At a press conference introducing his opening of all combat positions to women, legislation be damned, lame-duck SecDef Leon Panetta also insisted, “[L]et me be clear, we’re not talking about reducing the qualifications for a job.” But at the same press conference, GEN Martin Dempsey, the painfully politically correct Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, had a different take on it.
Importantly, though, if we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?
What do you think they’re going to decide when this question comes up? There are two ways of analyzing that. One looks at logic and military culture, and one looks at history.
The logical/cultural view: given today’s senior military officers, what’s their answer going to be to this question: Hey, what’s more important, winning wars or giving ambitious women the careers they want?
The historical view asks these questions: How is this going to come out differently than the Navy’s post-Tailhook standards-drop that gave the world Kara Hultgreen? (The issue was not whether some woman could fly an F-14. The issue became, thanks to the Navy’s standards-drop, whether anyone had the stones to tell a woman who couldn’t fly an F-14 that she’d washed out. Instead, she had to crash the jet to find out). How is this going to come out differently than the Katie Wilder fiasco (where a litigious and well-connected woman officer sued her way to an unearned qualification, after being caught cheating at the school in question)?
Remember, these questions are being answered by guys like Martin Dempsey. He is an Academy graduate, and came up in the “hollow army” of the 1970s, where officers in hopelessly unready armor units taught him the fine art of the phony readiness report, a lesson in ethics that still informs his performance today. He avidly sought ticket-punches, and sports the novice parachute wings of the “5-jump chump,” and a Combat Action Badge for being under fire — as a general. (The more prestigious CIB cannot be awarded to generals and their CSMs, to prevent “paper awards.” This is unfair to the occasional real fighting general. They’re extremely rare birds, though).
Dempsey writes (or claims authorship of, anyway) regular, and mostly worthless, columns in Joint Forces Quarterly. Here’s a taste of Dempsey’s ability to write (empty, content-free platitudes with a skill that even few of his fellow politicians can match, from one of his recent columns:
We must continue to trust our men and women at the edge of our formations, to challenge them, and to leverage their talents and experiences. We must make sure they continue to be the best led, best trained, and best equipped in the world.
Best equipped? Maybe, unless you’re measuring by day-glow safety belts, in which case we lead the world by furlongs. Best trained? You’d have to ask, on what? It would be nice to purge the training schedule of training-distractor time-wasting personnel bullshit, and concentrate on combat training, but that’s not how Big D rolls. Best led?
Well, that’s really a question of whether you think people like GEN Dempsey, GEN Casey, and COL Johnson (all of whom we’ve covered in the past) are typical, or whether the many officers who stay out of the news are.
This post has been edited. It was initially posted without the links. Thanks to the commenter who provided the link we used, we initially read that same story on the non-mobile page but while we were writing this up had lost track of the original link!