Women, Men, Combat, And The Draft

Recently the Department of Defense announced that, beginning in January, all combat jobs in the military would be open to women.  The decision means that about 220,000 combat military positions, mostly in the Marine Corps and the Army infantry and armor units, are available to female members of the military, provided they can satisfy certain gender-neutral performance standards and other qualification requirements.

women-in-combatThe last point is, I think, the most important one, because objective standards that are based upon a rational assessment of the expected needs of the job, but are blind to gender, should be the goal.  Does the recruit, regardless of their gender, have the physical strength and capabilities, eye-hand coordination, mental characteristics, and other attributes needed to be part of the squad and do the job?  If so, they should be eligible for the position.

I applaud this decision from the Obama Administration, which removes one of the last broad rules providing for differing treatment of men and women.  Of course, the performance standards for various positions will need to be carefully determined, and in some instances the objectively determined physical demands of the position — such as the need for substantial upper-body strength in certain combat roles, for example — might ultimately lead to qualification of more men than women, as happens in, say, firefighting jobs.  But they key point is that women who can meet the requirements have the opportunity to do so, without being barred by an unfair, across-the-board rule.

Much of the traditional opposition to the notion of women in combat roles, in reality, seemed to have little to do with actual physical capabilities and more to do with antique notions of sexuality and proper gender roles.  There were expressions of concern that romantic relationships might form in the foxhole that could destroy unit morale, or that men in the unit might feel so protective of women in the unit that they would forsake their training to recklessly rescue the damsel in distress.  Whether there was a factual basis for these concerns in the past is debatable, but my observation of group dynamics among younger people suggests that old-fashioned notions of appropriate gender roles don’t have much significance these days — and in any case I’m confident that tough Marine and Army drill instructors, and squad leaders, can train and discipline troops so that such concerns don’t materialize in reality.

There’s now one, last sign of unequal treatment between men and women when it comes to military service in America:  registration with the Selective Service System, and the possibility of being drafted, which is required only of men between 18 and 25.  When will this last bastion of inequality also fall to the enlightened attitudes of modern America?

The Bully Beef Express And Military Insignia On The Door

I meant to post this picture on Veterans’ Day, but forgot.  Better late than never!  t’s a photo of the door to the USO club, or a room with a similar military theme, in the Bangor, Maine Airport.

Each of the insignia represents a different military unit, and each obviously is the subject of significant unit pride.  They’re all cool, but my favorite is the “Bully Beef Express” emblem found in the upper left quadrant of the doorway.  The “Bully Beef Express” refers to the Sixth Airlift Squadron, a unit that was formed in 1933 and that got its nickname flying boiled beef to American troops in the Pacific during World War II.  The distinctive patch with the snorting bull was developed shortly after the Squadron received its nickname.

Thank You To Our Veterans

It’s November 11 — Veterans’ Day.

Thank you to all veterans for your commitment, for your dedication, and for your service.  You have manned the trenches, scrambled onto the bloody beaches, piloted the planes through anti-aircraft fire, driven the tanks, tended the grievously wounded, and done the other terrible but necessary things that have kept our country safe and free.  All Americans — and all peoples who have been freed from tyranny through your efforts — deeply appreciate the sacrifices our veterans have endured, and grieve at the losses that the families of all who have served in the military have suffered.

Freedom doesn’t come cheaply.  It is our soldiers and our veterans who have paid the steepest price for our liberty.  For that, we are forever grateful.

Buckeye Basketball On A Carrier Deck

Tonight the Ohio State men’s basketball teams kicks off its season with a game against the Marquette Golden Eagles.  The game should be especially interesting, and not just because the Buckeyes and Marquette are two big-time programs.

The added interest comes from the game’s location.  It will be played outside, on the deck of the USS Yorktown, a decommissioned aircraft carrier.  The players will have to deal with the wind, and the different sight lines, and adjust to playing in a fundamentally different setting than your normal college basketball arena.  It will be a test of the players’ focus:  can they shoot as they normally do, or will they be distracted by the carrier’s bridge superstructure, looming just behind one of the baskets?

The setting is not only novel, but also historic.  The Yorktown is a fabled ship, built in only 16 1/2 months during the heart of World War II to replace a prior Yorktown that was sunk at the Battle of Midway.  The new Yorktown was commissioned in 1943 and fought valiantly during the Pacific offensive that defeated Japan.  The Yorktown went on to serve during the Vietnam War and recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts when they returned to Earth in December 1968.  The ship was decommissioned in 1970 and was towed to Charleston, South Carolina in 1975 to become part of the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

I’ll be watching tonight to see how this year’s version of the basketball Buckeyes look — but also to take a gander at the Yorktown and think about the sailors who served on her and did so much for the country.  Fittingly, the proceeds from the game, called the Carrier Classic, will benefit armed forces charities.

Winning, And Saluting Our Soldiers

Yesterday the Ohio State Buckeyes manhandled the Fighting Illini, 52-22, in a game that really wasn’t that close.  Ohio State ran the ball at will, completed long pass plays, and throttled the Illinois offense as they moved to 10-0.

It also was a good example of why attending a game is a different experience than watching it on TV.  Before the game, at halftime, and during all those timeouts when TV viewers are forced to watch commercials about cars and beer, Ohio Stadium was saluting our military.

When timeouts came, recorded greetings from Buckeyes serving abroad were played on the big scoreboard, and students in the ROTC were introduced down on the field.  Before the game military members unfurled a huge flag as The Best Damn Band In The Land played the National Anthem, and then two fighter jets screamed by overhead.  And at halftime, TBDBITL played a series of songs from military movies while the band members marched into patriotic shapes and Old Glory was displayed again, at the center of a star.

TBDBITL is always wonderful, and yesterday’s show and general salute to the members of our military, presented just a few days before Veterans’ Day, was well timed for another reason — at the end of a long and sometimes bitter presidential campaign, it was nice to see something that everyone in attendance, regardless of party affiliation, could cheer wholeheartedly.

Bless Our Veterans, Their Families, And Their Sacrifices

 

The American cemetery in Normandy

Veterans’ Day is the most important federal holiday we have, because of what it means and the enormous sacrifices it commemorates.  All Americans should be deeply and forever grateful to our veterans for their service and their willingness to fight so that our great nation can remain a beacon of freedom and tolerance in the world.

The Right Decision

Today President Obama accepted the resignation of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of U.S. forces fighting in Afghanistan.  He was absolutely correct to do so.

The remarks of General McChrystal, and particularly members of his staff, to a Rolling Stone reporter showed stunningly poor judgment and in some instances were scornful and wholly inappropriate.  As President Obama noted in his remarks today, such insubordinate comments simply cannot be tolerated because they undermine the principle of civilian control that lies at the heart of America’s military-political command structure.

The President named General David Petraeus to replace General McChrystal as commander of the Afghan war effort, and it was immediately a popular choice.  General Petraeus has enormous credibility, in Congress and in the country at large, due to his extraordinarily successful work in engineering the “surge” in Iraq.

It is wonderful to have such an excellent replacement at hand — but the President should have sacked General McChrystal even if General Petraeus were not available and willing to serve.  Success in the Afghan war is important, but not nearly so crucial as maintaining the salutary concept of strict civilian control over the military.  President Lincoln fired the grossly insubordinate General McClellan at a desperate time during the Civil War, when the very survival of the Union hung in the balance.  President Lincoln made the right decision then, and President Obama made the right decision today.

Thoughts From A Grateful American On Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day, a day on which every American should be grateful for the sacrifices of members of our military, both past and present.  We enjoy our current freedoms only because, over the history of our Republic, members of the armed forces have been willing to fight and die for the United States of America and its citizens.

One of the finest places to reflect upon the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen is Arlington National Cemetery, that peaceful resting place on a hill within view of Washington, D.C.  The changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a particularly stirring reminder of those sacrifices.  Silent, somber, and simple, the ceremony of the changing of the guard does great honor to the remains of the unknown soldiers from World War I, World War II, and the Korean War that are entombed in the white marble vault.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier has been continuously guarded since 1937 by soldiers who call themselves Sentinels.  The changing of the guard ceremony is about ten minutes long and is full of symbolism, where every step and second are scripted and have special meaning.  Some of the frequently asked questions about the ceremony are answered here.  The inscription on the tomb also is moving:  “Here Rests In Honored Glory An American Soldier Known But To God.”

Happy Memorial Day to all, and heartfelt thanks to all veterans and active members of our armed forces.

Fear Of Vietnam?

I’ve seen several articles raising the concern that President Obama’s decision to increase the number of troops in Afghanistan is likely to result in “another Vietnam.”  This article from George McGovern, the anti-war candidate who was the Democratic standard-bearer in 1972, is pretty representative of the arguments that you see in such articles.  The points of comparison include propping up a corrupt local government, fighting an entrenched opposition that enjoys local support, and spending money on a war that would be better spent somewhere else.

I respect George McGovern, who served his country nobly and well in World War II and enjoyed a long career in the Senate, but I think his argument is fundamentally misplaced.  The essential difference between Afghanistan and Vietnam is that no one attacked the United States from Vietnam, whereas al Qaeda did attack the United States, on September 11, 2001, from bases in Afghanistan.  McGovern makes the point that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan but is in Pakistan.  Even if that is so (and no one seems to know precisely where Osama bin Laden and his number 2 are at the moment) McGovern neglects to mention that the only reason that al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan is that the United States military drove the Taliban from power in Afghanistan and thereby eliminated al Qaeda’s safe haven in that country.  I question whether the other points of comparison that are cited really are comparable — for example, I don’t know that everyday Afghan citizens view the repressive Taliban as favorably as Vietnamese viewed the populist Viet Cong — but those points of comparison really are irrelevant and ancillary.  The main distinction is that our activities in Afghanistan are defensive, not the result of abstract Cold War geopolitical considerations.

I have no desire to see American soldiers fight and die on foreign soil, but we cannot quit until we capture or kill Osama bin Laden and render al Qaeda powerless to attack us again.

Lessons Learned From A Day That Will Live In Infamy

Sixty-eight years ago, the Imperial government of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  The surprise attack on America’s main Pacific Ocean naval base was just one of many attacks launched by Japan that day, but it is the one that Americans remember most.  President Roosevelt called it a day that will live in infamy, and he was right.  Americans still remember the attack, still burn inwardly at the iconic photographs of tilting, sinking battleships partially obscured by smoke, and still visit the Arizona monument and think somberly of the sailors below, trapped forever in their watery tomb.

I mention Pearl Harbor not merely because today is the 68th anniversary of the bombing, but because I think our national response to the attack is worth remembering.  Under President Roosevelt’s leadership, America — which was horribly unprepared for war — geared up for an enormous struggle, fought a two-front war that featured bloody battles on virtually every continent, and eventually forced its enemies to accept unconditional surrender.  America did not ask for war, but when war was thrust upon it, it accepted that burden, made the necessary sacrifices, fought the war, and won.

I recognize that fighting an elusive terrorist network like Al Qaeda is not like fighting the Japanese Empire or Nazi Germany.  Al Qaeda’s minions do not wear uniforms or fight conventional battles.  Instead, they hide in remote, lawless areas, like the wild, mountainous territory along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and wage war through suicide bombers and other terrorist devices.  Nevertheless, Al Qaeda attacked our country just as surely, and with results as devastating and deadly, as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  The only appropriate response to that attack is to find our enemies, engage them, and ultimately kill them on the field of battle.

This seems self-evident to me.  The first obligation of any nation must be to ensure its own security, and no nation can be secure if it allows deadly attacks to occur without finding and defeating the attackers.  The United States therefore must find and defeat Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.  If, as our government currently suspects, they are in Afghanistan, then that is where we also must be.  For that reason, I support President Obama’s decision to send in more troops, and I think we should stay in Afghanistan — or wherever Osama bin Laden and his terrorist gang is found — until we get the job done.  This is not a war that America asked for, but it is a war that we must win.

Veterans’ Day

November 11 is known as Veterans’ Day in America, Armistice Day in England, and Remembrance Day in Australia. All three holidays commemorate the end of World War I — the Great War — on November 11, 1918 and the sacrifices of soldiers in the later wars that have occurred since the War to End All Wars.

A cemetery at Gallipoli

This BBC story reports on observations of the holiday across the globe and notes that there remains one surviving British veteran of World War I, who lives in a nursing home in Australia. He did not participate in any celebration of the holiday because, his family says, he opposes the glorification of war. His reaction is not surprising. Fighting in any war must be a wrenching, awful experience, but World War I, like the Civil War before it, was almost unimaginably bloody and horrible. Entire generations of British, French, German, and Russian men were mowed down by machine guns, blown apart by artillery, and impaled on barbed wire as they tried to attack fortified trench positions of the enemy over the desolate waste of No Man’s Land. Revisiting those painful scenes, even after the passage of 90 years, must be unbearable.

Today we remember those veterans who served, and fought, and sacrificed, and we thank those soldiers who currently serve and protect our nation.

The Chain Of Command

President Obama’s protracted consideration of a new Afghanistan strategy is a bit puzzling.  Obviously, the decision on whether, and if so how, to fight overseas is a critical decision that you would expect would command the President’s careful attention.  Nevertheless, it is odd that the President approved an Afghan strategy in March and now appears to be very publicly reconsidering that strategy. Candidly, I think Presidents are ill-served by public decision-making processes, which often make them look indecisive.  A better approach is to consider the strategy privately and then, when the weighing and balancing has been completed, to announce the new approach.

I know that General McChrystal has been criticized for a speech he gave, in which he expressed his views on options that the President may be considering.  I agree with the sentiment that the military should express its views through the chain of command — although American history is riddled with politically ambitious generals, from Jackson to McClellan to MacArthur.  I think General McChrystal can be excused his misstep, however, in view of the very public nature of the strategizing, where other participants, like Vice President Biden, are openly trumpeting their proposed alternative approaches.

I certainly hope that President Obama is not seriously considering adopting a half-baked, politically motivated “Biden strategy” over a “McChrystal strategy.”  In that regard, I agree with the conclusions articulated in this piece.  I think Joe Biden is one of the most overrated, underachieving political figures of the past 30 years –a blabbermouth, a windbag, a narcissist, shallow and unprincipled.  It is bad enough that President Obama selected Biden as his running mate; it would be an appalling indictment of the President’s judgment if he actually followed Biden’s advice.

Hitting The Target

In the budget year that ended on September 30, all four branches of the United States military — the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps — met their recruiting goals for both active duty and reserve service. It is the first time that all four branches met their goal since the all-volunteer force was created. The four branches of the service added 169,000 active duty recruits, and the National Guard and reserves added another 128,000 personnel. Achieving the goals is a difficult task; indeed, the military must recruit from a shrinking pool due to the increasing number of American high school graduates who go on to college and the number of young Americans who are obese and therefore not physically fit for service. The recruits also appear to be a better educated bunch than in past years. About 96 percent have high school diplomas, and more than 73 percent scored above average on math and verbal aptitude tests.

Both of the linked articles attribute the positive recruiting numbers to the lousy economy; with total unemployment nearing 10 percent — and with unemployment much higher among younger people — the military evidently looks like a good career option. The Pentagon’s personnel chief also sounded a more positive note, stating that studies show that young Americans are more inclined to service than me-oriented prior generations. Whatever their reason for choosing military service, we all salute their patriotism and sacrifice.

Who Was Col. Wilbur C. Blount?

Recently the stretch of I-670 that I drive on every workday was designated the Col. Wilbur C. Blount Memorial Highway. These kinds of things happen everyday, without anyone paying much attention. I’ve wondered who Col. Blount was, though, and the answer to that question turns out to be interesting.

Col. Blount was a colonel in the Ohio Air National Guard. He graduated from East High School in Columbus, then received his bachelor’s of science degree in bacteriology from The Ohio State University in 1951. At Ohio State, he enrolled in ROTC and was later commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. He received his medical degree from Ohio State in 1959 and served for years in the Air Force as a flight surgeon. He was promoted to Colonel in the Ohio Air National Guard in 1976. Col. Blount was the second state air surgeon of the Ohio Air National Guard and was inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame in 2004.

Dr. Wilbur C. Blount

Dr. Wilbur C. Blount

Although he achieved much as Col. Blount, he was, perhaps, more important to people as Dr. Blount, an ophthalmologist, educator, and active alumni of East High School. Dr. Blount specialized in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the retina and practiced in the Columbus area for nearly 30 years. He worked at The Ohio State University Hospitals and at Grant Medical Center, and was a clinical instructor, and later clinical associate professor, at The Ohio State University Hospitals. At East High School, he helped to establish the school’s ROTC program, where he taught classes and sponsored and mentored students. His obituary, available here, quotes one of the students who received Dr. Blount’s help. By all accounts, Dr. Blount was one of those all-too-rare people who was a positive force for good in their community.

Col. Wilbur C. Blount died in May 2006, and the Ohio General Assembly named the stretch of I-670 after Col. Blount in April 2009. I think they made a very good choice.