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Can They Hack it in a Real War?
August/September 1996 Issue
By Ted Sampley
U.S. Veteran Dispatch
Our combat pilots are dropping bombs again. This time on the Serbs in Bosnia in support of a United Nation's operation designed to lift the siege of Sarajevo.
The Serbs have already shot Air Force Capt. Scott F. O'Grady out of the air. Luckily, Capt. O'Grady managed to evade the enemy for six days until he was rescued hungry, shaken, and miraculously unharmed.
As the United States' involvement in Bosnia escalates, so does the possibility that some of our female combat pilots will also be shot down.
Air Force Capt. Jeannie Flynn, stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, could be one of those women.
In 1994, Capt. Flynn made history when she became the first woman to break into the once exclusive male domain of United States Air Force combat pilots.
On the surface, the ground breaking assignment of Capt. Flynn to the cockpit of an F-15E Strike Eagle fighter appears to be a victory for women seeking equal "career opportunities" within the military.
"I think it comes down to a personal level--your own challenge, coordination, reaction, things like that," Capt. Flynn, 28, told the Raleigh News and Observer. "I don't think it's gender specific."
It is not the intention of this article to single out Capt. Flynn for personal criticism. However, she chose to be the first in the Air Force to assert herself as a female combat pilot. She has set herself up to be discussed and evaluated in relationship to a critical question about the wisdom of assigning women to combat units. That question is what are the advantages to combat readiness and the defense of the United States in substituting women for men in combat?
COINCIDENCE OR TRAGIC RESULTS?
In recent years, a number of unfortunate incidents have plagued America's female warriors.
Capt. Linda Bray became America's first high profile female warrior after a White House spokesman, basing his information on press reports from Panama, praised her for leading a platoon against armed Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) in December 1989. It was, according to reports, the first time in nearly 200 years a woman led American troops into combat.
"It was heavily defended," White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said of the PDF position. "Three PDF men were killed. Gunshots were fired on both sides. American troops could have been killed.
"It was an important military operation. A woman led it and she did an outstanding job."
But, the fact is that Fitzwater's assessment of the action was seriously flawed since it had been based solely on erroneous press reports.
The "heavily defended" PDF position was a dog kennel. Not only were no PDF soldiers killed, but apparently Capt. Bray never came under fire because she was giving orders by radio from more than a half-mile from the actual shooting.
Nevertheless, Capt. Bray's "raid" drew cheers from scores of women leaders and legislators, who said her example demonstrated that female troops were ready to join men on the battlefield.
Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.) quickly announced plans to sponsor legislation that would place women in combat units.
"Combat exclusion doesn't keep women out of combat, as we've seen in Panama," Schroeder said. "It keeps them from promotions in certain areas."
According to a news story, the five-foot-one, 105 pound Capt. Bray is no longer in the Army and she is warning women against careers in the infantry. She said that while in the Army she was forced to carry so much weight that it damaged her hips. "I can't run or jump. I can't even go grocery shopping without having to sit down because it hurts."
The day before the Feb. 24, 1991, assault by U.S. ground forces in the Gulf War, Cable News Network (CNN) focused international attention on Army Maj. Marie Rossi because of her status as one of the first women helicopter pilots to fly in a combat zone.
Just a few days after CNN televised the Rossi story all over the world, Maj. Rossi was dead. She had accidently flown her Chinook helicopter into a 375-foot microwave tower in Northern Saudi Arabia, killing herself and all her crew.
Lt. Kara Hultgreen, 29, who was the first woman to fly an F-14 fighter and one of two women to qualified for navy carrier operations, crashed into the sea and was killed in October 1994 while attempting a daylight landing on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
Lt. Hultgreen's radar officer ejected quick enough to survive--she did not. Her death sparked criticism of the Navy's decision to allow women as combat pilots. Some naval officers alleged that Lt. Hultgreen was allowed to advance because of pressure from senior officials determined to integrate women into combat units. Navy officials denied those allegations, blaming the fatal crash on equipment problems with the F-14A.
The most recent controversy involves Shannon Faulkner, the 20-year old South Carolina woman who waged a ferocious two and a half year legal battle to enter an all male military academy there.
Ms. Faulkner won her legal battle to enter the Citadel, breaking a 152 year tradition of training men only.
On August 14, 1995, during her first day of military training, she collapsed from heat exhaustion. Within days, she abruptly withdrew from the college, forced to admit that she could not withstand the rigors of "hell week."
Ms. Faulkner, fighting back tears, explained that two and a half years of stress had "all crashed in" on her in the first days there.
Are these unfortunate events just coincidence or tragic results of standards being lowered to accommodate the political objectives of the powerful feminist lobby?
RAPE IS "GENDER SPECIFIC"
There is much justifiable concern about the high probability that all females captured by the enemy will be sexually violated and raped.
Army Major Rhonda Cornum, captured when her helicopter was shot down over Iraq, initially told the press she was treated "exactly the same" as male prisoners during her brief captivity, only to recant a year later while testifying before the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of women in the Armed Forces.
Maj. Cornum admitted that both she and the other captured U.S. woman prisoner were sexually violated by the Iraqis, a fact the Pentagon had also kept secret for a year.
She told the commission that being raped by the enemy should be considered "an occupational hazard of going to war."
The Air Force obviously shares that same sentiment about the possibility of its female pilots being raped by the enemy.
The U.S. Veteran Dispatch asked the Air Force Public Affairs Office at Seymour Johnson how Capt. Flynn felt about the 100% chance (judging from the Gulf War) of being raped if captured by the enemy.
"No woman appreciates the threat of being assaulted. Capt. Flynn is aware of the hazards of being a fighter pilot," the Air Force answered in writing.
Regardless of claims to the contrary, rape is "gender specific" and has never been an "occupational hazard" for combat pilots or any other men associated with combat duty until now. Down playing the rape of U.S. POWs by the enemy as simply an "occupational hazard" that our women warriors must deal with places the Pentagon in an interesting predicament.
The 1991 Tailhook Convention scandal, where some female pilots and other women were groped as they ran a gauntlet of drunken male pilots at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, resulted in a multi-million dollar civil lawsuit.
Lt. Paula A. Coughlin, one of the Navy pilots who ran the gauntlet, filed the suit against the Las Vegas Hilton and its parent company, claiming the hotel failed to provide adequate security and that she had suffered psychologically as a result of sexual assault.
A jury agreed that Lt. Coughlin had been permanently traumatized and awarded her 6.7 million dollars.
Is the message here that is more traumatizing than to be sexually harassed at a drunken party than being repeatedly raped by the enemy?
Are we suppose to believe our enemies will give special considerations for female prisoners of war? Will our enemies abide by the United States military's policy of zero tolerance for sexual harassment of women?
As inconceivable as it may seem, the Tailhook episode was used by the Navy to promote the assignment of women in combat. The premise was that placing women on equal footing with men would gain respect and result in less sexual harassment of females in the military.
BLOOD AND GUTS BATTLEFIELD
Other pilots who know Capt. Flynn say she is a pretty good pilot. But, like many young, inexperienced pilots, Capt. Flynn's perception of real war comes only from textbooks. Targeting an enemy on a video screen from five miles high in the sterile, push-button environment of an air conditioned fighter is not all that is involved in combat.
On the battlefield where the bombs explode, the fighting environment is much more hostile and personal and one thing is sure--sooner or later some U.S. pilots will end up on the ground in the combat zone.
The purpose of our armed forces is to fight and win when diplomacy fails. For those unfortunate enough to be assigned to fight, they serve for one purpose--to seek out and destroy the enemy by whatever means available. Graphically stated, the combatant must, by the aggressive use of various weapons reduce other living humans to piles of mangled dead and rotting flesh. In combat, there is no other purpose.
To survive in these conditions, the combatant on the ground must be in top physical condition with a long term and inborn stamina that will not wain, regardless of the obstacles that must be overcome.
By nature, women are smaller, slower and have 40% less upper body strength than men.
The U.S. Veteran Dispatch asked the Air Force if it was satisfied that if shot down Capt. Flynn, who weighs 110 pounds, could carry her 200 pound backseater if he had the misfortune of being seriously wounded. "We do not use a crew member's ability to carry other members of the crew as a selection criteria . . . that capability is simply not a reasonable expectation of any crew member, male or female," the Air Force responded.
It is reasonable to expect members of our combat forces to be physically strong enough to care for each other. They need to be confident that if wounded their buddy will be able to drag or carry them to safety and as a whole, women have not proven they can hack it.
A great number of special reports have been presented by newspaper and television media concerning these issues. Experienced combat officers have made strong arguments against women in combat positions. Women's advocates have responded with constitutional arguments for "equal opportunities" declaring equal rights to enforce their claim for combat related positions.
Equal opportunity is a noble American idea that has nothing to do with real war on a blood and guts battlefield where the issue is to win and survive. How many lives will be lost and how much more of our national security will be compromised before we come to a conclusion that is so blatantly obvious?