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October 6, 2013

VETERANS’ CORNER: Time to change soldier perceptions, standards

By JIM VINES

An Army officer writing in a prestigious journal says the military services should not overemphasize physical strength when deciding whether a woman qualifies for direct ground combat.

Col. Ellen Haring, on the staff of the U.S. Army War College, says, “Commanders need to downplay obstacle courses and judge a service member’s ability to stay calm and think quickly.”

With the Pentagon lifting its ban on women serving in the infantry, tanks and special operations, the military branches are examining all the women physical standards in preparation for introducing women into these units in 2015. Some military analysts fear the Pentagon will discard some standards to ensure that a significant number of women qualify.

It is time to take a hard look at what really makes a competent combat soldier and not rely on traditional notions of masculine brawn that celebrates strengths over other qualities. If the going-in assumption is that physical standards are the only thing that needs to be examined, then we are also assuming that we have everything else just right. Fixating on physical standards is a tactical level approach that misses a strategic level opportunity.

In focusing only on physical strength in violent situations, we are diminishing the importance of what are probably more important traits in soldiers. The ability to remain calm, focused, creative and quick-thinking in times of extreme duress. These are the traits that we should be measuring as we assess soldiers for combat specialties.

Audie Murphy, World War II hero, is an example of a small person who came up big on the battlefield. Perhaps Murphy could not have passed the Marine Corps infantry officer qualification course. An obstacle course that relies on physical prowess tests none of the important qualities that Murphy possessed. Physical strength is important, but it shouldn’t be the most important trait that we assess, and it certainly shouldn’t become a way to filter out the Audie Murphy’s of our population.

Women, trained properly, can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with any man. Check with local recruiters and determine whether the military has a future for you.

Jim Vines is commander of AmVets Post 133.

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