The former deputy director for policy planning in the U.S. State Department gave a talk about the military’s recent decision to integrate women into combat Tuesday evening.
In July, the U.S. military told Congress that every branch plans to open combat positions to women by 2016, but will maintain current performance and physical standards. Kori Schake, who spoke at the Sanford School of Public Policy, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, a conservative public policy think tank. During former President George W. Bush’s first term, she was the director for defense strategy and requirements on the National Security Council, before working at the State Department from 2007-2008. She also worked as senior policy adviser for the McCain-Palin presidential campaign.
The Alexander Hamilton Society, a student-led foreign affairs organization, presented the event. Approximately 20 people were in attendance, including two army commanders.
Senior Daniel Strunk, president of the AHS and Chronicle columnist, noted Schake will likely play a role in the next Republican administration, in either 2016 or 2020.
Schake started by clarifying that some women already serve in combat, but that current policy prevents women from serving at the brigade level or below where the principle mission involves on-the-ground combat.
She noted that the arguments for women to serve in combat include gender justice and that women currently serving in support positions, such as driving trucks, are already thrown into combat-like positions.
She addressed some of the challenges to integrating women into combat including physical differences in size and capability.
“We are, on average, not as sturdy as our male counterparts," she said. "We are, on average, incapable of carrying a 120 pound pack for 12 hours while concentrating on doing something else, and we are also, on average, prone to stress injuries and bone breaks because our bodies are built differently."
Upon seeing audience member sophomore Danielle Sumner frowning in response to this point, Schake asked Sumner whether she disagreed.
“If the woman feels like she’s confident that she can handle it, then she probably knows herself better than the policymaker,” Sumner said.
Schake countered that women have a lower success rate for completing military training than male counterparts and that this depletes training resources. She added that women are more impacted by the psychological stresses of combat, citing that women have higher rates of post-traumatic stress disorder.
In addition, she said that those outside of the military do not understand the importance of group cohesion.
“You have a small group who are required to work as a team under enormously stressful, dangerous and potentially fatal circumstances, and you are asking them to do things that they would not be permitted to do in any other circumstance,” Schake said.
She went on to explain that women in combat complicate military cohesion by introducing sexual attraction and sexual violence on a grander scale than before.
"In a perfect world, military commanders don’t want anybody who is attracted to anybody anywhere in their unit,” she explained. “What they find is it’s always divisive, and remember that most of the people in our military are 19 years-old.”
Schake cited an army study that found sexual assault is likely to increase if women serve in combat.
She also said that 17 percent of Marines said that they would not re-enlist if women were permitted into combat assignments.
“It’s possible that they are all misogynists, but it’s also possible that they understand something about their profession that we do not," Schake said. "What they say when you ask them about it, is that any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and they are worried about women being the weak link.”
Units are more likely to be distracted from their missions when a woman in combat is injured than a man, Schake said. She added that members of the Navy have complained that women become pregnant, either intentionally or not, just "as the ship is about to go to sea."
Senior Alex Schade, Army ROTC member and daughter of a female Marine, said it is important to understand the culture of the military in order to understand this issue. When one joins the military, it is a commitment to serve the country in whatever capacity is most needed, not pursue other individual objectives .
“There are a lot of women who maybe could make it through the training, could gut it out, but need to honestly and fairly assess within themselves whether this is truly the best thing that they could possibly be doing for the country," Schade said. "When my prize as a woman is to prove that I can do it, as soon as I get there, I’ve reached my goal, and I think that the esprit de corps thing comes in."
Army Commander Jim Wanovich, a fellow in the Counterterrorism and Public Policy Fellowship Program, said that the success of the integration of women in the military will hinge on the leadership. He noted that because military commanders emphasized clear behavioral standards following the repeal of Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, the transition was relatively smooth, despite media dramatization.
“It was all about nothing. This could be all about nothing too," he said. "The news made a bigger deal about it than all of us. We just came to work like normal. We could do the same thing with this.... If the policymakers say, ‘do this,’ we will figure out a way to be successful at it."
Most people in attendance responded positively to the discussion.
“It was a fantastic discussion that brought both the perspectives of students and army members," sophomore Emma Campbell-Mohn said. "It’s important to remember how the military culture differs from the rest of American culture, and how important it is that they fight for the common good."
Junior Anand Raghuraman said he liked that the event brought together diverse individuals including military members and ROTC, as well as civilians interested in politics and gender issues.
Sumner said she came into the talk thinking all opposition to women serving in combat was sexist, but changed her mind after the event.
“This just really clarified that if you’re coming into the military and you’re willing to put your life on the line, you are willing to serve in whatever capacity they need you," she said. "In the case of women, sometimes you’re not just not needed, but you could be detrimental to the military."
Freshman Adam Lemon said the discussion drove home the complexity of the issue.
“The main conflict involved is this American ideal to bring more equality to the military and this desire to maximize effectiveness—where do you find that balance?” he said.