When I read that three females graduated the Marine infantry school Oct. 21, the first women ever to do so, I had to take a knee. It wasn’t because I didn’t think it would it happen – I did.
It was because it means so much.
Because only one percent of our nation serves in the armed forces, three female Marines making it through some military course in the middle of the North Carolina woods is surely not a huge story to most Americans. But to the military community, to the Marine Corps, to the Army, to the Infantry, to Special Forces, to women in the Army and the Marine Corps, and mostly to the women currently in the service academies, the hundreds of ROTC programs, and American high schools, it is a huge story.
It is a game changer, and it is absolutely worth taking a pause over.
Because America now knows that physically some women can do it – they can achieve the fitness standard the military expects. It means that the Infantry, the Holy Grail of combat arms, is no longer reserved for men. It means that our nation will finally join Canada, Israel, Norway and Australia as places of absolute equality in the military.
So what comes next? While I am not convinced that the Marine Corps and Army actually want women in the infantry, I am convinced that what comes next is a bunch of “studies” and surveys to determine if women will get injured, if units will break down, if there are enough women, if their fellow Infantry Marines will abuse them, and if they can pee or sleep next to their fellow male Infantry Marines. The Army and Marine Corps will desperately cling to the injuries and “critical mass” as reasons why women should not be allowed into the infantry even though they passed the required school.
Will women get injured? Yes and so will men. The Corps and the Army have yet to ban a skinny short male recruit from trying to be an Infantryman or a Navy Seal because he might get injured. And is this idea of “critical mass” important when it comes to equality? No, “critical mass” did not seem to be something that was thrown around as the services integrated black men into the military and specifically into combat arms. The military understood that even if there was one black man who wished to be an Infantry soldier he was enough -- 10 were not needed.
Because, you see, we are no longer talking about combat readiness or the possibility that no female can physically do it. We know now that some woman can physically do it, so why does it matter that there might only be a few in the first few waves? It doesn’t.
Many men and women who oppose allowing women into the infantry also like to promote the idea that it is only so called "hard core feminists" and women who are not actually in the military who are pushing women in combat arms. It is not. I am a combat veteran and the many female veterans and active duty officers and enlisted females that I speak with agree that women should be able to pursue the Infantry if they qualify and the standard does not change.
With that said, because I was in the military I am very aware that just because some women can get through Infantry training that does not mean that women in the Infantry is still not a complicate issue, it is and I realize this.
Many infantryman with whom I have talked fear the change that will enter their beloved MOS with the inclusion of women. It is not even necessarily that they think it will be less, they just know it will be different. And while that’s understandable, we are now on our way forward. And as military leaders and leaders in the veteran community we must lead all soldiers and Marines to embrace this next evolution in the finest fighting force in the history of the world.
I do not kid myself and pretend that these three women selflessly volunteered to endure brutal Infantry training for the noble advancement of all female soldiers and Marines. I know a little bit about enlisted soldiers and Marines and it is probably much more likely that they very selfishly saw an opportunity and seized on it. Two of them probably wanted to just see if they could do it and the other two probably wanted to be Infantry Marines from the get go.
But whatever their reasons, the Cadet in her junior year at West Point will have these four Infantry qualified Marines to thank when she fills out her “wish list” and places Infantry as her top choice.
Shelly Burgoyne-Goode was commissioned as an Army Officer in December 2002 from the University of Arizona. Shelly deployed to Iraq in November of 2003 and again in 2004 as a Platoon Leader; she led numerous combat re-supply convoys throughout Baghdad and the greater Iraq area.Post military service, Shelly is very involved in Veteran Advocacy, and completed her graduate degree on the Post 9/11 GI Bill at the University of Maryland. She was also awarded the prestigious Tillman Military Scholar scholarship and volunteers with the Pat Tillman Foundation and Team Rubicon. Shelly is married to an active duty soldier and lives in Texas.