Military Officers on Women in the Infantry: Five For, One Against

13 September 2014, 1311 EDT

Lance Corporal Kristi Baker, on patrol with 1st Battalion 8th Marines as a member of a Female Engagement Team.Contenders for the Marine Corps Association’s Major General Harold W. Chase Prize, ($3000, publication, and a plaque) are supposed to “propose and argue for a new and better way of “doing business” in the Marine Corps. Authors must have strength in their convictions and be prepared for criticism from those who would defend the status quo.”

Therefore it came as a surprise to many military professionals when the 2013 winner was Marine Captain Lauren F. Serrano, whose winning essay was an opinion piece that called for maintaining the status quo and excluding women from the infantry.

But in the month since her article was published, it’s worth noting that five decorated military officers (Marines, Army, male and female, infantry and other specialties) have weighed in to dispute her claims, while not a single officer has written to corroborate or support Captain Seranno’s opinions, which appear to have been formed absent  research, evidence, or personal experience. 

Earliest was the insightful and professional response of career Army officer and one of Esquire Magazine’s 2012 Americans of the Year, Jessica Scott, which addressed in no uncertain terms the issue of sexual assault as a potential showstopper to the integration of women in the infantry:

Let’s diagram this argument out: women + infantry units = rapes. No, I’m sorry that equation doesn’t actually add up. Let’s try again: women + rapists = rapes…

…preventing rape isn’t about training – it’s about not being a rapist… By pointing out that infantry Marines cannot be trusted to incorporate women into their teams without turning into marauding rapists, the author has clearly pointed out there is something broken in the Marine Corps and it’s broken across all of our forces.

Matthew W. Morgan weighed in with an excellent critique at Task & Purpose, where he wrote –

As a former Marine infantry officer, I found it illustrating to pick up this month’s issue of the Marine Corps Gazette and discover that our infantry is a “cult-like brotherhood … the one place where young men are able to focus solely on being a warrior without the distraction of women or political correctness.” I will admit that I found this to be a rather sweeping assessment, but it’s how at least one Marine officer who has never served in the infantry imagines it to be…

He went on to dismantle Captain Serrano’s piece, noting that,

Serrano’s writing is actually at its best when she is offering counterpoints to her own thesis.  As an intelligence officer, she expertly explains how, by “nature of their gender,” integrating women made the special operations forces and counterintelligence/human intelligence communities more effective in combat.

Then there was former Army officer, combat veteran and Tillman Military Scholar Shelly Burgoyne-Goode, who wrote

If some women can physically and mentally perform in the Infantry, as Captain Serrano clearly states, than Captain Serrano’s opinions are at their intellectual core based only on gender, and how the female gender alone, prohibits women from serving in the infantry.

She proceeded to do an excellent job of highlighting how the current arguments against integrating women in infantry units mirrors the racist reasoning of the 1940s, when similar arguments were unsuccessfully used in an attempt to forestall the integration of minorities:

If the Corps is comfortable saying that women absolutely cannot perform physically in an infantry unit, than I would not and could not make the “race” comparison, but the Corps has not said that, (and) Captain Serrano has not said that. The Corps has a long record of being on the incorrect side of history; and often trots out the personal opinion of its officers as hard evidence or justification for discrimination.

Finally, there was my own formal critique on the Marine Corps Gazette blog, which was then picked up by War Is Boring, wherein I addressed the numerous issues with Captain Serrano’s essay; its poor academic quality for a peer-reviewed paper, the same gender/race parallels noted by Ms. Goode, and the fact that the behaviors attributed to Marine infantrymen were contrary to standing policies issued by the Commandant and every subordinate-level commander in the Marine Corps. Shortly after this was published, I got an email from a fellow Marine officer, Major Doug Krugman. This combat-proven infantry officer, a Bronze Star recipient who fought in the Second Battle of Fallujah wrote:

I just read your Gazette blog piece on Captain Serrano’s article and wanted to thank you for writing it. I’m a grunt and couldn’t agree more. The low quality of her arguments pissed me off enough to knock out my own rebuttal to it over Labor Day, (the Marine Corps) Gazette has said they will run it in the January issue.  I don’t think it is any better than your argument, mostly the same points with different words.  My infantry background might have gotten them to take it.

The point?

The majority of military officers agree that we’re overdue to end the discrimination of the past, and join the enlightened countries of the world in allowing Americans of all genders to serve with honor in any capacity for which they can prove themselves physically and mentally capable. We’ve broken through many barriers in this arena during the last decade; it is my sincere hope that before 2015, we’ll have allowed those women who have already passed our basic infantry courses to serve in the career field that they have earned, but are still arbitrarily excluded from serving in; and based on the recent outpouring of like-minded thought, it’s encouraging to see that I’m not alone.

I’ll close my article with the quote Matthew Morgan used to open his: “Gender discrimination in the military is not bold. It is poor leadership. And it should never be rewarded.”