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Senator Ernst Statement for the Record on Implementation of the Decision to Open All Ground Combat Units to Women

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) submitted the following statement for the record to the Senate Armed Services Committee ahead of today's hearing, "Implementation of the Decision to Open All Ground Combat Units to Women":

Joni K. Ernst

United States Senator

Statement for the Record

Committee on Armed Services Hearing

February 2, 2016

As I have said on numerous occasions, I fully support providing women the opportunity to serve in any military capacity, as long as standards are not lowered and it enhances our combat effectiveness. However, I remain concerned that some within the Administration, and some of my colleagues in Congress, are rushing toward this historical change in policy without much concern for the second and third order effects to our men and women in uniform and our combat capabilities.

In order to ensure women are fully integrated into these previously closed positions, the implementation strategy must be fully developed, and methodically and deliberately implemented, to include having an understanding of second and third order effects to ensure we do not set women, or men, up for failure. These are the men, and will be the women, who meet our enemies in close combat—their lives depend on it.

Over the past few weeks, I have visited Fort Bragg, NC and Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia to speak with Soldiers and Marines about this topic. During my trip to Fort Bragg, I sat down with special operations soldiers and paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division to discuss gender integration. At Quantico, I had the same open discussion with Marine infantrymen and scout snipers. Both of these groups comprised mostly of mid to senior level NCOs and junior officers—the servicemembers who over the past 14 years of war have met the enemy in close combat—and who will do so again in the future with their female counterparts.

Our discussions began with the understanding that gender integration is the new policy, and now it is time to move forward. Primarily, these young Soldiers and Marines were concerned that gender integration was not being done for the right reasons—to enhance their combat capabilities—and instead as a social experiment. To this point, even as a supporter of gender integration, I share their concern due to the haphazard way this process has been led by some in DoD’s civilian leadership. This was especially troubling as we witnessed a distinguished military leader muzzled, inappropriate comments from civilian leadership about our female Marines, and disturbing, unmerited, and unprofessional assertions that our Marine leaders do not value the service of our female Marines.

The other primary concern expressed by these Soldiers and Marines was the implementation strategy, for which I also share their concern. This Congress is being asked to support a policy for which the implementation strategy—which is key to ensuring our military will maintain its combat effectiveness—has not yet been fully developed or revealed. Nor has it taken into account the impacts on women’s health, lodging, physiological differences between men and women which could lead to female physical fitness test scores, on average, being lower than their male counterparts, and how that could affect their ability to compete for promotions, schools, and senior command positions.

For example with command positions, most of our Army senior leaders have served in elite units during their time as junior and field grade officers—which is often key to being slotted into command positions from battalion commander and above. GEN Milley is a Special Forces veteran, and others have served in the elite 75th Ranger Regiment like the Army Vice Chief of Staff, LTG John Nicholson—who may be confirmed as the next commander of our troops in Afghanistan, our next potential CENTCOM commander, the 18th Airborne Corps Commander, and division commanders of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions, the 10th Mountain Division, and 3rd Infantry Division.

Also, while there have been three female graduates of Ranger School in the Army, the unfortunate truth is an Infantry officer without a Ranger tab is often looked down upon by their fellow infantrymen, and tab-less Infantry officers are often not as competitive for senior leadership positions.

In the Marine Corps, some of our female Marines have voiced concerns that they anticipate there will be pressure to lower standards if not enough of them are able to qualify to serve in combat positions. Lowering standards for more female participation is against the best military advice of our military leaders, but I agree with these women that the pressure will come—likely from civilian leadership—who have motives other than supporting gender integration to enhance our nation’s ability to destroy our enemies on the battlefield.

Female Marines have also voiced that leadership and training will not solve physiological differences between men and women, and some are worried that they will be involuntary assigned to combat MOSs or even assigned to an infantry unit in a support position which would require them to meet the higher physical standards for infantry units.

Furthermore, retention of female Marines and their ability to continue to serve if they are injured while serving in a combat position is an area of concern for some of them. The data is clear—women do get injured at a higher rate than their male counterparts when performing combat arms tasks. Will we allow women to continue to serve in another role or will we medically discharge them if they are injured while serving in a combat position or combat unit? If it becomes commonplace that female combat arms Marines are injured while training, how will that impact unit cohesion, especially for those who will be platoon and company commanders?

After nearly 15 years of war, our country, and many within this Administration, are disconnected from our combat soldiers who have borne the brunt of the battle. These Soldiers and Marines are the best we have. They have taken the majority of the casualties since the founding of our nation and on battlefields from Yorktown, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, and Normandy—they have made the difference between Americans enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or being subjugated by foreign powers. Their life is one of mostly suffering and hardship, and they honorably carry that mental and physical burden not only in service, but afterwards as well. We must honor them by ensuring this process moves forward in a thoughtful and methodical way.