Pulling our military’s teeth


President Obama has selected Eric Fanning to be Secretary of the Army. That he is openly gay wouldn’t bother me if he is the best man for the job, but I strongly suspect his being gay was the primary criteria in this selection.

And that bothers me a lot, but it is just one more chess move in a continuing gambit that pulls the teeth from our military.

Gays and lesbians serving openly in our military is no longer news. The command structure denies the favoritism now applied to the careers of gays and lesbians, and that should be news. The Secretary of Defense sponsors LGBT holiday celebrations at the Pentagon. After a long struggle and many failures, two women graduated from the very tough Army Ranger school. The Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs of staff are following in lock-step White House prompts to break down all barriers to women in ground combat units.

Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, due to take over as chairman of the Joint Chiefs this week, is the sole holdout as he objects to direction from his boss, Navy Secretary Ray Mobus, to incorporate women into ground combat.

Mobus says diversity will make Marine ground combat units stronger. Hmmmm. Mobus also discounts a nine-month Marine Corps study concluding that women Marines are injured more frequently and shoot less accurately than men in simulated combat conditions.

Meanwhile, Army corporal Dwayne Villanueva, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, joined the Army at age 17 in hopes it would help him overcome his urge to be a woman. But now that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has this year directed the military to dismantle barriers to transgenders, he – oops, she — now identifies as a woman named Laila, and asks co-workers and commanders to treat him – I mean her – accordingly, though Army personnel records and physiology testify that he is male.

I don’t think we’re in Kansas any more, Toto.

President Barak Obama, and the leftists that surround him, don’t realize that masculinity and unit cohesiveness are essential to the military mission of killing people and breaking things when hostilities are triggered.

Or maybe they don’t care. In their eyes, my attitude is Neanderthal because their priority for the military is social sensitivity, not combat readiness.

Witness this administration’s extraordinary purge of generals and admirals with laudable combat experience, apparently removing the influence of those who do not toe the liberal line.

In today’s military there would be no room or tolerance for historical military leaders with rough edges like Gen. George Patton or Admiral “Bull” Halsey, unless maybe they learned how to skip through a pansy patch while squealing, “Chase me! Chase me!”

For those of you already furious at me, keep this in mind. If you chalk up my knuckle-dragging attitude to anti-gay, you would be dead wrong.

In fact, long before Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton suddenly declared their support for gay marriage after the political wind shifted, I had written columns for years publicly telling fellow conservatives it is myopic to apply our personal beliefs to rules for other people, and that we should lead the way in defending freedom to choose who to love.

Furthermore, my objection to women in combat has nothing to do with any disdain for female capability. Either of those two female Rangers could surely kick my butt, even on my best day when I was young, for I was never in the condition Ranger training requires. I was far more suited to the cockpit, and as a combat pilot long ago, I freely admit that learning the delicate touch of helicopter flight controls just might come even easier to a woman.

But that doesn’t mean gays and women belong in ground combat units. The White House weenies are dangerously tinkering with a vital American machine about which they know — nothing.

Since military experience has become rare these days, I would guess most citizens trust the judgment of the Pentagon brass about such matters as women in ground combat, but that would be a mistake.

It might help them to realize politics is endemic in the military up in the thin air where one must have unanimous support to score that first star, and each additional star comes in yet thinner air and rougher politics.

So, as generals and admirals feather their own career nest by supporting what the President wants, the only wonder here is that Marine Gen. Dunford is refusing to lick the boot presented to him, and I am curious to see if his chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs might hit a last minute speed bump.

What about those two women Rangers? Most men accepted to the Ranger course wash out; it’s a very tough standard. After 19 other women tried and failed, even with multiple recycles, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver made it through and earned a good deal of respect for the Ranger tab they now wear.

But. While the Army claims there was no special treatment, that the same standards were applied to them, that intense publicity and scrutiny from the Pentagon did not influence the outcome, Rangers I know say otherwise. I don’t know who is right, even though I trust Rangers and don’t trust the Army.

Griest and Haver proved one thing for certain — there are a few extraordinarily tough women. Nevertheless, I maintain women should not be in ground combat.

My concern isn’t that the average woman can never match the upper body strength of the average man, and that the ability to endure severe and extended physical punishment or carry a wounded or dead comrade would be in jeopardy.

It isn’t that combat is brutal and filthy with no privacy or change of clothes for a month at a time.

It isn’t that the endgame of “gender equality” in combat would result in women subject to the draft and serving in combat units in equal numbers.

It isn’t any notion that, other than physical strength, women are any less capable than men.

Even in cases where unusual women can endure the brutal rigors and misery of ground combat, the real problem emerges in how young men react to women.

In the intensely physical – and masculine – rigors of training for combat, and the actual fight, the blending and bonding of men into a well-functioning whole is an intangible that cannot be quantified, something hard to put into words even if you were there.

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Gen Gregory Newbold says it with personal experience and far more authority than me in his piece titled “What Tempers the Steel of an Infantry Unit.” He observes, “An infantryman’s lot is to endure what we think is unendurable, to participate in the inhumane, and to thrive in misery … practitioners of infantry warfare have great difficulty describing the alchemy that produces an effective infantry unit, much as it is difficult for those of faith to explain their conviction to an atheist.

“In this direct ground combat environment, you do not fight for an ideal, a just cause, America, or Mom and apple pie. You endure the inhumanity and sacrifices of direct ground combat because, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’

“This selflessness is derived from bonding, and bonding from shared events and the unquestioning subordination of self for the good of the team.

“But what destroys this alchemy — and, therefore, combat effectiveness — are pettiness, rumor-mongering, suspicion, and jealousy. And when fighting spirit is lessoned, death is the outcome. So ‘fairness’ is an obscenity. Fairness is about individuals. It’s selfish. And selfishness can kill.”

“… (Young) males everywhere are from Mars … overloaded with testosterone, supremely confident about their invincibility, and prone to illogical antics. This sometimes produces intemperate behavior in everyday America, but … nearly ideal for direct ground combat. The same youthful ingredients produce unacceptable behavior in the pristine and low pressure environments of boarding schools, academic institutions, and cubicle farms. … Why, then, do we suppose that sexual dynamics — or mere perceptions thereof — among the most libido laden age cohort in humans, in the basest of environs, will not degrade the nearly spiritual glue that enables the infantry to achieve the illogical and endure the unendurable?”

In my own words, less eloquent than Gen. Newbold, when you introduce the opposite sex into an infantry combat unit, at the very least it will be a distraction, and very likely will change the behavior of the men in the unit.

At worst it threatens to introduce romantic competition, jealousy, mistrust, the emotional baggage of failed relationships and departure from unit protocol. Is it a stretch to think men in combat will react differently when a female comrade is wounded, captured or killed?

Russ Crawford of Peachtree City was an Army 1st Cav Infantry squad leader in the early years of the Vietnam War, in very bad places like the jungles of the Ia Drang Valley. He said to me, “I don’t want to know if the man I put on point has a wife and kids at home. I don’t want to know that. I have a job to do.”

The point man out front, watching every step for booby traps and trip wires, and the “slack” man behind him looking further out front while the point man watches his feet, are most at risk when the situation changes to “contact.” An infantry leader doesn’t need the complication of mixed sexes when his decisions might be the difference in who lives and who dies.

The well-meaning leftists in the White House see the military as one more playground to fulfill the “rights” of aggrieved individuals, not realizing or caring that combat readiness is not at all about individuals or rights. They are playing political tiddlywinks with the defense of our country.

Decades ago, the Vietnam War began as a noble cause, but even though our troops fought well, thousands of them died needlessly because of White House mis-management and Pentagon bungling, while not one single general or admiral resigned in protest.

Now is another time we need courage and sacrifice at the top, but I fear we will continue to see compliant nodding-heads with rows of stars on their shoulders, going along to get along.

Except for one Marine general. I hope he stands fast, but I won’t bet the farm.

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. His email is terry@garlock1.com.]