Attrition: Why Women Are Weak


August 7, 2012: The U.S. military is using more women in combat support jobs (especially intelligence in Moslem countries where men talking to unrelated women can get you killed). For women to qualify for any combat support jobs they must achieve a higher degree of physical fitness. This is a matter of life and death for combat support troops because of their increased risk of exposure to combat situations. However, women suffered more injuries during this combat training and that has led to new training guidelines developed to minimize these injuries without diluting the training.

The U.S. Army has known about the higher female injury area since the 1970s, as a lot more women joined the military. Some of these lessons were learned via the experience of other nations and services. The U.S. Army responded by providing less intense training for women. Britain (and the U.S. Marines) decided that lower levels of physical fitness for women soldiers was not acceptable and, since 1998, the British women have had to meet the same high standards for physical fitness as the men. Since then the army has learned the same thing the coaches of the increasingly popular women's sports program have, women are more prone to "overuse" injury. In some sports (like basketball) women have ten times the number of certain types of injuries (knees) as men. In the British army, even before the more vigorous training program for women, the percentage of male recruits lost because of "overuse injury" was 1.5 percent, versus 4.6 percent for women.

A training program which did get the women in shape also put over ten percent of the recruits out of the service because of injuries. Thus for the last few decades new exercises and training routines have been developed to improve the strength and endurance of the female troops without the higher injury rate.

The basic problem is that less muscle mass and lower bone density puts 39 percent more stress on women during vigorous physical training. Research found that some of these injuries could be greatly reduced if the physical training for women was done over a six month period, rather than the standard three month course men and women used. But the injury rates will probably always be higher because of the fundamental gender differences.

Britain was also faced with demands that women be allowed to join combat units and responded by conducting tests with volunteers to see if women could meet the physical demands of ground combat. One test required the volunteers to carry 41 kg (90 pounds) of ammunition over a measured distance. In combat this is a common chore, bringing ammo and other supplies up to front line units that cannot be reached by vehicles (because of enemy fire and/or terrain).

Eighty percent of the men were able to accomplish this chore but only 30 percent of the women. Another test involved making a 20-kilometer march, followed by a live firing exercise (to simulate the combat that would often follow such a march). Everyone carried 27.3 kg (60 pounds) of weapons and equipment. For the men, 83 percent were successful, for the women, only 52 percent were. Many other tests were "gender normed" (lower standards for women) and still the men outperformed the women.

This is hardly the first time an attempt has been made to put women in ground combat units. Since the development of lightweight firearms about a century ago, it suddenly became possible for women to handle weapons as effectively as the men. Before that the weapons depended too much on upper body strength, leaving women at a large disadvantage. But attempts at using women as infantry have nearly all failed. Infantry operations involve more than just firing your weapons effectively, there's also all that running, jumping, and carrying heavy loads (of weapons, ammo, body armor, water, and so on).

Then there's the Political Correctness problem. Too many (or just any) injuries during training can get the media and politicians demand that the problem go away. During the 1990s, there was a major flap over the problems female trainees had keeping up with males. It wasn't fair. It was made "fair", making basic training easy enough so women were not injured. This resulted in all those troops being inadequately prepared for combat. That began to change after September 11, 2001. By now everyone is getting pretty strenuous training but that will change one peacetime returns.


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