A letter to women entering U.S. Army service in the Combat Arms, written by an Infantry and Military Intelligence Officer with 12 years of service.
Full disclosure: I used to be against your entry into Combat Arms. However, through slowly and painfully confronting my own fears and pride, my thinking has begun to evolve.
I am proud to be a part of this Army and equally proud to soon share the honor of combat arms (Infantry, Armor, Field Artillery) experience with women who choose to serve this country on the front lines. I want to applaud your courage for taking the first step into a world of testosterone and bravado, a minefield of assumptions and emotions regarding your arrival. You will not be the first women to serve with great distinction in the U.S. Army as many have come before you to fill the ranks with strong women dedicated to their craft and willing to die for their comrades, their country. However, you will be the first to break one of the final and most culturally accepted boundaries to women, acceptance into the Infantry and Armor Corps of the U.S. Army.
The choice by U.S. leadership follows the opening of combat roles to women in at least a dozen countries around the world, including France, Israel, Canada, and Germany since the 1980s. There is precedence, you are not alone.
Our culture has long painted a picture of women largely as damsels in distress in need of strong men to rescue and enable them. You can see it in Hollywood, in books, in kid’s play. As a child I fed off that lie, dreaming of rescuing, of protecting damsels in need. In reality, I could not even talk to a girl to save my life, let alone theirs. When I married I sought to be all for my wife, her foundation. In reality, I have learned I need to work through my weaknesses and stand back in awe as she goes through life with more strength and courage than I ever will. Now I have a daughter. I hope and pray I will raise her to be confident in who she is and boldly deny the whispers of society that would threaten to hold her back from her goals. Similarly, I hope to raise my boys to be encouraging and open to a truly equal playing field where all good work is celebrated with no gender bars, to accept that we as men need women, often more than they need us.
Our species is one of the exceptions to the rule that the female is generally the strongest, the feared one, the hunter.
Culture rather than demonstrated ability shaped your genders history in battle. A man’s “sport”; war was and sometimes still remains a male vocation. I believe part of the reason is the domination of men in the arts and politics throughout history. How many heroic women do we not know of due to the proclivity of men to write about men, men to vote for men, men to celebrate men? If you do a simple Google search (or Bing) you will find them, countless women as strong as men (mentally and physically), depended upon by men to routinely be a part of or even lead the “vocation of men”.
Fear holds us back.
Though male dominance in America has been fracturing for decades you will still come against those that push back as you begin your careers. Soldiers you lead, NCOs that mentor you, and officers above you will question your ability, your worthiness. That is a fact. It has happened to innumerable men before you and is central to a profession whose end goal is perfected craft. My advice is to persevere. My time in the Infantry was not easy but I am proud and grateful for the painful times, the learning curves that helped to shape me into a better officer. As long as you focus on a few key responsibilities you will find success and eventually respect and loyalty from subordinates, peers, and leaders.
Take care of yourself. Push away the idea that this is selfish; it is in reality the most unselfish part of being a leader. If you are mentally, physically, and emotional fit, you will be able to do the following. Take care of your Soldiers. Fight for them at all times, show them you are willing to sacrifice (especially your career) for them, and they will respond in ways you cannot believe. An enabled and trusted Soldier is a force of nature. Take care of your peers. This will be what carries you through the hardest times in the Military; the bonds between people sharing misery and stress are strong and will enable you to confront insurmountable trials. Finally, follow well, follow actively. Obey the orders of those above you, but not blindly. Leadership is a constant dialog up and down the chain and is necessary to maintain rule of law, encourage common sense, and achieve success.
Does this mean I am 100% comfortable with this transition from the status quo? I do not have to be, because it is not about me. I promise you this, I will continue to work on the assumptions and bias about women I struggle with, stop speaking against your efforts in any forum, and wholeheartedly applaud your future successes.