When it was announced a year ago that the U.S. military would begin integrating women into combat roles, there was plenty of speculating about how that would work.
Chief among the concerns were questions about women’s fitness — the physical kind. Would women be able to pass the rigorous combat training courses required for front-line and special combat roles, such as the Army Rangers or the Marines?
We got an answer, sort of, when it was recently reported that more than half of female Marines in boot camp are unable to do the minimum of three pull-ups. The failure prompted the Marine Corps to delay the requirement and go back to the drawing board in its continuing efforts to equalize physical standards.
We commend the military — an organization not always eager to part ways with tradition — for being willing to re-examine its standards to consider if they are the best measures of fitness for today’s 21st-century soldiers.
But these minimum standards exist for a reason. According to a CBS News story, pull-ups are meant to be representative of tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing a rope or lifting and carrying large munitions — tasks we agree a Marine should be able to accomplish.
So we are hesitant to see the standards change too drastically if women are in fact going to be put on equal footing with their male counterparts in combat situations. As unconscionable as it has been that women have historically not been given the opportunity to advance and succeed alongside men in combat roles, it would be far worse to put women into roles that they are ill-equipped to fulfill.
“If a woman can match the standards already set, then there is no reason to judge her as less physically capable than her male counterparts,” we wrote in an editorial a year ago.
It is not as though it is impossible for women to do pull-ups. But for many women, the task will require special training.
Polly de Mille, an exercise physiologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, told Fox News that the cards are stacked against women, physiologically, to do pull-ups.
“I certainly know many women who’ve struggled to do it and I think we’re at a genetic disadvantage, (it’s) just the way we’re set up and where our muscle mass is,” de Mille said. “But I think it’s do-able and I understand why they think it’s something an infantry person should be able to do.”
It is not unreasonable to suggest that any woman who wishes to make it as Marine could undertake such training. We would prefer to see the best-qualified women succeed, rather than the standards diluted unnecessarily.