Must we lower standards to recruit women soldiers?

Summary: Asking why we win so few wars forces attention on the US military’s broken personnel system. Here is an example showing how deeply it is broken, and pointing to a proposal to fix it.

Uncle Sam: We want you!

America’s military has become senescent. Intellectually and operationally sclerotic, unable to respond to our changing world. That should be obvious to everyone by now. The pitiful results after seventeen years of the Long War. From military’s bizarrely dysfunctional weapons programs: the F-35 (insane cost, doesn’t work well), the Marine’s Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (cancelled after $3 billion R&D), the Zumwalt-class destroyer (2 built, program cancelled after spending $15 billion), and many many other fiascoes.

But nothing shows our broken senior military leadership in action than its response to their difficulty in recruiting ground combat troops. Recruitment has become more difficult with each new generation. Demographic changes are a problem. The worsening physical condition of young people is a problem. Both are growing worse.

DoD’s leaders appear to have targeted women as a new source of recruits for combat. Women (as a group) have higher rates of physical and mental injuries (the exact numbers are deep secrets, as are the probably immense costs), but many – both Left and Right – consider their injuries (even lifetime disabilities) an acceptable cost to achieve their goals. Collateral damage.

But there are other solutions, requiring sacrifices by neither women nor men that are not physically qualified for front-line ground combat. For example, look at recruitment and retention. There is no need to lower physical standards for any military jobs.

Recruiting more people

America has approximately 16 million men between ages 18 to 24. That’s more than an ample base from which to recruit the tiny fraction needed for ground combat (i.e., requiring more than average physical strength and endurance). Why does the military fail to do so? Military recruiting is like every other market: if you can’t recruit enough people, you are not offering what they want.

The leaders of the Army and Marines should consider what combination of pay and prestige that today’s young men want. What’s the pay premium for infantry combat vs. a clerk (indoor work, no heavy lifting)? How much greater is the status the Army gives grunts over POGs (People Other than Grunts) of equivalent or lessor training?

Thinking Outside the Box - dreamstime_26972975
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Improving Retention

Rather than recruiting people prone to injuries, why not improve retention of existing combat troops (i.e., requiring more than average physical strength and endurance). Improve pay, benefits, prestige, and conditions – until the numbers problem disappears. Every business in America does this in order to survive. DoD can do so as well.

The larger problem

As so many experts have shown, DoD’s personnel system does not work well at recruiting, training, motivating, promoting, or retaining people. It is broken. No deep reform of the military is possible without fixing this. See the book below for a proposal to fix this.

For More Information

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A proposal for core reforms to the US Army

Manning the Future Legions of the United States: Finding and Developing Tomorrow's Centurions
Available at Amazon.

Manning the Future Legions of the United States:
Finding and Developing Tomorrow’s Centurions

By Don Vandergriff (Major, US Army, retired).

See the Preface! Here is the publisher’s description …

“An Industrial Age model continues to shape the way the Army approaches its recruiting, personnel management, training, and education. This outdated personnel management paradigm – designed for an earlier era – has been so intimately tied to the maintenance of Army culture that a self-perpetuating cycle has formed, diminishing the Army’s attempts to develop adaptive leaders and institutions.

“This cycle can be broken only if the Army accepts rapid evolutionary change as the norm of the new era. Recruiting the right people, then having them step into an antiquated organization, means that many of them will not stay as they find their ability to contribute and develop limited by a centralized, hierarchical organization. Recruiting and retention data bear this out.

“Several factors have combined to force the Army to think about the way it develops and nurtures its leaders. Yet, Vandergriff maintains, mere modifications to today’s paradigm may not be enough. Today’s Army has to do more than post rhetoric about adaptability on briefing slides and in literature. One cannot divorce the way the Army accesses, promotes, and selects its leaders from its leadership-development model. The Army cannot expect to maintain leaders who grasp and practice adaptability if these officers encounter an organization that is neither adaptive nor innovative. Instead, Army culture must become adaptive, and the personnel system must evolve into one that nurtures adaptability in its policies, practices, and beliefs. Only a detailed, comprehensive plan where nothing is sacred will pave the way to cultural evolution.”

14 thoughts on “Must we lower standards to recruit women soldiers?”

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      That’s missing the point. The majority of people in combat are infantry. Infantry has not become physically less stressful over time.

      1. Infantry won’t be much of a sustained preoccupation for western ministries of Defense, apart from a few relevant reform here and there, now and then, as long as there won’t be any really serious, immediate threat of a major land war. And even then, as in so many instances in the past, there will have to be some major disasters to really get an honest appraisal of reality, and serious changes.
        In the meantime, the best that can be hoped for is that the basic know hows are kept alive and transmitted in a limited number of top units (not special forces: regular, “big battalion” infantry) where the good recruits (and noncoms, and officers) can be concentrated and/or circulated through, and the training centers (at least some of them).

        For the time being, hoping to maintain a large, competent, up to date infantry force checking all the real, relevant boxes, and at full or near battle readiness, is a pipe dream in the west. The recruitment pool is lacking, the motivation to enlist AND stay long enough is not there in sufficient quantity, the doctrine/operational concepts are debatable, and politics is too present in many aspects, including recruitment, career management, promotions… For social engineering among other things. And bureaucratization is really a thing that impacts mentalities, to the point where it actually hurts enlistment and retention rates in many branches (I’ve read quite a few things about the Air Force and its lack of pilots, and the reasons for it – spoiler; it’s not about the pay).

        One can also blame the extreme individualism and narcissism in recent generations, the fading (partially on purpose) of patriotism/national spirit, the devaluation of manhood…. But the results are there, in enlistment and retention rates, in the quality of recruits, but also in the recruitment and retention problems in other “life and death”, uncomfortable, very demanding and risky professions: police, fire brigades….

      2. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “Infantry won’t be much of a sustained preoccupation for western ministries of Defense, apart from a few relevant reform here and there, now and then, as long as there won’t be any really serious”

        I would hope that any senior US strategist would be fired immediately for proposing that such a bold forecast be made the basis for US policy. Unless his name is Merlin or Nostradamus. Self-confidence is nice, but doing so in defiance of history is a bit much.

      3. I’m with Larry on this one.

        BTW, Larry, speaking of women in the infantry, did you see the latest from the Brits?

        “A female soldier was allowed to continue on an Army selection course even though she failed a vital fitness test – triggering a rebellion among male troops who had passed. Corporal Daisy Dougherty was hoping to become one of the Army’s first female infantry instructors following the landmark decision last year to let women join combat units and Special Forces.

        The first stage in the selection process required her to prove her fitness by completing an eight-mile march in under two hours over arduous terrain while carrying a heavy pack and a rifle.”

        I’ve made this point several times on this site. Women will always fail at carrying heavy shit for long distances. As fucked up as it sounds, the “top brass” refused to police themselves up until the grunts ratted them out to the press.

      4. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “Women will always fail at carrying heavy shit for long distances.”

        “Always” is a big word. Too big for this context.

        “the “top brass” refused to police themselves up until the grunts ratted them out to the press.”

        That’s the problem here. Some women will pass this test, others fail. Just like guys, albeit in different rates. But the Army leadership’s corrupting the process wrecks moral and cohesion, throwing away valuable jewels that allow a western army to function.

  1. I thoroughly agree with Don Vandegrift about how this situation (I’m not sure I’d call it a problem) arose, how to fix it is something altogether different.

    My split with Vandegrift comes from the fact that the official reason the original US military structure was developed at the end of WWII still stands; trying to prevent (or theoretically win) a major formal war with a major industrial power which has a very large formal military and nuclear weapons such as Russia or China (or our current allies although that seems highly unlikely: Great Britain, France, Germany and/or Japan). Virtually everything you need for that type of organization (number of people, training, doctrine, weapons) is vastly different than the structure you need to win an asymmetrical COIN war in a podunk sweaty little country in the back of beyond.

    I agree with Vandegrift that using our current military structure to meet both needs just cannot work. I’m not sure that ANY structure could meet both needs because they are so different. The first emphasizes massive spending on command and control structures and massive redundancy to stand a decent chance of surviving a first strike (realistically, this is solely for prevention because any first strike would be so devastating that the entire world would suffer massively from the fall-out of hundreds of nuclear strikes) with massively expensive weaponry, most of which can only be used once and will destroy large parts of the world. Very large, heavily armored, pre-deployed, conventional forces plus lots of military/diplomatic/economic threats of other sorts are very necessary as a prelude to perhaps avoid needing to go nuclear but are not the main tool the the US military’s arsenal for this type of struggle.

    The second emphasizes traditional light infantry/training programs where cultural awareness. very good knowledge of the local language, and short sharp firefights, ambushes, and counter-ambushes over a period of potentially many years make up the bulk of the action.

    Since WWII, the US military has always been aware that losing the first type of war will destroy every aspect of the US and probably the world. Losing the second type of war is a royal pain and career-ending for some officers but will predictably NOT destroy the world in less than an hour like all-out nuclear war.

    For lots of reasons, both good and bad, the senior US military leaders are very seriously wedded to the first type of war and give as little attention as possible to the second. I don’t altogether disagree with their reasoning, although I do have to agree with Vandegrift that the second type of war seems much more common than the first (for which I am eternally grateful!) and losing enough of the second type of war will diminish the efficiency of the entire US military until the first type of war seems more winnable to our potential opponents.

    My preferred solution, which I offer with extreme caution, is having two completely different military forces, similar to the Army and the Marines with two completely different structures, protocols, training, etc.), one for each type of war. Although I also do share the common but unvoiced wishes of the US Congress that the US could save a considerable amount of money if only we didn’t need to continually get into the second type of war. Unlike Congress, I’m well aware that history is not likely to leave us this option and dying the death of a thousand little wars is even less attractive than going out in a nuclear mushroom cloud.

    Part of the reason for my caution regarding my preferred solution is that I can foresee even more interesting budget battles and potential inter-service rivalries for Congress. And, frankly, they don’t need additional challenges at this time.

    Another part of my extreme caution is that I’m sure that are a lot of really big problems with my preferred solution that I can’t see from my current position and I’m very afraid of them. There’s lots more ways to end the US than a mushroom cloud and I’ve learned after working around the medical world for 20+ years that sometimes the cure for a big problem is more toxic for the patient than living with the problem.

  2. To raise up a hypothetical question, why should women lower their standards to join a military that have been lowering their standards for men the past few decades?

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Der Maiden,

      “why should women lower their standards …”

      To what are you referring?

      As America’s classes stratify, women – as men have done forever – join the military for opportunities of social advancement. Jobs, ROTC, and the GI Bill. The military gives them the opportunity to become cannon fodder (i.e., recruiters minimize the odds of becoming infantry).

      Also, as more women are raised like boys, more are excited about the violence and firing guns and dominance fantasies of combat.

  3. Larry,

    “Why America Loses Every War It Starts”

    Regarding to what I’m referring to my hypothetical question.

    I’m referring to American women, being considered the equal of men due to the social policies of the left, being treated as the men, despite that they are weaker than men, when they join the military in the past few decades.

    The American military has been a losing organization for American men and now women since the Korean War. To attract men and now women, the military has been loosening their standards along with pay cuts, reduced Tuition Assistance, reduced retirement pay and an inefficient VA.

    So why should Americans care at all about lowering the standards that are set up for American women signing up for the military? If they want to be cannon fodder, good on them, they volunteered to be in harm’s way in spite of their weaknesses.

    “Thank you for your years of service in the Long War, now suffer the consequences of your choice” is the unspoken attitude of most Americans when it comes to men. How do you think it will come across to the women servicemen.

    Again, why bother with standards when they sign up in the first place?

  4. Served in the infantry, enlisted and officer. Went through ROTC advanced camp with women cadets. Was in the same company as the *only* female cadet in the country who could max the PT test to male standards. She weighed about 85 lb. Yes, she could push 40 lb (actual weight of her pushup) at distance of 12 inches 82 times in 2 minutes. Yes she could carry those 85 pounds on her two little legs two miles in under 15 minutes.

    But, could she carry 100 lb rucksack + rifle in boots for 8 miles? What about 18 miles, which is the standard long march in US infantry school?

    No, sadly, on every single roach march, even the short ones, every single woman fell out and was on the straggler truck by the end, even the ones who were by all intents and purposes Olympic athletes.

    It is sheer madness to even expect it of them. Maintaining two sets of PT standards for men and women is cruel to women, because it makes them believe they can actually cut the mustard. They cannot. Even Brianne of Tarth , JI Jane, and Wonder Woman are all myths. The Amazon woman is a myth that the media elite love to tell. But it’s a lie.

    It is humiliating to men in the military to force them to pretend the lie is true. The women enlisted and officers in the military are notorious for using the pussy promotion system. Give pussy, get promoted. This has utterly destroyed the morale of the US military.

    When the next real war comes with a real power, the US military is going to have their heads handed to them.

  5. > Again, why bother with standards when they sign up in the first place?

    They sign up for the college benefits. When they get deployed to a real war zone, like Iraq, they deliberately get pregnant en masse. Then they are transferred to Germany for an abortion and not sent back into the theater of war. This happened in Gulf War I & II.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “When they get deployed to a real war zone, like Iraq, they deliberately get pregnant en masse. Then they are transferred to Germany for an abortion and not sent back into the theater of war.”

      I’ve heard rumors of that – pregnant women getting abortions, but not redeployed back out. But I’ve never seen any documentation, or even mention of it in the major media or anywhere by named officers. I’ve mentioned it in some threads with vets. Most ignored it. A few were outraged at the very idea.

      More broadly, I’ve never seen numbers on pregnancy and disability rates for women – and the latter for men vs. women. The usual comment is that it would be easier to get the “Go” codes for WWIII than such politically hot data.

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