June 14, 2012

Let Women Go to Ranger School Already

Uncle Jimbo of Blackfive highlighted an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago arguing that women should not be allowed to attend U.S. Army Ranger School. There might well be some very good reasons for not allowing women to attend Ranger School, but this op-ed neglected to make any of them

I graduated in Class 5-01 (that a 22-year old me, right below the N in RANGER, which stands for "Nowledge"). I then went on to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. 

It's only my opinion, and I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but I see no compelling reason why women should not be allowed to attend Ranger School. As far as I am concerned, if a woman really wants to run around a sawdust pit at two in the morning screaming "Ranger!" while periodically stopping to low-crawl for 50 meters, we have a constitutional -- nay God-given -- responsibility to allow her to do so.

The only thing about which I feel strongly -- quite strongly, in fact -- is that women and men be held to the same very strict physical standards. The U.S. Army always screws this up, and it's unfair -- to women. Unequal physical standards for men and for women encourage men -- and women themselves -- to think of women as lesser soldiers. It may be true that men, on average, have a significant advantage over women in terms of testosterone and muscle mass. My wife, for example, may be a far superior athlete to me, but, when we play sports together she, being the competitor that she is, is constantly frustrated by my natural advantages in terms of size, strength and speed. 

But here's the thing about people, on average: they don't, on average, tend to volunteer for or graduate from Ranger School. Only people who are mentally and physically tough to begin with volunteer for Ranger School, and only the most physically and mentally tough people among those people end up graduating.

I may be older and more injury-prone than I used to be, but I am a lot stronger today than I was when I attended Ranger School. And you better believe there are women who are stronger and physically tougher than me. I know there are women out there who, if given the chance, could attend and graduate from Ranger School. 

The U.S. Army will screw this up only if it relaxes the physical standards to lower the bar for admission. The last time I checked, for example, you had to be able to do six strict chin-ups to attend Ranger School. That's pretty easy for a reasonably fit man, but even very physically fit women have trouble doing strict chin-ups. The temptation will be to relax the standard, because only a very select group of women would be able to do six strict chin-ups.

But that, of course, is exactly the point. When I was selected for service in the Ranger Regiment, the Regimental psychologist told me, "Well, the bad news is, you are not normal. The good news is, we're not interested in normal people."

Only a very select group of mental and physical freaks volunteer for and graduate from the toughest military training programs, and that is how it should be. If a female freak of nature can meet the same physical standards that we male freaks of nature can meet, she should be afforded every opportunity to attend the toughest schools and courses. If the U.S. Army -- Happy Birthday, by the way -- relaxes the standards to allow more women to qualify to attend, though, which it has a habit of doing, the Ranger tab will mean a lot less in the future.

Now, "normal" women might prefer to stay home and do normal girly stuff like bake cookies in the kitchen and overhead squat their body weight 15 times consecutively. And hey, if they want to do that instead of attending Ranger School, fine. I don't judge. 

But just as surely as we need to be honest about the real physical differences between men and women and how those differences should inform defense policy, we should also be honest about the fact that there is a very small minority of women out there who can kick my ass and yours and ought to be allowed to sua sponte their way to Ranger School.