While the Army is not expected to unveil its plan on how to integrate women into all combat jobs until next month, concerns have arisen from soldiers and others on how that integration will take place. And some male soldiers in those jobs are questioning whether they’ll get the boot to make room for the women.
The Army, however, said the plan to open all combat jobs to women is more about creating the best force going forward.
“Our integration efforts are not about filling quotas but continues to be centered around enhancing force readiness by selecting the best-qualified soldiers to serve in every position within the Army profession,” said Army spokesman Wayne V. Hall. “To this end, any soldier who can meet the standards to perform the tasks required for the mission has the opportunity to serve in any branch or military occupational skill.”
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced earlier this month that all military occupations and positions will be open to women, without exception, beginning in January.
“The Army of the future will require more mental agility, teamwork and resilience from all soldiers regardless of gender,” Hall, who works at the Pentagon, said to the Herald after the newspaper sent the Army a series of questions on the issue of women in combat jobs.
The Army has been gradually opening combat jobs to women for years.
In late 2012, the Army opened up more jobs to women, including Bradley Fighting Vehicle and Abrams tank mechanics, artillery radar specialists and crew members for the highly destructive artillery weapon, the multiple-launch rocket system.
Armywide, nearly 3,000 women serve in artillery jobs. About 70 women serve as Apache pilots — the Army’s premier attack helicopter.
More recently, combat engineer jobs were opened to women, who are now beginning to fill the engineer ranks.
“At this time, there are 103 female combat engineers on active duty. Four are in operational units, while 99 are still in training,” Hall said.
The Army said the ongoing efforts to open new jobs to women are carefully considered and watched.
“Since the beginning, our integration efforts have been standards based, with readiness of the entire force at the forefront. We will continue in an incremental and scientific-based approach to integrating women into previously closed units, positions and occupations while preserving unit readiness, cohesion, discipline and morale,” Hall said. “We will continue to track and monitor our progress to ensure we’re doing it right — leveraging not only the skills and strengths of our entire population but also leveraging lessons learned and the results of our gender integration studies.
“In addition, leaders at all levels of the Department are imperative to our enduring success, and as such are charged with the responsibility to implement the integration of women into their respective units in accordance with Army policy.”
Retired Lt. Gen. Paul “Butch” Funk, a former III Corps and Fort Hood commander who lives in the Gatesville area, said he doesn’t see the Army putting quotas or percentages on the number of females in combat units.
“We’ve always had problems getting enough combat arms soldiers,” Funk said. “I don’t think anybody’s going to be forced out of the Army because we’re bringing in more women.”
From 2014 to earlier this year, Funk served on an advisory group for the Army’s top brass looking at the issue of women in combat jobs.
“The whole notion was to try to get ahead of the problems, to point them out,” Funk said.
By the end of it, the group found no overlying reasons why women couldn’t serve in combat jobs, including the notion that woman can’t be as good killers as men.
“I don’t think that’s ever been proved,” he said.
While on the advisory group, Funk and his colleagues in the group found some combat job requirements can’t be done by men already in the jobs.
“One of the tasks was to reach into the turret of the tank from the commander’s station, and grab hold of the soldier by the strap ... and lift him out of there,” Funk said. “Let me tell you, you’re trying to lift 150, 200 pounds of dead weight out of the seat of a tank from the top when your laying on your belly to do it; not very many guys can do it.”
However, because of the physical demands and requirements of combat jobs, there will be more men in the jobs than women.
Funk said the Army will likely emulate the integration of infantry and tank jobs in the same ways it is doing with artillery and other jobs already open to both genders.
In some units, female soldiers are housed on the first floor of a barracks and men are in other rooms or other floors.
In the field, however, privacy can be an issue, especially in the close-quarters lifestyle that comes with being a tanker.
In Desert Storm for example, “there wasn’t a tree, there were very few bushes even, and none of them were very tall, for anybody to hide behind,” Funk said.
Funk commanded 3rd Armored Division — about 20,000 soldiers — during Desert Storm, and 13 percent of the division were women.
“And, you know, I didn’t have a single problem with anything like that,” Funk said of privacy issues.
He said soldiers — both male and female — find a way to make it work, giving each other the privacy they need.
“The women marched and fought just like the men did. They didn’t whine about it,” Funk said.
The former three-star general said the integration of women into combat jobs will mean more opportunities for criminal behavior. Critics of opening all combat jobs to women have said sexual assaults will increase.
Army leaders in combat units, Funk said, will have to be vigilant.
“You’ve got to do the right things if you’ve got someone taking advantage of another soldier,” he said.