a very long time before we see a completely coed military, I think this is a good move for the Marines as they wean into a future that will have to incorporate women more thoroughly.

Women in Combat Operations

Females are serving across the world in full combat ground positions. The debate over the equality of this situation is coming back to the main stage here in the United States.

There is a debate going on right now concerning women’s equality, particularly in the military. As it stands, women are not allowed to take place in strictly ground combat occupations. This doesn’t mean that women in the military are always safe from combat, but it does mean they cannot join some MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty or military job) like infantry, artillery or to be an officer of those units. Women are also not eligible for the draft, if that were to happen.

There are many who believe this is not in line with our current view of a need for sexual equality. At President Clinton’s request, the Department of Defense reviewed this issue in 1994. DoD noted that America’s prior drafts were used to supply adequate numbers of Army ground combat troops. Because women are excluded by policy from front line combat positions, excluding them from the draft process remains justifiable in DoD’s view. Although no conclusions were reached, DoD recognized that policies regarding women need to be reviewed periodically because the role of women in the military continues to expand. This week Marine Corps command has release statements stating that it is planning on receiving an undetermined number of women candidates for it’s infantry officer training program. What this will mean for the future of the military and women’s roles within are undetermined, but it definitely shows signs of movement on an issue that hasn’t seen the light of day for quite some time.But where they have still not expanded is into the role of combat infantryman.

Sgt. Theresa Lynn Flannery during an attack in April 2004 near Najaf, Iraq, as other soldiers used a wall for cover.

Most see no reason for this injustice. It must just be some dusty old tradition right? I think there is a better reason than that. Women are just not made for combat. If you say that then you must never have been married to a woman. But in all seriousness, what do you think makes us so different that men could “handle the stress” better than women? Men are just stronger than women? Perhaps, but as another article of mine shows the last decade of warfare has taught us one thing, we need more boots on the ground. In a Marine Infantry squad, there are few “heavy lifting” activities that I experienced where some women’s smaller (it’s statistically true women are smaller than men) frame may have slowed them down. That still leaves at least 10 slots left in the squad that anyone no matter how small would be good for. I would also like to point out another small fry who showed what the littlest member can pull off in an infantry situation. Check out the history of Audie Murphy. This is guy who was too small to join the Marines and then became the most decorated soldier of WWII. So you can see that I don’t put much weight in the argument that women, on average, are too small to do the job.

To maintain fairness I want to put out two differing points of view, both from my own personal perspective of real live cases I witnessed. I want to do this not because I don’t have a point of view, but because I want readers and debaters to see, as fair as I can, as much information possible so that you can arrive at a decision of your own.

For women in combat:

Be honest. Do you think that is a face too weak to do the job?

I want to talk about an officer I knew while in the Marines. She was one of the best Marines I ever knew. Seriously, top 3, including men. Her name was Capt. Dienhart. She was a company commander for an engineering support squadron I worked for. She was in command of over 120 mostly male Marines. Even here in the Marines, the most famous boys club in the world, she had respect. Why? She could out do any one of us. She made it a point to be able to do more push ups than us (and not girl push ups either), she could do more pull-ups than any of us ( and I am not talking about flexed arm hangs) and she ran the 18 minute 3 mile. And when I say us, I mean the group of 450 19-24 year old male Marines in the squadron, not an easy group to beat, but she did almost every time.

The only time I really got to know her was when I was a marksmanship coach for the squadron. I was her pistol instructor and helped her through her annual qualification. I used “instructor” and “helped” loosely because she was, on top of everything else, one of my best shooters ever. She had the form down, was very patient and methodical and had the strength to hold the weapon with control that and delivered precise and accurate shooting. In the Marines, marksmanship is kind of a big deal, so for her to deliver precise, consistent shooting, not just a few good shots was impressive for myself and the other Marines.

The women rewrote the book for me on what women in the military are capable of. I don’t know if she has any inclination to be part of a combat MOS, but I feel that the leadership and professionalism she showed while in a non-combat roles shows that woman have the capability and potential to serve in such positions in the future.

Against women in combat roles:

Marine atop gun turret.

Many of you ladies reading are about to get very upset. I am sorry if you feel I am not being fair to the gender, that is not my intention. Remember that what I am writing about is what happened to me and is all very true. I am trying to provide all points of view on the subject so please try to keep an open mind throughout.

In truth, I don’t see any reason that women can’t do anything in the military that men can do. My mom always had fun pointing out that there wasn’t anything a man could do that a woman couldn’t do. What I think is the key determinate in this argument isn’t what women can’t do, it’s what men can’t do that is holding women back.

Men can’t get pregnant. (Oh dear God he went there!) Now this sounds like someone attempting to throw up a catchall to prove that all women shouldn’t ever be able to join the armed forces. It isn’t. But it is a fact, women alone can conceive and carry a child and this fact has grave repercussions in the military world. Let me explain.

Suppose that you are getting ready for a deployment to Afghanistan for a 7 month tour. You will be sent to some very dangerous areas where you need every member of your team. Your unit isn’t in combat roles, but there is still a lot of work to be done and the presence of threat is very close, as it is a combat zone. Now, two weeks before you deploy everyone is arriving from pre-deployment leave and PFC Sarah has news. Everyone is happy for PFC Sarah, sort of, because they know that will be deploying a man down. You can’t deploy when you are pregnant after all. So now a team of 10 is a team of 9. That means that for the next 7 months, everyone will have to work harder and have less security during risky operations or difficult procedures. But hey, we are just breeding one more warrior in the fight against terrorism right? It’s ok we can manage.

But what if it happens, 4 more times? That is exactly what happened during my second deployment to Iraq. In a platoon with 9 women, 4 became pregnant within weeks of leaving. 1 was actually sent home from Iraq in the first week of the deployment when her mild case of mono turned out to be a severe case of pregnant. So now the platoon was down to just 4 women left of the original 9.

That may not seem like a great deal, but not only did this mean of all their work was split between those who remained, but they were also not able to fulfill a very important role. We worked at an entry control point to a major base. There was a great deal of local civilian traffic here. Everyone who came an went had to be checked, including the women. Do you think the U.S. government wanted those dirty male Marines all over the local populace? No, we needed females to do it. And many times we had to call in just to have someone check if someone had a weapon under their clothing. Ah, SOP how I miss you.

This wasn’t an isolated issue either. This freak epidemic of mass pregnancy happened throughout the squadron both times we were deployed. I liken it to a college where you don’t have to take finals if you are pregnant and then two weeks before finals you have 5 of 9 women in a particular class (and more than 20% overall) of the women show up pregnant. Would you think it was an accident? Would you think they were all accidents? Others were sent home in the middle of an Iraq deployment because they became pregnant in Iraq (please trust me when I say that it is not a romantic place, so it is curious to me that this could happen at all.) Female Marines who are or were recently pregnant are also given different standards to uphold than their non-pregnant counterparts. This makes sense with limits, being that there is some point where they must be deployable at some predetermined point in the future. For example I had a Sergeant who was very much overweight and never took part in scheduled physical training. The reasoning, she had had a kid. “But wait, her kid can talk.” Where is the line? When are we supposed to start upholding standards?

As for me, I don’t think it is that hard not to get pregnant. With today’s health care and knowledge it seems impossible to me that this many people could accidentally become pregnant preceding a time of great personal struggle. My wife and I agreed long ago that we would not have children until we were in a house, graduated from college and both had good jobs. It has been nearly eight years and we are still not ready, but we are also not pregnant. I think for that reason I have little sympathy for those who become accidentally pregnant. I feel that having children is never truly an accident and the fact that when this happens it leaves a lot of good people, men and women, down a (wo)man.

I couldn’t agree with you more sir.

In my mind there has to be some sort of accountability in the military community to combat this growing form of malingering in the ranks. The civilian population also needs to see that this is indeed a problem and an epidemic for the military. Efforts to address this evoked civic outrage two years ago when Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo threatened court martial for four soldiers who became pregnant, as well as the male soldiers who fathered the children after disobeying expressed orders to avoid such happenings. The National Organization for Women (NOW) said the policy to reprimand them was “ridiculous.” “How dare any government say we’re going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant,” NOW President Terry O’Neill said. “This is not the 1800s.”

I would like to agree with Ms. O’Neill. In the civilian world that I now enjoy and that Ms. O’Neill seems to be only experienced with, someone telling Jennie and I we can’t have children is unacceptable. But in the military it is different. It may seem draconian, but that life is much more extreme. It’s more violent, dangerous, harder and we need each other more. We are Marines (soldiers, sailors, airmen, coasties.) We aren’t accountants, teachers or postal workers. When we lose a person we can’t hire someone on for a few months until Sarah is back. When we lose someone it is a loss, and to those who are left to complete the mission, it might as well be a casualty.

Tech. Sgt. William Greer / U.S. Air Force

In conclusion, I feel that women in the military have outstanding potential. I have seen some of the most amazing feats of excellence performed by female Marines. My conclusion however, is that the achievements and virtues of these and many other individuals, do not represent the whole. As a whole, they aren’t ready for the responsibility of combat MOS’s. When 1 women is unable to deploy it’s a tragedy for it’s unit, when 60% are unable to deploy it’s a statistic, and a damning one. For as long as women in the military can not accurately be relied upon to deploy in sufficient strength and readiness, to complete the mission through the course and then to return home to their family life as men do, they as a group are not ready for the difficulties and responsibilities of combat warfare. In such theaters when you lose someone, it isn’t just a burden, like it was for our platoon, it places everyone else in danger. It leaves open the likelihood that others will never see their families so that some could start one of their own. When there are women  who choose to use pregnancy as a tool to avoid duty they do a grave disservice to the Capt. Dienharts of the armed services, who have earned the right to serve in any manner they should wish.  When this pattern ceases to be a problem, I will be one of the first ones cheering for some more fresh boots in the thick of the fight.

-Jon

I have tried to provide links to both parts of the debate so that you can make up your own mind on where you stand on the issue. If you know of another good link to either side of the debate, please post it in the replies. Any retaliatory remarks will not be posted as I tried to be fair. And please, let’s not make this about rape. People love to site that “what-if” because of it’s moral impossibility to judge, however rape accounts for such a low amount of pregnancy cases be they civilian, military or otherwise that I will not justify it as a meaningful addition to this debate.

Facts Regarding the Women in Combat Roles. Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, The Impact of Pregnancy on U.S. Army Readiness 

Arguments for:

Five myths about women in combat Great article written by a female Marine Corps Major. I really liked this article and agree with most of what she says in it (except  myth 3, sorry ma’am).

Military.com posting a poll that American’s support women in combat roles.

Now that the gay thing is resolved, can we let soldiers be openly female in combat?

Remove ban on women in combat

G.I. Jane Breaks the Combat Barrier

Women in Combat: Study Recommends Ending Military’s Last Male Bastion

Arguments against:

Soldier’s Duty Is Country First, Pregnancy Later

Knocked up and deployed: An Army captain’s view

Navy gives new urgency to retaining pregnant sailors

More women in combat means more mothers with PTSD

A discussion group on “Service Member Pregnancy During Deployment”

Senators Demand General Rescind Order on Pregnant Soldiers

Remember also that my personal point of view is currently more against a change in the current system. This is mostly due to my personal experiences and for that reason I admit that I may have some biases preventing me from fairly showing both sides.

Origins of the Christmas Tree, Santa Claus and other Christmas “Myths”

A traditional clay nativity scene.

There is a lot of talk among many circles of the nature of many traditions in many Christian holidays.  What does a fat man breaking into the homes of tiny children have to do with the baby Jesus? Did baby Jesus have a Christmas Tree? Does the Easter Bunny summer with the Reindeer in Aspen? Many say that all of these are proof of our pagan traditions, and that the Christians are pagan for following them. Many would also like to believe that the entire holiday is nothing but a huge collection of things to make us buy more things. I however have been digging around and believe I have discovered some things that many may find surprising, enlightening or entertaining about the delightful if sometimes confusing traditions of our favorite holiday.

One story I sadly remember is of my nephew. When he was three he informed us that Santa Claus wasn’t real. His daddy told him that, (please read with a white trash accent) “We don’t worship pagan symbols ’round here.” Well as the good uncle I sat my nephew down and reaffirmed to him that no, Santa Claus was not a pagan and he is indeed real.

Santa Claus - Can he be trusted? Yes he can.
A fresco painted of Saint Nicholas

Santa Claus: Santa was indeed a real person. He actually did go by the name of Nicholas, his Greek name when he was a monk in the early Christian church around what is today Myra, Turkey. He lived in the 300’s and became famous for his great acts of charity. (At least he was real, but don’t tell the kids.) One story speaks of him giving dowries to three young, pious, impoverished girls so that they could be wed, and not go into other forms of lifestyle. Another speaks of him saving three wrongly prosecuted men from being put to death. For these and other reasons he was made a saint in the church. In his native home of Myra there is the first church dedicated to Saint Nicholas and many more have risen in Europe since the 7th century. He is also considered the patron saint of children and many others. His uniform is also of Christian decent as it is an evolution of the canonical robes worn by later Christian cardinals.  How all these turned into breaking and entering to give presents in return for good deeds and tasty treats I can only guess, but I can promise you children that Santa Claus is real. So be good for goodness sake.

December 25: I am sorry folks, Jesus was not born on this day. Many agree that it fell sometime around the spring, probably around April or May. Some accounts I have read also place it in early January. The Bible was not clear on this and, in spite of the fact that his entire of family was Jewish, there were no good records for the exact time of his birth. What most biblical scholars do agree on is that it was not December 25th.

Jesus Christ fulfills the role as "The unconquered Sun" a tradition of solstice in fourth century Rome.

The reasoning for this date was to bring the important celebration of Jesus’ birth and overshadow important pagan traditions of the time. Some of these include the celebration of the Winter Solstice, Roman New Year and other holidays including the celebration of Saturnalia. Saturnalia, interestingly enough, was a Roman holiday where masters served their slaves in recognition of the duel sides (bipolar) nature of their god Saturn. During this holiday the Romans gave gifts to their slaves and a nature of equality and brotherhood was recognized during the festivities. It was also a great time to party. Along with the date, this is where many believe the practice of gift giving and merriment during Christmas comes from. In fact, in the middle ages the church tried to repress the act of gift giving because of it’s paganistic roots. (I know I thought it came from the wise men too.)

In any case, these holidays all fell close enough to each other and held a strong enough pagan tradition that in the 300’s the early church set a day when we as Christians would recognize the birth of Jesus. This allowed the influence and meanings of the pagan holidays to gradually fade away as their traditions began to become part of Christmas as we know it.

The famous Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Center

The Christmas Tree: This story is more interesting than you might think. It turns out that this tradition may technically have descended from pagan roots, but there is more to this story. The Christmas tree that we have today probably came around the end of the 1700’s around Germany. At that time the German Christians were really reinventing the holiday at that time, not in my opinion to do anything wrong, just to add some culture and something new to the celebration. They started erecting Christmas trees with decorative candles (and I don’t know how they didn’t burn down the entire place with open flame on a dried out tree in the middle of the living room.) This is also where we get the traditions of tree ornaments and Christmas lights. Once these traditions started in Eastern Europe they began to spread to the rest of Europe and eventually to the Americans through immigrants, most likely the Dutch. But where did the Germans come up a tree in the living room?

There are two majors beliefs as to the origin of the Christmas tree. One is believed to be around a play in which the “Paradise Tree” stands as the centerpiece of the play featuring Adam and Eve in the creation story. The other story (which I like better as it tells a richer, fuller story) is about how the Christmas tree is descended from some of our ancient ancestries. This is where some pagan roots to the tree story start to show.

Yggdrasil - The Nordic "World Tree"

In many Norse, Gaulic and ancient Germanic religions, trees were key figures of their religion. To the Norse the holy tree of Yggdrasil held up the entire world, which consisted of many realms included the realm where the gods lived and where humans lived, as well one for the elves, dwarves and their own version of Hell, which they called… Hel. In any case, trees were an important part of these religions and the cultures of ancient Europe, particularly France, Germany, Western Russia, Scandinavia and England. Where this becomes a Christian story is here.

Bonifacius brings down the Donar Oak before the Chatti.

In the early 700’s a Catholic Monk named Saint Boniface (Bonifacius) did much work to convert the Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. One legend speaks of him traveling to a city of the Chatti, a Germanic tribe. There he found a mighty tree called the Donar Oak, which to the people there, symbolized their patron god. Well Boniface would have none of that and he felled the tree (along with the Frankish troops who protected him from the angry savages.)  According to legend this tree was used to build a chapel to Saint Peter and was the birthplace of the Benedictine order. You will also see images of Saint Boniface with an ax, a reference to this popular legend.

This may sound strange, but it makes perfect sense for a Christmas story. If this legend is truly viewed as the beginning of the Christmas tree myth then it represents something much deeper than a tree.  When Saint Boniface went to Germany he went to spread the news of Christianity to the pagans. By felling the tree his action symbolized the arrival of Jesus and the death of the pagan religion in Europe. For that reason we can say that the Christmas tree is a very good symbol of Christmas as it stands for a subtle reminder of our pagan roots giving way to Christianity when Jesus was born.

Reindeer, the North Pole and the Elves: I don’t have a clue. My best guess is they are just plain pagan. You just can’t really justify those. Deer are important for many of the Norse legends and a symbol of Odin (also considered to have some relations to the modern Santa myths.) And the elves are Norse myths as well. At least these little guys are cute and kind instead of the eternal hunters of man that the ancients made them out to be. The North Pole… well I guess they chose that because only recently have we been brave or dumb enough to go there and prove it wrong. In any case, these are all northern traditions, along with the holiday commonly known as Yule (hense Yule time.) It would make sense that since they were the last regions to come into Christianity before they started keeping good books of what is and isn’t Christian, that many of their myths made their way into Christian traditions. Don’t worry though, these aren’t a big deal anyway.

What I hope you gained from this article is a few insights on things most Christians never think about (or tried not to think about because it may have led to places they didn’t want to go.) By studying the histories however, we can learn a great deal about our traditions that reestablishes some of our favorite merry making activities as authentic Christian activities. When my children are young I plan to tell them to leave cookies for Santa (who favors my wife’s chocolate chip) and when they are older I will tell them about what the real Saint Nicholas did for the people of his village. We will also decorate the tree and when they are older I will tell them about how Saint Boniface taught the Germans about Jesus and how he started the Christmas tree tradition. They will also place stars on the trees, sing both the secular and Christian Christmas songs and go to church to see the plays.

I also hope that readers consider this. What symbols, acts, decorations or traditions are yours these Christmas holidays, it matters less about where the tradition comes from and more about what it means to you and those you celebrate it with. Doing something that may have been similar to something done by people dancing around a fire fifteen hundred years ago doesn’t make you a pagan. And these traditions we now celebrate are now important to our culture and heritage. So don’t get caught up and worry too much about what everything in the holidays may or may not have meant, but just enjoy the traditions of your special holiday.

Merry Christmas,

-Jon

Also see other posts about the holidays at the Christmas Discussion.

Got to Get Started Somewhere.

So I decided to write a blog. You are probably here because you have been lured to my site by one of my very interesting and informative articles and have decided to join my legion of loyal followers. Or perhaps you are just really, really bored. In any case thank you for giving me your time instead of googleing “Why do white people…” or watching a Youtube video about the latest Flash Mob in Mumbai. I hope I didn’t just lose everyone to looking those two up.

Before you decide on leaving or continuing on let’s get to know a little bit more about me and the things you will be reading should you continue to follow my continuing downward spiral of a thought pattern.

I am a neo-traditionalist. I think that completely throwing away some of the old ways is wrong. Some of our best ideas have been around for a long time and aren’t quite ready to be thrown out just yet. I did say neo though so I want to see some evolution. Let’s see our old traditions evolve to fit a new era. I want to see change in many things, in our ideas and in the way we do things.

That’s a little intentionally vague. To get down to it, I am entrepreneur just getting started, I got married two weeks after high school and haven’t stopped since, did my time in the U.S. Marines and have been indelibly scarred with deep patriotism. Getting my degree didn’t solve that. Though many young college students take that time to “realize” how our conservative capitalistic society is evil, the real world had already gotten to me. I like our way of life and the society that makes it possible. I am a Christian of Southern Baptist background, but disagree with many of the viewpoints that my fellow Christians have developed over time. If I identify usually with a political party it is Republican, but I see myself as a Libertarian. That doesn’t mean I think any one group is always right. I think education is one of the most important legacies we can pass on. I wish for everyone to get their finances in order and my wife coupons fantastically and I love her even more for it. I am a pretty big tech nerd. I am a bit of an insomniac and lastly I think too much. This is a deadly combination that has affected me in ways I will never escape, gave me time to come to some conclusions others don’t.  Now I feel the uncontrollable need to share them with you.

So that is it in a nutshell. That little paragraph will probably sum up every post I make from here on out. Hopefully you will follow me and enjoy the trip.