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Before you read this article I want you to understand that I support the best training environment for soldiers regardless to what that environment looks like at the end of the day. What's important is that how we train soldiers, must be determined by soldiers and not by political or social pressure. An article about the amount of time Drill Sergeants spend policing the sexes in basic training by Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, 18 Jan 2000 caaused me to repost this. Portions of this article were quoted in Stepanie Guttman's book, The Kinder, Gentler Military: How Political Correctness Affects Our Ability to Win Wars Paperback September 25, 2001- JD

Politically Incorrect

JD Pendry

The National Organization for Women and assorted Congresswomen will probably demand my head when they read this. On top of that the Army leadership, many of who refuses to take a politically incorrect stance and do what they privately agree needs to be done, will come after my hide too. I'll even take sucking chest wounds from some old warriors I respect and admire deeply. But, like the old umpire said, "I calls'em likes I sees'em", and it's time this issue was heard about from someone whose been there.

In November of 1980, I became an Army Drill Sergeant at Fort McClellan, Alabama. Once, the training center for the Women's Army Corps. We had gender integrated companies for awhile with male and female platoons in the same company. We never integrated below platoon level, however, I understand now even squads are integrated. We tried, but it didn't work out too well.

Whenever we stressed male trainees physically, we over stressed most females. This produced things like leg and pelvic stress fractures that come from females over striding to keep up with males during road marches and from them carrying loads they weren't physically capable of carrying for long periods of time or long distances. Preventing those injuries in women meant men left basic training in less than top condition. Then there was always the added distraction of male and female trainees doing what 18 year old boys and girls with 18 year old hormones are prone to do - sneak around in the stairwells and cleaning closets after lights out. Found them there, more than once - and in the basement storage lockers too. An environment that demands rigid discipline and the undivided attention of soldiers to learning basic survival skills was reduced to a high school campus environment complete with boys and girlfriends and love note passing during training. I've intercepted love notes during training when soldiers were learning about mines, hand grenades and antitank weapons. All having the potential to kill a soldier who doesn't learn to handle them properly.

After the test, some wise old soldiers decided gender segregated produced better soldiers on both sides of the gender line. So we went back to gender segregated training. Single sexed companies with male and female Drill Sergeants. Today, our political leadership who've never walked a mile in a pair of combat boots or dug a hole in the ground and lived in it would call that a step backwards. Anyway, when we re-segregated, training got better for both males and females. A major training distracter - boyfriends, girlfriends and love note passing - was gone.

Some problems never changed though. Those were the problems that came from immature male Drill Sergeants training female soldiers.

My first platoon as a Drill Sergeant was a female platoon. It's an understatement to say I was uncomfortable with that. A male Drill Sergeant instructing a male trainee how to prepare his wall locker right down to how he has to fold his under drawers is a simple matter. It's not so simple for a male Drill Sergeant to explain to a female trainee (Been there, done that, I know.) how to fold her panties and to put the left bra cup inside the right when they are put in the drawer, but it has to be done. You see, learning to precisely follow instructions and pay attention to minute detail builds the foundation soldiers need to carry to the rest of their training and lives as soldiers.

It's easy to tell men they need to wear briefs and not boxers during training. It's not easy (if you're a man) to tell women to make sure they wear cotton panties and carry kotex or tampax or whatever feminine protection they use at all times because they may be surprised during a physical and stressful time. But, they have to be told.

When a male Drill Sergeant walks into a male squad room or platoon bay he doesn't have to send a point person in to make sure everyone is dressed. When a male trainee's load bearing equipment needs an adjustment the Drill Sergeant reaches out and makes it. He can't just reach out and touch a female trainee's anything. Counseling male trainees one on one in his office where their personal problems remain theirs and private is standard - not so for female trainees. He counsels them with a female trainee leader or a female Drill Sergeant if he's fortunate enough to have one around - with the door open. It's demeaning for her to share her personal problems with whoever passes by the door. But, he cannot put himself in a potential career losing, compromising situation. It's unfortunate, but male Drill Sergeants training females (even in 1980) spend as much time, or maybe more, thinking about protecting themselves as they do the development and training of soldiers. Training and discipline suffer.

I know it's not a popular thought for many of segregated training's critics to entertain, but many young females, like young males, are sexually active. When locked away from normalcy for several weeks they react no differently than males. Like male soldiers, when presented the opportunity to satisfy those desires they take it. Some are quite forward with it actually. That still doesn't justify a Drill Sergeant violating his sacred trust and having a sexual relationship with a trainee, even if he tries to frame it as consensual, but it damn sure increases the likelihood.

Male Drill Sergeants and female trainees are being placed in difficult situations when maybe they don't have to be. Many argue that if male Drill Sergeants can't be trusted with female trainees, how can they be trusted in any environment with any female soldier? Comparing Basic Combat Training with a typical Army assignment is like comparing day light to dark. It also shows the lack of knowledge of the Army anyone who would make such a comparison has. First of all the average noncommissioned officer, male or female, in a typical assignment does not spend sixteen hours a day, 6 or 7 days a week with their soldiers and they are not in total control of their lives. Drill Sergeants during a basic training cycle spend more time with their soldiers than they spend with their families - which includes wives for males. It is a situation prime to produce the kinds of problems experienced at Aberdeen and elsewhere. Husband and wife relationships suffer significantly during tours of Drill Sergeant duty. This is a significant contributor to potential problems. Many politicians, either don't or are not willing to understand that. How could they, when the closest they ever got to the military is bashing it on national television?

I was 27 years old when I became a Drill Sergeant. I was an old Drill Sergeant. Young men with already inflated egos on machismo trips (Hey! I was one. I know.), in a position where they are nearly hero worshiped by young people, some of them captive young women, can't always deal with it responsibly and succumb to temptation. Or their egos get the best of them and they see hero worship when it's not there and force themselves on to female trainees who may be afraid to say no to a total authority figure.

We need to take off our politically correct gloves and tell politicians and sociologists that just maybe there's an outside chance that Basic Combat Training is not the place to begin the gender socialization process for the Army. These young men and women are learning discipline and survival skills. The operative word in what they're learning is combat. This is where they learn to survive the battlefield. It is silliness to add any distraction that may cause them to not learn a critical skill they may need to survive a deadly situation - like chemical warfare in the Iraqi desert.

I certainly do not want to explain to a parent why a Drill Sergeant sexually molested his daughter. I also don't want to explain why professional soldiers and trainers of our combat forces were forced to place her in an environment conducive to such an act. The thought of doing either doesn't set well with me, and it shouldn't with any soldier. I also find it repugnant to have to explain to a parent why their child died because they couldn't perform a basic soldier task like employing a mine or throwing a live hand grenade. Drill Sergeants are not going to catch every love note being passed or eliminate the distraction caused by integrating boys and girls at a point where they have to be turned to men and women of arms with the discipline and combat skills needed to survive.

It may be considered going in reverse by some, but female trainees need the guidance and direction that comes from female noncommissioned officers. Women make much better role models for women than men do. Who knows better what it takes to be a female soldier than a female NCO? Does that sound illogical? I may get sick the next time I hear a politician state that gender segregation in basic training is a step backwards. That's not the issue. The best environment that produces the best trained soldiers, male and female, with the best chance of surviving in war is a major step forward in my book. That's the issue and if it proves to be a gender segregated environment so be it.

Finally, I wholeheartedly support the integration of women into all specialties of our Army. But, not just because they are women. Any person, man or woman, with the courage to take up the profession of arms deserves every opportunity the profession offers.

Many men are also prevented from going into specialties that produce the top leadership of our Army. They are prevented because they cannot meet either or both the mental or physical standards required. I know I'll catch it from some hard core old warriors on this issue, but we need to apply the same standard to women. If women have the steel required to meet the same physical and mental standards required of men to be infantry soldiers, rangers, special operations or whatever then we need to let them. History has plenty of examples of women who had the grit to perform in combat. I think we are all being a little too overprotective (of our domain more so than our women) when we absolutely insist women can never have direct combat jobs. If they can cut the mustard, give them the job. If they can't, then just like many men, they can be cooks, clerks, mechanics or something else.

Having said all of that, not to endear myself to women, politicians or anybody else, I still must stick to my fundamental thoughts on basic combat training. Boys and girls undergoing the transformation to become men and women of arms must do so in an environment conducive to that transformation. It has to be an environment of rigid discipline that keeps their undivided attention to the business at hand. That's the business of learning how to survive in war while also learning the skills required, if needed, to destroy another human. A high school campus, love note passing environment will not produce men and women soldiers with the foundation of discipline and basic combat skills needed to survive. It's just that simple.

Copyright© J. D. Pendry