On February 9th, the Department of Defense announced incremental steps to implement a report advocating doctrinaire “diversity” in the military. Central to this campaign, which briefers described as “just the beginning, not the end,” are plans to order female soldiers into direct ground combat units such as Army and Marine infantry and Special Operations Forces. These fighting battalions, which attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action, face conditions and physical demands that are far beyond the experience of being “in harm’s way.”
Days later, in an article titled Soldiers Don Fake Belly, Breasts to Better Understand Pregnant Troops’ Exercise Concerns, Stars & Stripes posted a video of a male non-commissioned officer who was forced to wear fake breasts and a big belly simulating a female soldier’s pregnancy. The hapless NCO, based at Camp Zuma in Japan, is one of several male PT instructor trainees who must take turns wearing the “empathy bellies” for at least an hour. The Army’s Pregnancy Postpartum Physical Training (PPPT) Exercise is part of a worldwide effort to teach enlisted personnel how to be fitness instructors for pregnant soldiers and new mothers.
At first glance, the video appears to be an early April Fool’s joke. It could also be an amateur show produced by someone seeking attention on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Alas, the video is for real. The same Army leaders who think women can engage the enemy in hand-to-hand direct ground combat also think it is necessary to teach pregnant women to stay away from “snowboarding, bungee jumping, or horse riding.”
Army doctors and nurses should counsel pregnant women about the value and risks of moderate exercise while on duty. But it is an abuse of authority, bordering on harassment, to force men to appear before their colleagues dressed like expectant mothers. There is no need to humiliate men just because some pregnant soldiers do not have enough common sense to follow doctors’ orders for personal health and safety during pre-natal months.
Historically, trainees have been expected to conform to the demands of Army training, not the other way around. The larger question is, why is the Army preparing for so many pregnant women, and how does this improve our military? The Pentagon is doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, elevating “diversity” above all other considerations.
The Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC), largely composed of civilian and military equal opportunity experts, has recommended policy changes that would treat the military like just another “equal opportunity” employer. To advance “diversity metrics'” for female personnel, the MLDC recommends policies that weaken or eliminate women’s exemptions from assignments in “tip of the spear” Army and Marine infantry battalions and Special Operations Forces.
Americans are proud of women in the military, and there have been some changes in their roles since 9/11 that deserve recognition. For example, female engagement teams (FET)s and cultural support troops interact with civilian women and children in war zones in ways that are difficult for male personnel. It is dangerous duty “in harm’s way,” but still not the same as direct ground combat attacks against enemy forces under fire. These land combat missions, with physical demands beyond the capability of almost all women, have not changed.
If a soldier is wounded in battle−what we saw many times in Baghdad in 2003 or Fallujah in November 2004−a collocated support soldier may be the only person in a position to evacuate the wounded soldier on his own back. In this environment, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or to help fellow soldiers survive.
Lives should not be put at needless risk just to satisfy “diversity metrics” to advance the career ambitions of a few. Since we keep hearing about the need for a female Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey should pick a female officer and give her his seat. That would make more sense that feminizing Army training, especially since the Pentagon has admitted that military women are promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.
The male pregnancy training video brought to mind one of the most memorable moments in a March 1993 two-hour Firing Line debate with team captain William F. Buckley, Marine Vietnam hero Col. John Ripley, author David Horowitz, and me. Opposite us were feminist Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder, ACLU attorney Ira Glasser, Air Force veteran Heather Wilson, and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught.
Previously Gen. Vaught had stated that even pregnant women, depending on the month, should be allowed to serve in combat. In his joust with Gen. Vaught, Col. Ripley asked, “Would you please tell us, what month is it okay for pregnant women to fight, to be in combat?”
After some hesitation, Vaught stood by her statement, insisting that “There are women who are capable of doing many things up to a very late period in their pregnancy.” At that point, Ripley brought down the house with “Well, that’s wonderful. I’m sure the personnel people will be happy to know they are getting two for one.”
Col. Ripley’s joke, unfortunately, is becoming all-too real. The pregnancy-padded NCO in the video, who was following orders, should not be blamed for looking ridiculous. The Army’s top brass, who have no excuse, don’t seem to know how foolish they look.