Once the warrior ethos of the U.S. military has been extinguished, it cannot be re-lit without a great deal of hard work and time

National Defense or social experimentation?

By —— Bio and Archives--April 10, 2015

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“First of all, is this [women being admitted to Ranger School] being done because there’s a requirement in the force, or is this just an experiment in social justice?”—Former Congressman and retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Allen West


For the first time in the history of the legendary U.S. Army Ranger School, the course will be open for women to attend as Ranger Students beginning in mid-April.

This comes as a direct result of the demands on the armed services by the Obama Department of Defense to gender integrate all specialties, including Army Infantry, Armor, Artillery, Special Forces, Rangers, and Navy SEALS. The services have been ordered to meet full gender integration by 2016, and therefore even the Navy SEALS will be required to integrate Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) next year.

As the military is sustaining the most substantial troop cutbacks in a generation, facing dangerously low levels of combat readiness, rebuilding after many years of war, and grappling with cultural changes like the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, this mandate is troubling.

As a 1991 Ranger Graduate (who later returned to command one of the Ranger training companies in ‘98-‘99), allow me to offer some perspective as regards this issue and what it will mean to military.

Men and Women are not equally suited for activities which are overwhelmingly physical in nature

First, a bit of recent history; In 2014, the call went out Army-wide for female volunteers to Ranger School. In January 2015, sixty females were permitted to enter a pre-Ranger training and assessment course (RTAC) at Ft. Benning, GA. Of the 60 women who entered, five finished in the first round and one in the second. As related in   Defenseone.com: “Six servicewomen successfully passed the latest round of the Ranger Training Assessment Course, or RTAC, qualifying them for the first gender-integrated full Ranger Course beginning on April 20, the Army announced on Wednesday. The two-month combat training course is considered to be one of the toughest in the military.”

RTAC is not Ranger School, so we must await the results of this first gender-integrated Ranger Course.

In comparison: The Marine Corps, facing the same gender-integration mandate, opened up the Marine Corps Infantry Officers Course (IOC) to women. After multiple class cycles over the past two years, no woman has graduated IOC (though stress fractures and other such injuries have plagued the female candidates). The Marines kept the high physical standards in place, but the results prove what would seem to be common sense to most: Men and Women are not equally suited for activities which are overwhelmingly physical in nature.

Ranger School is arguably one of the physically toughest schools in the military and comparable to the Navy SEALs’ rigorous BUD/S training

Ranger School is arguably one of the physically toughest schools in the military and comparable to the Navy SEALs’ rigorous BUD/S training. In just over two months, surviving off only one meal per day and very little sleep (average of one to two hours per night), I personally lost over 50 pounds. Roughly 10 to 15 percent of those who started with me graduated on time without recycle (at that time, around 35 to 40 percent would graduate with or without recycle).

Important to the issue of gender integration, the course demanded more than just extreme endurance, like carrying an 80 to 100-pound rucksack (and sometimes a machinegun) for hours on end up-and-down rugged mountains and through deep swamps. The course required the physical stature to fight hand-to-hand (literally being able to prevail over another very fit man in single combat) as well as carrying another man as a simulated “casualty.” This course required not only steep mountain climbing, but climbing down mountains with a 180 to 200-pound Ranger student strapped on one’s back. It required, at a minimum, that all Ranger students execute six pull-ups, each one performed from a dead hang (keep in mind this was the absolute minimum. Most Ranger students were able to perform—and frankly expected to perform—many more puul-ups.), along with the Fitness Test at the 18 to 21-year-old male standards and quick five-mile run in formation. It pushed all students to the absolute edge of mental and physical endurance, and it taught us how far fit-men could be pushed physically in combat conditions.

Ranger School was so physically and emotionally “hard” that actual combat seemed easy in comparison

In short, Ranger School was so physically and emotionally “hard” that actual combat seemed easy in comparison. It has provided the military, particularly the Infantry, with a combat realism that has been critical to our successes in combat.

Most of the successful modern four-star combat Generals (Barry McCaffrey, Colin Powell, David Patraeus, and Stan McChrystal to name just a few) were graduates of Ranger School.

General McCaffrey, a two-time Distinguished Service Cross recipient as an Infantry Officer in Vietnam, claimed Ranger School was the best school he had attended to prepare him for Vietnam. He was my previous division commander, and said it made the hardships in Vietnam easy by comparison.

Because the mission and benefits of Ranger School rely so heavily on physical standards, I believe we risk lowering those standards with gender integration.

A top Army civilian leader was recently quoted as saying: “We are very methodically determining what the required physical skills for the MOS’s [the military occupational specialties for infantry, armor, etc.] may be ... not to lower the standards, not to accommodate women, but to better posture every soldier, male or female, for success and also to ensure that whatever job they’re doing, they’re actually physically able to do it.”

Reading between the lines, one can see an attempt to justify lowering current physical standards for branches like the Infantry. The timing of this “review” of physical standards and the upcoming gender-integration mandate allow for reasonable concerns.

With the likelihood our troops will soon be actively engaged on the ground with vicious enemies like the Islamic State, this is not the time for social experimentation. It is certainly not the time to risk “watering down” physical standards of combat courses like Ranger School and/or BUD/S. It’s time to slow down the cultural mandates and give the military time to come back from one war, while rebuilding for the next. Remember, once the warrior ethos of the U.S. military has been extinguished, it cannot be re-lit without a great deal of hard work and time. That’s something we just cannot afford right now.


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Col. Bill Connor -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Bill Connor,  received his Bachelor’s of Arts from The Citadel in 1990. After serving over ten years as an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army he received his Juris Doctorate from University of South Carolina in 2005.

He is currently an attorney with Hamilton and Associates in Columbia, South Carolina.

In May 2008, he returned from a yearlong combat deployment in Southern Afghanistan. During that time, he served as Joint Operations Officer for the Southern Region of Afghanistan developing and implementing the US advisory effort for Afghan National Security Forces. This effort occurred during the 2007 Taliban spring/summer offensive.

Due to success in that position, he was promoted to take command of the US advisory effort in the volatile province of Helmand. Shortly after arrival in Helmand, he was promoted in rank from Major to Lt. Colonel. In addition to command of US advisory teams, he was the senior American working with the United Kingdom senior staff. Upon return from Afghanistan, he published the book “Articles from War,”a memoir of his experiences and thoughts in Afghanistan.

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