Approximately what percentage of veterans have a service level disability?
It’s really high, but not for the obvious reasons people suspect. The reason for this isn’t because we all suffered from some car bombing, like a few of the warriors pictured above. Those numbers are actually quite low relatively speaking. The reason is more connected with day-to-day type work environment disabilities. For most, it is simply the chronic bodily maltreatment over the course several years in the military.
Take my example. I am about as average as a Marine deployed to Iraq probably gets. I am not yet thirty, but I have to see a chiropractor regularly like I was fifty. My back issues started literally weeks after my second deployment to Iraq. We traced the cause to wearing an eighty pound flak jacket, supported entirely on my shoulders, for eight hours a day, seven days a week. Turns out, in the bullet proof vest industry, you have to have a balance between ergonomics and ballistic protection. In a risk/reward scenario, I prefer back pain. That injury rated me 10% service connected disability.
Another one came from hearing damage I suffered from being a rifle and pistol coach for two years, literally standing inches from weapons going off all day. We had hearing protection, but there is only so much the 25 cent softies can do.
That is realistically what happens to most of the military injured. The jobs are just hard on the body. That isn’t to say that all people are as lucky as I was. The records are very clear in that in the wars, so far, there have been 6,845 dead, and 52,300 wounded. That being said, what doesn’t help anyone is the almost criminal misrepresentation by news agencies such as the Huffington post, making numerous posts saying that because of injuries like this, a million troops are now counted as “wounded from combat” in Iraq and Afghanistan. Huffington has taken an extremely liberal definition of the word “wounded” by misquoting this definition from the International Business times:
“All that can be said with any certainty is that as of last December more than 900,000 service men and women had been treated at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics since returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
To be clear, if I were to break my leg tomorrow for something that happened six years after leaving the military, and go to a VA hospital to see if there is anything they could do to help me, I could count in this number. However, in the Huffington Post article: 6,845 Americans Died and 900,000 Were Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Say ‘No’ to Obama’s War., an article with the seemingly intended purpose of arguing against intervention against the ISIS ( the Islamic terrorist nation and their murderous tirade through the Middle East) based on half truths and misinformation. The writer, H. A. Goodman, blatantly links this figure of 900,000 wounded with the Pentagon quote that more than half to two-thirds of Americans killed or wounded in combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan have been victims of IED explosions” implying that upwards of 400,000 to 600,000 people were wounded by roadside bombings. Being that the actual figure of people wounded by roadside bombs is somewhere closer to maybe 20,000, as a veteran, I’m appalled by the way Huffington Post is misrepresenting us.
The reason for this rant on the HP is because they are doing a severe disservice to actual veterans by misrepresenting what is going on with us through their politically agenda layden postings. In other articles, they’ve expounded on this figure, stating that everything from a single episode of dizziness to actually being shot counts as being “wounded in action”. Meanwhile, public perception of ailments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) has turned into something that makes people so aware of the problem, that instead of understanding the diseases and the realistic numbers behind them, people just assume we are all broken from the neck up. Also, being that somewhere around only two million deployments of individuals occurred in either Iraq or Afghanistan, this 1 million wounded number that keeps being brought up gives the illusion that fully half of all veterans nearly died or are seriously messed up from going to Iraq or Afghanistan. Since these veterans, in reality, faced less than a 1% chance of ever being injured in the war, it doesn’t help me if I go in for a job and have to face the silent prejudice of “probably has PTSD” because of poor reporting like this. This is the disservice that selective, agenda based reporting like this is doing.
Shame on you Huffington Post. Be better.
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The last thing I would want to talk about is how war makes you fully aware of just what people are capable of. It will shed any naivety you had about the nature of this human condition. You will come face to face with the reality that there are people out there who are willing to kill their own people just to further their political goals. Writing that sounds like the plot to a movie or something, but it is real. War forces you to learn about massacres like Al-Anfal Campaign and the destruction of the Marsh Arabs way of life. As a child, I could never have imagined such hate, or simply, such practicality absent the value of human life and suffering. As one of the graphs I shared earlier showed, the vast majority of those killed in Iraq were done so by other Iraqi. Worse, was how many people would do so for religious agenda. The depths of depravity of some of the ideas rolling around over there is mind boggling, not to say that the ideas pervade only in Iraq.
What’s really painful though is seeing that your own people aren’t immune to being horrible people either. It always gives me pause to see so many people who are simply aware of so much extremely important information because it is hidden from them, or worse, because they refuse to acknowledge the blinders they have about it. Atrocities go by and people turn a blind eye because it doesn’t fit into the narrative they believed to be true. I’ll be frank, in being there, I believe Iraq was important and we should have been there. I’ve been very open that there were many things we should have done differently and are to blame for many failures in it (With the benefit of hindsight, should America have invaded Iraq in 2003? and Who is responsible for the mess in Iraq today?) but simply saying it was a mistake because you don’t know a better way to do it is a failure in itself. I am not going to try and convert anyone on this matter. I’ve made my arguments many times, but I do think it would improve everyone’s perspective to see it through the eyes of another, an Iraqi Kurd who view the war beginning in 2003 as the first time his people ever had the chance to have freedom and equality in Iraq. Yad Faeq’s answer to In the end, did the U.S. bring freedom, democracy, prosperity, or security to Iraq?
Leaving my soapbox, war gets very personal when you experience month after month working with, living with, eating with, suffering with, and enduring with the same people day, after day, after day. It makes you aware of what people, individual people can really be like. I’ve had Sergeants who doctored their Marine’s performance reports to make their troops appear as failures, so that they could be seen as disciplinarians when there was nothing to punish and miraculous improvements months later. I’ve seen Marines sabotage each other for a pointless position within a fire team. I’ve seen Marines so piss drunk that they had be thrown into a car with their kids watching on a platoon family function. I’ve seen people get pregnant on purpose so that they could avoid a deployment, many times. I’ve seen incompetence, cover-ups, affairs, and mountains of bureaucratic nonsense a mile high, preventing anything from being done.
Perhaps the worst of it was when I was pulled from a counseling with a therapist about what I had gone through in Iraq. My father-in-law past away in a violent accident three days before I was supposed to come home. I was sent home early, three days early, to handle the affairs. The deployment was rough and losing your father at the end of it like that was miserably traumatic. You are robbed of any happiness in seeing your family at all. It was literally the worst period of my life. While speaking to the therapist I received a call that I was in trouble for not being a formation for the platoon that I was longer a part of. That’s not true. I hadn’t spoken to the therapist. I was one step in the door when I found out I was supposed to be in some dumb formation because the Staff Sergeant in charge didn’t realize that I was no longer part of his unit. He forgot to file the paperwork and simply hadn’t noticed I hadn’t been there for over a month. I never went back to speak to the therapist. The sad thing,that wasn’t even the worst part of that story.
What also surprised me was how bad people could be to people they loved. You’d be shocked at how little people in the military seem to care about things like marital fidelity. Knowing who was sleeping with whom was like some deranged version the kids game Guess Who. I remember one guy, a pretty high ranking member of my platoon, come home to a huge sign welcoming him home by his wife and daughters. A few days later, that sign wasn’t taken down. It was ceremonially torn in half. I also thought “Dear John” letters were a myth before being deployed. What surprises me, though, is a phenomenon where some observers have stated that Dear John letters seem to happen more frequently when the war is generally not understood or approved of at home. It would seem they are another subtle way that our inability to understand a conflict affects the lives of those who must endure them. That doesn’t excuse the women who make the lives of their men harder during one of the hardest times they will ever experience because they aren’t getting enough attention, or because their friends don’t feel it is the moral thing to be with them anymore. Yes, it’s true. It happened far more often than I would like to believe. By the way, having the real name of Jon doesn’t help in war. It leaves one irrationally paranoid of such things.
But it wasn’t all bad. Just as I saw the ugliness of the people around me, and the horrors true villains would visit upon each other outside the gates, I saw goodness in people as well. I was signed up for civilian care groups by my family. What followed after that was a flood of mail from dozens, maybe a hundred or so, people I had never met. They sent me food, socks, writing material, playing cards, candy, storage bins, Santa hats… just about anything you could imagine. One old Vietnam Marine somehow smuggled me a full flask. I just so happen to be one of the only non-drinking Marines alive, but I honored his wishes nonetheless. It was all sent to some random Corporal none of them knew. I was pretty overwhelmed. It was a pleasant surprise to see so many people in support of what we were doing, especially by 2007 when the war was old news. Eventually, the letters became too much. I couldn’t keep up with them and failed to be able to correspond to them all. I became very guilty about all the attention and my failures to correspond, so I tried to share in the blessing. I wrote some of them back and told them how taken care of I was, but told them of members of my platoon who weren’t getting mail from anyone. It was nice to see some of the younger ones feel that sense of importance they had been lacking. Eventually I built a wall in our eating area of the entry control point, from a piece of plywood. On it I would just staple up all the letters. I felt that the attention wasn’t really being directed at me, but just anyone these these kind altruistic samaritans could get a hold of. I made the wall of letters. I kept most the candy, though. No one ever told me thank you for the wall, but from time to time I would see them staring at it while they didn’t know I was looking. I’d like to think that in hard moments of that deployment, there were many, that they had that reminder that regardless of what the news and media were saying, there were still many, many people who loved us for what we were doing.
I didn’t really need them. I had my own personal fan club. My wife had special abilities to make a person feel at home in the middle of a warzone. First off, she bakes. Her chocolate chip cookies have always been the pride of our household and famed within any community we have been a part of. She would make me a fresh batch every week for the lunches that she prepared for me every day. She is really old fashioned and I am thankful, undeserving, but thankful. That sort of thing doesn’t happen when you go to Iraq, though. It wasn’t that the food there wasn’t palatable. I’ve mentioned that. It just wasn’t made with love. 6,000 miles didn’t stop my Jennie, however. She searched online the whole time I was gone to discover ways to help make our lives better. Imagine my surprise when one day I opened a flat rate box and saw a bag filled with chocolate chip cookies that must have been shipped weeks ago. About a third were reduced to crumbs, but those that remained were still fresh. That wasn’t possible. Jennie had read that you can ship cookies and keep them from getting stale by placing torn pieces of white bread in the packaging. The cookies will pull moisture from the bread and arrive weeks later as if they were baked yesterday. Yeah, it really works. When I was at my lowest, around the first Christmas when I was really away in 2005, she was still taking care of me. One of our Sergeants found out his wife had had an affair or left him or something. He was a jerk, but that still sucks. It left a lot of us married guys a bit shaken up. I received a flat rate about that time with “Do not open until Christmas.” The 25th of December rolled around, no special day when every day is exactly the same in Iraq, and I found a quiet corner of the COMM bay. There I saw little baggies filled with weird stuff. There was a CD – “The Sounds of Christmas”, with Christmas music and carols. A bag with little nuts and twigs, cinnamon and pine cones – “The Smells of Christmas”, a photo album with memories of growing up on Christmas morning for the two of us – “The sights of Christmas” as well as the few we had spent together. It was a bittersweet moment, but one that made me appreciate what she meant to me. You really don’t know the peaks of what humans are capable of until you’ve known the love a good woman. I learned that from war and have appreciated it ever since.
The last thing I learned was the value of the friends you make over there. These are a few of the guys from the “Lance Corporal’s Tent”, the guys who were the lowest ranking dudes who just didn’t matter at all in our little tent. We were weird and stupid and had fun just getting each other through. One is a rocker, one a psychiatric casualty, another became one of my lifelong best friends. One nearly got so sick that we thought he was going to die, but he refused to go home. One even lived a whole successful enlistment hiding the fact that he was gay, living a life of service under the auspices of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
War taught me to respect individuals like these, the warriors themselves. In a modern society like the United States, people are free to join or they are free to go on about their lives peacefully. No one makes you enlist here, so it is strange to imagine that there are people who do it willingly. These people accept risk as a given part of their lives. The possibility of death, be it much smaller than most people realize, is a realistic threat to their future, as is maiming and the potential of injury and psychiatric trauma. No one wants this, but it is an unavoidable acceptance. To be quite honest, those risks far outweigh any benefits like college. There are easier ways if you only want to get a cut-rate education. The pay also sucks, if you haven’t heard. These guys were my friends, but in the grand scope of things, they were much more. They deserved to be called heroes. None of them had to fight either, but I know with absolute certainty, that any one of them put themselves in the places where fighting was necessary. They all did after all.
In reflection, I realize that these individuals have immense value to the world. Their willingness to sacrifice, if not physically, than of the time with their families , from comfort and security is something special itself. Their willingness to do unpleasant things to horrible people and suffer themselves in doing so helps ensure a measure of security for others. In that security, prosperity grows, but rarely for the veterans themselves. The very idea that a 19 year old kid from one of the most educated, wealthiest countries on the planet, would give up years of his life, as well as endless opportunities to find enjoyment and comfort, is surprising. That he or she would willingly instead train, suffer, and endure hardship to be armed and equipped to fly all the way over to some other part of world to do whatever their country asks of them, is profound. That fact alone scares the piss out of anyone who would raise a weapon against such a person.
Few people would do that, though we who live safely know that someone must. The fact that kids like that exist still baffles me. Absent the politics, absent the discussion of if we should have gone to war then, or if we should go war to now, or in the future, to me, is irrelevant when you think about what these people are doing. These young men and women and their willingness to do something is important. They actually do things rather than just talk about things which should be done by someone. The actions they take have real significance and make history. They voluntarily put themselves at great personal risk for simple ideals like their country, or freedom, or even just pride. This willingness to do things others wouldn’t for values others only talk about truly showcase the scope of what humanity is capable of and the value of the fighting man to all the rest of us.
There is a lot of truth to Dan Rosenthal‘s quip that grown men will wait in line for a juice box and some reheated macaroni to eat in the dirt. When you are starving and have been working in some of the most inhospitable conditions imaginable, food tastes really good, regardless of what it actually tastes like. I’ve always said the best flavors on any food are free and starving. You’ll eat anything, even the artificially tasteless food given out by the food preparation experts that were the cooks. It was apparently like that because people could be allergic to things with flavor, so why bother and just remove all of them. Regardless, even they tasted delicious depending on what you had endured for the last few days. Essentially, flavor is inversely related to suffering endured. Remember that. It might save your life.
I remember when I first arrived in Iraq I went to the dinner one day with one of my Corporals and the two Gunnies. The Gunnies were much more experienced than either us and this was far from their first war. Still, everything was new to me. I was surprised to see the size and scale of the chow hall. There is a few moments of cognitive dissonance when you enter the chow halls in Iraq. They are much larger and more effort put into them than anything you endured during training. It was better than what was offered in Yuma training, anyway. I stood in line and took what was offered. There was something fried and something green. Fork ready, I sat down and prepared to eat when the Corporal among us asked me if I knew what it was I was eating. He pointed to the fried nugget like objects on the plate. I looked, examined, and thought for a second. I hadn’t the foggiest clue.
“You know, I don’t care. I expect you to tell me they are fried goat intestines or camel testicals or something, but I just don’t care at this point. I’m hungry and they’re fried so I am going to eat them.”
I took my fork and skewered one, put it in my mouth, and attempted to identify the flavor. I wasn’t successful, but it wasn’t bad. So I went on to eat another.
“Oh… well, they’re mussels… like what people scrape off the side of ships.”
“Hmm…” I said with the mystery meat still filling my mouth. “Well, that’s not so bad when you go in assuming it was fried camel balls now is it?”
The Gunnies just laughed.
The truth was, I was always a very picky eater until I joined the Marine Corps. That said, in the worst of times, food was actually pretty good. Maybe by the end of boot camp I just wasn’t that picky anymore. During training it was bland, but bland isn’t exactly the same as bad. It’s just eh. By 2005 MREs, Meal Ready to Eat, are pretty good unless you just have really bad luck. You can mix and match, trade up and there was even a cookbook that circulated on how to juryrigg oddly appetizing if not aesthetically displeasing concoctions. For instance, cocoa powder and creamer make pudding! And you can make grilled cheese with spreadable cheese, two breads and the engine block of a humvee as well. Let that depressing thought boil for a minute. Perhaps it was just something you get used to, but I enjoyed them most of the time.
What I actually miss was the chow halls. Yes, I miss them and those who have been over understand. I wanted to mention this because this fact would probably surprise most people who have the wrong idea of what the war was like. If you were lucky enough to be on one of the big bases for a while you would get to eat at the chow halls which were these massive cafeterias. They served food so good I was actually in a state of shock that this was what war was like. I’m really serious about this and most won’t believe, but we had steak every week and the first time I ever experienced lobster or pecan praline ice-cream was in Iraq. I know that wasn’t everyone’s experience, but as I said, I was lucky.
I have heard since coming back that a lot of people are angry about this. Most Marines will tell you about how they had it so much worse. Most really didn’t since the majority never even went to Iraq and still a lot would never want to admit that we had it this good. That said, there were many who had it really rough, and I respect that. Getting sent out to Hit or Camp Korean Village in 2005 was no small achievement and the accommodations, even two years into the war were, shall I say, not yet 5 star quality. That said, if that is one of you reading this, really, my heart goes out to you. You have the gratitude of the nation for what you endured. Congratulations. Here is your medal and a cookie. Please pass the ketchup.
Having said all that, many people who never deployed, as well as many who were never part of the military at all, cry foul at the egregious spending of the Department of Defense on $50 dinners for the military. I don’t know if those figures are an exaggeration or not, or just some idiot who took the military’s entire food budget, including facilities, staff, transportation, plus food and then just divided it by individual meals. I also don’t know people just don’t understand how logistically hard it is to get food that passes American health standards in that sort of quantity to warzones, but if you are one of those people who think there is something wrong with the fact, perhaps you should consider this. Literally the best thing that could happen to me on any given day was having waffles with peanut butter smothered in hot syrup with a side of eggs and an orange for breakfast. Imagine that. That isn’t just a good breakfast, that is the guaranteed to be the best thing that will happen to me that day. The only good things I could imagine on most days revolved around food and phone calls. I hadn’t seen my wife in months. I lived in a tent, slept on a cot, my roommate didn’t bathe, my bosses were [expletives deleted], and I caught athletes foot a month ago from the showers that I will never get rid of. I hadn’t had a day off since I got here and oh, did I mention that we got bombed on a semi-regularly basis? This meal and more importantly, the twenty minutes of renewing socialization where my friends and I can unwind, is all we have. What more do you want to take away from us?
That question aside, there is a rational reason for the “enormously superfluous” spending of the US military on the grounds of food. Basic comforts, where they could be controlled, greatly affect troop morale. During Vietnam and World War II, the vast majority of people who became casualties were not because they suffered gorey bullet and shrapnel wounds. They weren’t casualties in the normal way respected by non-military folk, but were actually psychiatric casualties succumbing to stresses far outside the expected normal human experience. As it turns out, the Brits may have solved this first in World War I where they would cycle troops out of the trenches every ten days or so to the rear where they could have hot food and showers for a few days before going back. It seemed that they were the first to fight a war like that without suffering the impossible to imagine psychological damage that we are only now starting to understand. Basically, food isn’t really a luxury. I was surprised how often, during times when we would be way, way out there in extremely inconvenient conditions, some officer would go so far out of his way to make sure we had “hot” chow. I didn’t feel we needed all the attention, but sometimes, Hell itself couldn’t stop these men. After researching and understanding the mental effects of war on warriors, I’m starting to see that they did this for more than just purely altruistic good leadership. In those situations, it may be another inoculation, this time against future mental breakdown from prolonged poor morale in the middle of a warzone.
So the next time you hear someone say that it’s stupid that people in a war zone are getting to eat so good, at least consider that there is probably more to that decision than that the General just likes ice cream. Perhaps you should remind the person complaining so much that spending a little on food for a deployed service member is far less than spending on a lifetime of potential psychiatric disability payouts. It might actually do well to remind them that at the end of the day, they still get to go home while probably never feeling the pressures military guys feel the moment they leave the chow hall.
This is an update to a earlier post I made a while back Women in Combat Operationsin which I expressed some of my mixed feelings, both for and against the future of women serving in combat centered missions. In any case, I am glad that actions are being taken by the Pentagon and the Marines one way or another.
This Monday Gen. James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, announced that actions were going to be taken by Marine Corps command to study how women would be able to adapt to the combat environment by introducing a select number of women into the infantry officer school at Quantico, Va., and ground combat battalions that had once been closed to women.
This new effort will, as I understand it, focus on female officers. As my post said many of the women I dealt with in military were officers. One in particular stood out for excellence among Marines, male or female. I think this is an important prospect for the military. It will be putting the women who are the most dedicated, most ambitious and hopefully the ones who will serve the greatest example to future Marines, notably the women.
Although there is great controversy over this debate, much of it in my previous article, and it will likely be a very long time before we see a completely coed military, I think this is a good move for the Marines as they wean into a future that will have to incorporate women more thoroughly.
There is a debate going on right now concerning women’s equality, particularly in the military. As it stands, women are not allowed to take place in strictly ground combat occupations. This doesn’t mean that women in the military are always safe from combat, but it does mean they cannot join some MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty or military job) like infantry, artillery or to be an officer of those units. Women are also not eligible for the draft, if that were to happen.
There are many who believe this is not in line with our current view of a need for sexual equality. At President Clinton’s request, the Department of Defense reviewed this issue in 1994. DoD noted that America’s prior drafts were used to supply adequate numbers of Army ground combat troops. Because women are excluded by policy from front line combat positions, excluding them from the draft process remains justifiable in DoD’s view. Although no conclusions were reached, DoD recognized that policies regarding women need to be reviewed periodically because the role of women in the military continues to expand. This week Marine Corps command has release statements stating that it is planning on receiving an undetermined number of women candidates for it’s infantry officer training program. What this will mean for the future of the military and women’s roles within are undetermined, but it definitely shows signs of movement on an issue that hasn’t seen the light of day for quite some time.But where they have still not expanded is into the role of combat infantryman.
Most see no reason for this injustice. It must just be some dusty old tradition right? I think there is a better reason than that. Women are just not made for combat. If you say that then you must never have been married to a woman. But in all seriousness, what do you think makes us so different that men could “handle the stress” better than women? Men are just stronger than women? Perhaps, but as another article of mine shows the last decade of warfare has taught us one thing, we need more boots on the ground. In a Marine Infantry squad, there are few “heavy lifting” activities that I experienced where some women’s smaller (it’s statistically true women are smaller than men) frame may have slowed them down. That still leaves at least 10 slots left in the squad that anyone no matter how small would be good for. I would also like to point out another small fry who showed what the littlest member can pull off in an infantry situation. Check out the history of Audie Murphy. This is guy who was too small to join the Marines and then became the most decorated soldier of WWII. So you can see that I don’t put much weight in the argument that women, on average, are too small to do the job.
To maintain fairness I want to put out two differing points of view, both from my own personal perspective of real live cases I witnessed. I want to do this not because I don’t have a point of view, but because I want readers and debaters to see, as fair as I can, as much information possible so that you can arrive at a decision of your own.
I want to talk about an officer I knew while in the Marines. She was one of the best Marines I ever knew. Seriously, top 3, including men. Her name was Capt. Dienhart. She was a company commander for an engineering support squadron I worked for. She was in command of over 120 mostly male Marines. Even here in the Marines, the most famous boys club in the world, she had respect. Why? She could out do any one of us. She made it a point to be able to do more push ups than us (and not girl push ups either), she could do more pull-ups than any of us ( and I am not talking about flexed arm hangs) and she ran the 18 minute 3 mile. And when I say us, I mean the group of 450 19-24 year old male Marines in the squadron, not an easy group to beat, but she did almost every time.
The only time I really got to know her was when I was a marksmanship coach for the squadron. I was her pistol instructor and helped her through her annual qualification. I used “instructor” and “helped” loosely because she was, on top of everything else, one of my best shooters ever. She had the form down, was very patient and methodical and had the strength to hold the weapon with control that and delivered precise and accurate shooting. In the Marines, marksmanship is kind of a big deal, so for her to deliver precise, consistent shooting, not just a few good shots was impressive for myself and the other Marines.
The women rewrote the book for me on what women in the military are capable of. I don’t know if she has any inclination to be part of a combat MOS, but I feel that the leadership and professionalism she showed while in a non-combat roles shows that woman have the capability and potential to serve in such positions in the future.
Against women in combat roles:
Many of you ladies reading are about to get very upset. I am sorry if you feel I am not being fair to the gender, that is not my intention. Remember that what I am writing about is what happened to me and is all very true. I am trying to provide all points of view on the subject so please try to keep an open mind throughout.
In truth, I don’t see any reason that women can’t do anything in the military that men can do. My mom always had fun pointing out that there wasn’t anything a man could do that a woman couldn’t do. What I think is the key determinate in this argument isn’t what women can’t do, it’s what men can’t do that is holding women back.
Men can’t get pregnant. (Oh dear God he went there!) Now this sounds like someone attempting to throw up a catchall to prove that all women shouldn’t ever be able to join the armed forces. It isn’t. But it is a fact, women alone can conceive and carry a child and this fact has grave repercussions in the military world. Let me explain.
Suppose that you are getting ready for a deployment to Afghanistan for a 7 month tour. You will be sent to some very dangerous areas where you need every member of your team. Your unit isn’t in combat roles, but there is still a lot of work to be done and the presence of threat is very close, as it is a combat zone. Now, two weeks before you deploy everyone is arriving from pre-deployment leave and PFC Sarah has news. Everyone is happy for PFC Sarah, sort of, because they know that will be deploying a man down. You can’t deploy when you are pregnant after all. So now a team of 10 is a team of 9. That means that for the next 7 months, everyone will have to work harder and have less security during risky operations or difficult procedures. But hey, we are just breeding one more warrior in the fight against terrorism right? It’s ok we can manage.
But what if it happens, 4 more times? That is exactly what happened during my second deployment to Iraq. In a platoon with 9 women, 4 became pregnant within weeks of leaving. 1 was actually sent home from Iraq in the first week of the deployment when her mild case of mono turned out to be a severe case of pregnant. So now the platoon was down to just 4 women left of the original 9.
That may not seem like a great deal, but not only did this mean of all their work was split between those who remained, but they were also not able to fulfill a very important role. We worked at an entry control point to a major base. There was a great deal of local civilian traffic here. Everyone who came an went had to be checked, including the women. Do you think the U.S. government wanted those dirty male Marines all over the local populace? No, we needed females to do it. And many times we had to call in just to have someone check if someone had a weapon under their clothing. Ah, SOP how I miss you.
This wasn’t an isolated issue either. This freak epidemic of mass pregnancy happened throughout the squadron both times we were deployed. I liken it to a college where you don’t have to take finals if you are pregnant and then two weeks before finals you have 5 of 9 women in a particular class (and more than 20% overall) of the women show up pregnant. Would you think it was an accident? Would you think they were all accidents? Others were sent home in the middle of an Iraq deployment because they became pregnant in Iraq (please trust me when I say that it is not a romantic place, so it is curious to me that this could happen at all.) Female Marines who are or were recently pregnant are also given different standards to uphold than their non-pregnant counterparts. This makes sense with limits, being that there is some point where they must be deployable at some predetermined point in the future. For example I had a Sergeant who was very much overweight and never took part in scheduled physical training. The reasoning, she had had a kid. “But wait, her kid can talk.” Where is the line? When are we supposed to start upholding standards?
As for me, I don’t think it is that hard not to get pregnant. With today’s health care and knowledge it seems impossible to me that this many people could accidentally become pregnant preceding a time of great personal struggle. My wife and I agreed long ago that we would not have children until we were in a house, graduated from college and both had good jobs. It has been nearly eight years and we are still not ready, but we are also not pregnant. I think for that reason I have little sympathy for those who become accidentally pregnant. I feel that having children is never truly an accident and the fact that when this happens it leaves a lot of good people, men and women, down a (wo)man.
In my mind there has to be some sort of accountability in the military community to combat this growing form of malingering in the ranks. The civilian population also needs to see that this is indeed a problem and an epidemic for the military. Efforts to address this evoked civic outrage two years ago when Maj. Gen. Anthony Cucolo threatened court martial for four soldiers who became pregnant, as well as the male soldiers who fathered the children after disobeying expressed orders to avoid such happenings. The National Organization for Women (NOW) said the policy to reprimand them was “ridiculous.” “How dare any government say we’re going to impose any kind of punishment on women for getting pregnant,” NOW President Terry O’Neill said. “This is not the 1800s.”
I would like to agree with Ms. O’Neill. In the civilian world that I now enjoy and that Ms. O’Neill seems to be only experienced with, someone telling Jennie and I we can’t have children is unacceptable. But in the military it is different. It may seem draconian, but that life is much more extreme. It’s more violent, dangerous, harder and we need each other more. We are Marines (soldiers, sailors, airmen, coasties.) We aren’t accountants, teachers or postal workers. When we lose a person we can’t hire someone on for a few months until Sarah is back. When we lose someone it is a loss, and to those who are left to complete the mission, it might as well be a casualty.
In conclusion, I feel that women in the military have outstanding potential. I have seen some of the most amazing feats of excellence performed by female Marines. My conclusion however, is that the achievements and virtues of these and many other individuals, do not represent the whole. As a whole, they aren’t ready for the responsibility of combat MOS’s. When 1 women is unable to deploy it’s a tragedy for it’s unit, when 60% are unable to deploy it’s a statistic, and a damning one. For as long as women in the military can not accurately be relied upon to deploy in sufficient strength and readiness, to complete the mission through the course and then to return home to their family life as men do, they as a group are not ready for the difficulties and responsibilities of combat warfare. In such theaters when you lose someone, it isn’t just a burden, like it was for our platoon, it places everyone else in danger. It leaves open the likelihood that others will never see their families so that some could start one of their own. When there are women who choose to use pregnancy as a tool to avoid duty they do a grave disservice to the Capt. Dienharts of the armed services, who have earned the right to serve in any manner they should wish. When this pattern ceases to be a problem, I will be one of the first ones cheering for some more fresh boots in the thick of the fight.
I have tried to provide links to both parts of the debate so that you can make up your own mind on where you stand on the issue. If you know of another good link to either side of the debate, please post it in the replies. Any retaliatory remarks will not be posted as I tried to be fair. And please, let’s not make this about rape. People love to site that “what-if” because of it’s moral impossibility to judge, however rape accounts for such a low amount of pregnancy cases be they civilian, military or otherwise that I will not justify it as a meaningful addition to this debate.
Remember also that my personal point of view is currently more against a change in the current system. This is mostly due to my personal experiences and for that reason I admit that I may have some biases preventing me from fairly showing both sides.
I was in class some time ago when a professor made a joke about the meaning of the word oxymoron. For those unaware, an oxymoron is a figure of speech that combines contradictory terms. She gave examples like “Act Naturally” and “Aunt Jemima Light”, but then she mentioned another that struck a chord with me. As she snickered away, the last one she said was “Military Intelligence.” The class full of college freshmen, not unlike myself at the time, laughed at that one too. The professor knew that I was a Marine and that I had served two tours in Iraq, one of which ended less than six months before, so she knew this was a mistake I would not take lightly. I saw the look on her face as she saw the look on mine when she suddenly remembered.
She gathered herself and attempted to move back to whatever lesson was slated for that day. Whatever it was, that wasn’t the lesson they would be receiving.
“Ma’am,” I interrupted.
“Are you aware of what it takes to re-calculate the trajectory of an object traveling at 3,110 feet per second for a three inch change in elevation at 5 times the length of a standard football field when factoring in for wind speed and direction, as well as factoring for differences in elevation?” (Marine recruits do in week six of their basic training.)
“Furthermore, I feel that it is important to note that by the time many military people have reached the age of twenty-two they have become experts in occupations and fields of study that takes years for civilians to achieve.”
This is true, be it Infantry (0300 Military Occupation Specialty series), Engineers (MOS 1300 series) a data network specialist (MOS 0650 series) or (here’s a fun one) 2834– Satellite Communications (SATCOM) Technician. Most have, by that time, achieved the rank of E-4 or E-5 and been given responsibility of a small team of 4 up to a squad of 13 (that’s like an assistant manager for people in college working at the fry kitchen.) Let’s also not forget that many have learned to perform their job under harsh climate, horrible living conditions and the threat of someone shooting at them.
“And while wars like Iraq and Afghanistan have gone on for far too long, you may be hard pressed to find a military battle since Korea that ended in an American defeat. As you may also know, since so many students declined military service because you don’t like taking orders, the military is not free to go about and do as it will freely. They are following orders. Orders given to them by politicians. Politicians…you voted for.”
“And as an additional note, I am making an A in this class, as well as all my others.”
I felt I made my point clearly, in spite of my lack of modesty. The issue stuck with me though. It does bother me that so many people perceive the Military as being synonymous with adjectives such as boorish, crash, or doltish, i.e. stupid. Oh they always thank us when they see us at work, church, or the bar. “I sure do respect what you boys did for us over there,” but they still don’t believe we could carry on an intellectual conversation with anything beyond a six year, much less anyone else. We’re sadly typecast into roles around being disciplinarians, authoritarians, or the types of guys who will be “kicking in doors” for the organization. If roles such as these do not exist, we’re looked over in a manner that is becoming societally unsettling. We couldn’t add to a company for our empathy, our artistic abilities, for our overwhelming scope with respect to the world and it’s people. We are forever known by one overriding perception; the military is made of people who went straight to the military and have received little or no college education, and since a college education is the equivalent to educated, that doesn’t shine a very bright light on military folks. That is all most civilians will ever have to go on.
What the average person doesn’t understand is that most MOS (Military Occupational Speciality) schools require a grade of 80 or above on each and every test or you fail out of the course (and mine was much harder than anything I took in college.) Few are aware of the massive education system that exists within the military for its members. They also don’t know that by the time a military person is nineteen, many have been deployed overseas, where they did the most extreme version of their particular specialty in the world. I was a Data Network Specialist. That is the equivalent to the company network administrator who sets up the computers, runs the switches and servers for five hundred people. Yeah, the Marines have computer nerds too, but our computer nerds can shoot an open sights rifle from five hundred yards away, run three miles in less than twenty minutes and have green belts in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (that’s like mixed martial arts, except the ultimate goal is that the other guy stops fighting for good.) The only other difference between what I did in the military and what a civilian does is that I also dug the three mile trench for the fiber optic cable as well as replaced a relay station when it was hit by rocket fire. My friends and I ran code and we ran convoys.
By the time I was twenty one I was on my second deployment and headed a small team. I worked as a part of a security team and in a week learned over four hundred words in Arabic that I needed to communicate with locals. That is enough to have a conversation with someone, which I was forced to more than I would like. It had it’s upsides, though. For instance, if you need to communicate with Iraqi army personnel, who just so happen to be curious how much you would sell your iPod for if you might get a good deal for your sister-in-law on the Iraqi arranged marriages market, or if anyone around had heard of a men with bombs (pronounced ka-na-buhl in Arabic. Go ahead, Google it if you don’t believe me.) When I was twenty-two I was responsible for ensuring that over $3 million worth of gear in the form of new laptops, switchboards, servers and accessories safely and completely changed hands along with all necessary updates, installs and user modifications.
What I think is interesting is that in the military, this isn’t that special. Many military people reading this are saying to themselves “I had it harder” or “my job was a lot worse than that” and they would be right. I suppose you could ask an engineer about how to build a house, or like ours who build forty living spaces in a week. You could also ask a 40 year old department manager what it takes to handle fifteen thousand units through the warehouse in a month, or you could ask a 26 year old army logistics chief to do the same thing. For those real academics out there I will ask it this way “If two vessels are traveling towards each other, one heading east at 40 knots with a 10 knot headwind and the other traveling west at 32 knots and a 6 knot headwind and they are 4200 miles apart, how long before they meet? A butterbar ensign in the Navy could tell you that. Oh, but a civilian in my job made three times my salary, and if he ever got shot at doing his job it was a news breaking event. That’s different. So what I am curious about is “What ignorant person thinks people like me are stupid?”
As a special note, I graduated three years after that conversation with that professor and the class. I earned a degree in a school where a four year degree, which takes most students five, in three and half. I also graduated cum laude in the top 15% of my class. That is out of the 50% or so that made it to graduation from when they laughed at a funny joke about people like me and our inferior intelligence. Since then, I’ve worked in a Silicon Valley startup and am now teacher and a writer, with one book under my belt and another on the way. Although my family and others in my life were instrumental in pushing me through every step of the way, I know that really set me apart in achieving all of this was my intelligence, my military intelligence.