Women in Combat: Make Me a Sal Giunta


I have always been on the Girl Team. I was raised on School House Rock, Cosmopolitan magazine, and the gospel according to Helen Reddy.

So when I saw the announcement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is removing the military’s ban on women serving in combat and potentially opening nearly of a quarter of a million jobs to women, I was glad.

Because I want another Sal. And this time, I’d like that Sal to be a woman.

Can you tell I’m in the middle of reading Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Sal Giunta’s biography Living With Honor?  The guy impresses me.  He ain’t no John Wayne. No Army Ranger. He isn’t the direct descendent of Stonewall Jackson or Audie Murphy. “I am not a hero,” Giunta writes.  “Just a soldier.”

As a member of the Girl Team, that is exactly the kind of spirit we need  in training women who will serve in combat. Whether they will continue in those jobs downrange they have worked for years, or take one of the newly opened combat jobs, we need these women to be soldiers and Marines. Not female soldiers or Marines. Just plain soldiers and Marines.

I know I am probably an idealist here.  But if we Girl Teamers really want combat opened to women, then I think we need to repeat a lot of the steps outlined in Giunta’s story.

First, we have to set aside the civilian idea that the job of a combatant is a job that is open to just anyone. As Giunta’s story reveals, no job in the military is open to just anyone. You have to qualify.

If we Girl Teamers want women to be taken seriously in a physical job like the infantry, the physical standards for men and women have to be the same.  Yeah, it will be harder to find women who can reach the same physical qualifications as men. Infantry standards should just be infantry standards, not standards adjusted for gender. We need to be good with that.

 Next, we have to make sure that our combatant roles attract women with the right kind of personality. Giunta writes:

“See, the thing about the infantry is that it attracts fighters. There are a lot of people in the U.S. Army, but not a lot who are guaranteed to see combat duty…I wanted to join for one reason:  to learn how to shoot my weapon more proficiently, and with greater accuracy, than the person I was shooting at, so that I could kill him and then move on and kill some of his friends, because they were all enemies of the United States.  If that sounds barbaric, well, it was exactly what the infantry wanted:  people who were eager to fight.”

Just like there are differences between men who elect to serve in different roles in the military, there will also be differences in what jobs women will be drawn to in the military.

We may find that particular personality-driven eagerness to fight and kill the enemy may not be as common to females as it is to males. So be it. When we recruit women who are fighters at heart, let them be trained to do the job.

Finally, we media types can’t let women in combat roles be one of those numbers we tend to so carefully with our political correctness stick. As a member of the Girl Team, I will have to remind myself that because of the way women are socialized in this country and because of some very real physical differences (like, say, height) not as many women will serve in these jobs.

If we insist on some theoretical, numerical equality — and get it — then we don’t end up with the right kind of soldiers. In our ever changing world, we need combatants who are aggressive and confident and can be trained to be the kind of skilled fighters who face the enemy. We need more Sal Giuntas.  More Josh Brennans. More Hugo Mendozas. More good soldiers like the ones who fought and died in the Korengal Valley. And we need both males and females trained and able to do the job.

About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Military.com. Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at JaceyEckhart.net.

45 Comments on "Women in Combat: Make Me a Sal Giunta"

  1. As a former Army Ranger and Airborne Infantyman I read your article with interest. You are correct one standard. The tip of the sword is no place for politics. You can say as you wish but the “average” female will not be able to mentally or physically complete basic infantry training. Make no bones about it that’s just the beginning I training getting to an infantry unit 25 mile road marches, field deployment no sleep no food sleet and rain no place warm. COMBAT. Close with and destroy the enemy. The only arguments I have heard is about women doing this for promotion. It real ladies. It’s not a card to be punched for a career. There’s killing to be done and at the end of the day The “girl team” won’t be able to be at the very tip of the sword.

    • As a woman, a very athletic one, probably not-so-much-of-an-average-woman, and with the experience of long expeditions in the places where very few people truly want to go, I do agree with you. There are only a handful of women capable doing what it takes to be in an Infantry unit.

      I have witnessed it myself on various mountain climbing expeditions, rescue missions and such, how some women simply can't push themselves through misery, they can't deal with the life without showers and other daily "comforts", they whine and cry when it is cold, wet and windy…. I am not saying that some males don't do this too, yes, they do. But based on my experience, less so.

      While I support the idea of having women in combat units (well, I would do it if I was younger), at the same time I do have concerns about this change: one way or another it would be necessary to select only the ones who can meet the mental and physical requirements for what it takes to be in an Infantry unit. How that can be evaluated, I do not have an answer to that.

        • Ron, you hit the nail on the head.

          Females in Infantry units do bring tons of challenges, practical and financial (and the military is already struggling with the budgets…). And all the questions you are posing are very relevant. It truly has to be all for the one standard – physical and mental. Honestly, I think this whole deal should be implemented in a way that women has to fit into that world how it is, not to change it for the women. In the long run, that would probably keep not-so-qualified, not-Infantry-minded women out, or then some feminist groups would get crazy over it. Who knows….

          Your comment about you and your Ranger Buddy made me laugh. I don't see anything sexist in staying warm with the opposite sex, and can't really blame you, man. But then on the other hand, my view about stuff like that is probably completely different from all these folks who find everything in the world being sexist and offending, and whatnot.

          But anyways, it all has to start from that one standard. In a small, special op troops the team cohesion is so important that weak links, males or females, do not get respect. And weak women probably even less….. and yes, I do have to admit that I do the months-long mountain expeditions with the most capable people. I want to know my buddy has my back. And in 90% of cases it seems to be that my preferred climbing buddy is a guy who can drag me down from 8,000 meters, and who knows that I can do the same for him.

    • Wanna bet we have an EPIDEMIC of back problems, and back surgeries, as a result of this type of female participation? I can see explosive hip ailments as they age as well?

  2. Why are we so eager to watch women fight? I hope as a country we are prepared and expect women who have lost multiple limbs, exposed to torched, possibly executed and whatever else comes our way. There is difference between being exposed to danger versus closing within and killing in a gun fight or hand to hand. In Afghanistan I never saw any women partake in an assault. Patrols? Yes they participated and some even got shot at but those of wives or husbands that have experienced “true combat” know that there is more to combat than patrols. Would anybody consider sending women into Vietnam to partake fighting in the jungle? Last time I studied the war we didn’t even want our men there.

    • Study all you want but the only reason we "lost" that war is Congress stopped funding it. It also was fought in the evening news media back home while honing their craft of public opinion manipulation which they now have down to a science. If you want to win a war you go in, fight to win and do it. Send the news to Washington D.C. and practice reporting the truth as a change.

  3. I hope they also include the draft for women. This will the diversify the force even more especially in the Navy and the Air Force.

  4. Height is the physical difference you want to reference when speaking about the differences that affect a woman's ability to serve in an Infantry MOS???? That one is not even relevant! Placing women on the front lines is a huge liability. I know other countries have women in their "infantry" but we're not talking about marching in parades here.

    Why do women have to infiltrate every aspect of the military? Why can't we stick to what we're wired for. You don't see men trying to have babies and breast feed. And that's not sexist, the truth is, men and women are different in every way imaginable. PERIOD.

  5. Chris Wells | January 24, 2013 at 4:04 pm |

    Do your social engineering and political correctness BS somewhere else. ……….Not in the military, and not in the combat arms……How many of these politicians, political rights activists, and social psycho BS artists have kids in the military? ……They have no right to put people in harm's way for their political agendas……Glad I am retired….

  6. Dear Jacey – I empathize, but…have you ever actually watched men who TRAIN to fight? You've seen the Ultimate Fighter competitions on TV, with the lean mean fighting machines in the Octogon? There is a 200 pound bull of a man, all muscle and tattoos, ready – no, make that EAGER – to fight. He will look for any small advantage he can find, and exploit it to destroy his enemy. Now, imagine the most physically fit fighting woman you have ever seen. Would you put her in there against him? Not if you care about winning, and not if you care about her. I'm sorry, but even if you were the most eager woman in the world, with the most Sal Giunta qualities any woman has ever had, I could still take an average young man of 18, feed him, train him, teach him, and in one year, he would be twice the fighter you could ever be. And war is completely unforgiving. All he needs is an extra inch of reach, an extra pound of muscle, an extra ounce of speed, and he will use that tiny advantage to kill you.

  7. sickunclesam | January 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm |

    As an "old school grunt" I find it very disturbing that in the very near future young men will have to die because inferior soldiers (females in the infantry) are there as part of some future infantry squad. What makes this even more sad is that it is being done so some women can punch their ticket to higher promotion or so the author of this story can feel proud that someone from the "girl team" got to actually go play like a real soldier.

  8. Weaker standards are coming. This years physical fitness requirements for my unit's Best Warrior Competition have been made "gender neutral". No they were not made the same based off of the male fitness scale but dropped to a lower level to make females more competitive.

  9. Wait until lots of women come back in body bags! Then the tune will change. Get it right, it is not the COMBAT, women have been shot at shoot back wounded, killed and decorated. It is the daily life in the real infantry MOAS 11B, 19K 19D that is the big problem. Sure, things like the EFMB and Sapper is strenuous but it only lasts a short while, Living like a dirty animal out of a rucksack with no clean clothes, no showers and no place to change you rtampon is the big problem. Being in the infantry is more than getting shot at. The last wars did not have weeks and months on end marching thru crap living out of a ruck like in Viet Nam or Korea. Read some history instead of propaganda!

  10. Oh and your pictures, The fireman's carry w/ ruck and weapon is hard, where are their helmets? Posed photos, EFMS the weight of the victim is usually 150-200 lbs, I noticed that non of the women are carryin gmen an dI'll bet those ruck are full of pillows, no one is stooped over like they ar ecarrying real weight.

  11. Old Infantry Guy | January 24, 2013 at 8:11 pm |

    Interesing that nobody has mentioned bone structure in this discussion of the difference between males and females. I've known several females who were plenty tough enough for the Infantry … but who couldn't complete training after sustaining stress fracture injuries during Infantry training. There was a comprehensive study completed years ago about females at the Army's Airborne School. Wish I could find it now. But there was a phenomenally larger % of females (when compared to males) who could not complete training due to injury.

  12. Because of the idiots here agreeing with liberals like obama and panetta is why are going to need a separate military from this ROGUE domestic enemy government being run by liberal democrats destroying every infrastructure from schools to the military. They are even destroying our nuclear force. We will get wiped out in a conventional war with REAL militaries with idiots running our military. Feminization of America has always been the plot of the insane liberals and those who support their cause. The military was not broken until Clinton and Obama came into office and destroyed our forefounding fathers established!

  13. Well the way I see it, if woman want to play "real soldier" then the Army needs to stop lowering APFT Standars for females and raise the bar to male standards, since they want equal opportunity. I just dont see how even a single female can last in the front lines without showering for more than 14 days in combat and without the unit having to make special considerations for "her" to return the rear just to "clean up", since women are physiologically different from men. Hell, women can easily get a UTI JUST FROM HOLDING THERE PISS TO LONG! If they are doing this just to get promoted and earn more ribbons on there Class A's, then I say go ahead, but raise all there standards to Male level performance and no special considerations since they are females. If they can perform all these tasks without any modification then I might retract my argument. Until then, I know females can not perform at the same skill set or physical requirement standards like the males in combat positions.

    I'd like to see "her" carry the 240-Bravo and ruck with it for 25 mi along with a full combat load.

  14. In my 8 years in the Army, I've known women who weren't cut out for an army desk job, and women who could hang with the toughest men. Make the standards in every MOS accurately reflect the requirements of the job, and then apply them equally. Discrimination – done. If you can hack, you can hack it. If you can't, you can't. It's really that simple. I have no desire to be an infantrywoman – but if you do, and you can do the job well, then rock it.

  15. It was bad enough having to worry that my son or grandson would be sent to the front lines in combat and possibly get killed. Now I have to worry about the same thing for my daughter or granddaughter. I am sure that a lot of women are very happy about this decision, but as a father / grandfather I am NOT happy at all. Lets just bulk our women up with muscle, shave their heads, put a big gun in their hand, some grenades on their belts and send them to some foreign country in the front line of battle to get killed. Now we can all be happy. Just GREAT!

    • I hear ya. My first thought when people started mentioning women registering for the draft was my girls. I'm not raising them to be like men. I'm raising them to be independent and strong, but not so they can fight a war. I'm still sporting an old-fashioned mentality in many respects and I am totally ok with it.

  16. Females aren't going to be greeted by males in combat services with open arms. I got just a glimpse of it while I was in Airborne school. A stick (squad) is organized by "rank"…officers, enlisted males, then females. A female E4 gets put behind a male E2. And a female who elects a combat service career, is going to get 50 times more crap. I'm not saying that females, who are physically fit and mentally strong, shouldn't elect a combat services MOS. I'm just saying, be prepared. Very prepared. It's going to be a rough journey.

  17. Jacey, this article was not about "what would be best for our armed forces", but rather, about what "I want". "I want another Sal." "I want that Sal to be a woman", etc. Wanting things – ambition – is good. But military service is supposed to be about the best interest of others (the country), not your own personal best interest. When those two objectives work together, great. But when conflicts arise – "Service Before Self".
    This is not about "jobs", it's about military readiness. Yes, the military can be a career. But if you see this announcement as an announcement about "jobs" your head is not in the right place.
    Finally, you end your article with this: "And we need both males and females trained and able to do the job." Really? Why? Nothing in your article supports that statement. All you have given us is "I want" and "I wish". Not very convincing. In truth, we dont NEED females trained for this. You WANT females trained for this. There is a world of difference. You, as a military spouse, should know that.

  18. Mike 'DOC' Simpson | January 25, 2013 at 7:43 pm |

    As an Airborne RANGER former 18th ABN Corp, 187 AbnRCT in RSVN, 1965-67 I am still doubtful about Women in Combat, but then I say what will happen when body Bags start being filled in with the reamains of a Fallen "Girls Team"? Those Brave women soldiers who wish to do what they can for their Country! I say Stay in the Rear with The Gear!

  19. This is the third time that the military has brought this up. In the early 1980's they actually experimented with women in the infantry and ended the program. There are just a few women who can put up with the rigors but the vast majority cannot. Isreal even took women out of front line units when they found that the injury rates and casualty rates were much higher than anticipated. We are not talking about sexism or socialogical issues, its physiology and pshychatry.

  20. I think there will always be a certain number of women who are born for combat and a certain number of men who aren't. Probably on the whole, more men than women percentage-wise are born to be warriors, so I think there will still always be more male soldiers than females, but the point is to stop seeing the world in pink and blue absolutes. New brain research suggests that 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men are what's called "bridge brains" and have brain characteristics of both sexes. And that doesn't have anything to do with sexual orientation, by the way. Those one in five women are better at fighting (soldiers) and leading (politicians) and those one in seven men are good at creating (artists) and nurturing (caregivers). Instead of making those men and women feel like freaks and being threatened by them being "different," we need to realize that the reality of nature is that we are all human and all individuals, not part of Team Blue OR Team Pink. Whoever can, should serve if they want to, regardless of sex, creed, color or sexual orientation. We are all Team USA!

  21. You can pick a bone with Ashley about whether men and women are "wired" differently or not, but you cannot deny that they are BUILT differently. And that alone is enough. You have to decide which is more important – advancing social objectives, or winning? If you want to win, you put your best players in the starting line-up, and put your second string on the bench. No hand wringing required – this is basic common sense. In a highschool dodgeball game, sure, everybody gets to play. But in a life-or-death situation, you better wise up. Unless you want to find yourself telling some dead soldiers' parents that the reason their son/daughter is in a casket is because you had higher objectives than winning.

  22. You are an idiot as a former scout and 20 yr 11 bravo infantry, we have no place in combat arms, as a cold war veteran, desert storm, OIF/OEF veteran, and son of world war 2 army scout hero. Who cares whether it's sexest! War and combat is not for college sororities. Your liberalism and democrats are the problem in the death of the United States. Obama and Panetta are domestic enemies that are deliberately destroying the military with their social experimentation. When we fight a major war we are done with these morons in the democratic party running everything to the ground. Women like gays will destroy unit cohesion and slow missions down. They will cause normal male behavior to be an EEO harassment problem in the field. We haven't fought jungle warfare and tank battles since vietnam and korean war. The next big battle we have is with the russians and chinese and with a hollow military, they are laughing to their teeth the morons being our military leaders and government leaders. This will cause many capable male fighters to leave the military. If the feminazis want to destroy the military, I say all males in combat arms and get out or retire and let these lesbian freaks fight the women hating muslims and communists who will wipe you out in a real war. These stupid act as if the warzone is all about Iraq and afghanistan. Just see how long you will last fighting an actual military that has an army with tanks and artillery, navy, marines and air force that will engage you. Last time I checked women fighter pilots and women in MP units weren't engaging the enemy who have fighters and tanks! Panetta and obama should be tried for treason!

  23. -"As a leader I will use the personnel I have been assigned, not complain that I don't have the personnel I want." Fine and dandy. But a bit off topic, don't you think? The question is not what you will do with the personnel you have, or whether you will complain. A good leader plays the hand that is given to him, to the best of his ability. Same with good followers. The real question is – Should we knowingly, willingly, give you a weaker hand than necessary, for social reasons, and live with the increased risk of mission failure, loss of life, etc? Is the social objective higher than the military mission? I think not.

  24. You are a young punk and a liberal idiot world war 2 standards are the only correct standards, it's idiots like you why the military is screwed. You have no place in my infantry or my cavalry. You don't represent any of us cold war veterans. Dumbass!

  25. You're missing the point. Men are built differently than other men, too. Men fail to meet the physical standards, too. People are individuals with individual strengths and weaknesses, not plastic pieces created in a mold somewhere. I'm not sure if you're trying to say that women are, collectively, second-string quality people. I'm not saying the standards should be lowered. I'm saying those women who meet the mental and physical standards of the job should have the opportunity to do the job–that's it.

    I find your comment about explaining the situation to a dead soldier's parents angle to be perplexing. Are you really insinuating that in an all-male combat force those deaths are regrettable but normal, but that in a mixed-gender combat force those deaths would be the fault of the women?

  26. Well, I guess we agree. The standard should not be lowered – meaning, one standard for all, male and female. I am of the opinion (with some experience to back it up) that if you set a meaningful physical performance standard for combat (run this far this fast, lift this much, throw this weight this far, etc.) – a standard that a typical male would have to train for 6 months, and be in shape to pass, a standard that more than half of your untrained males would fail – that virtually no women would pass. But, that said, I see no problem in letting any that do match that standard serve.
    But, in my experience, the inherint physical differences between male and female are so great that a typical male, who takes training serioulsy, will, withing 6 months to a year, out-qualify even the most qualified females. IF you grant me that much THEN I think you must grant me the rest – the folly of jeapordizing military missions for social agendas.

  27. On the contrary, I don't see why there is any jeopardizing involved. If those in combat are qualified, they're qualified. If you take a hundred people who have already met the required standard, and five or ten or fifty of them are female, how are they jeopardizing the mission? Either they pass training, in which case they've proven themselves competent, or they wash out, and they're not around to jeopardize anything.

  28. WWII is your standard? Should we go back to WWII tactics too? Shall we use WWII equipment on the field of battle?

    This is a different age. I watched women wear body armor and walk on patrol. I watched them lead convoys up and down the MSR in harm’s way on a daily basis. The only argument you have is 70 years out of date. And if you are a Cold War Warrior, YOU did not train to WWII standards.

    Nice try but by the words and tone of your post apparently maturity does not come with age.

  29. Again, in violent agreement. You, I, and the author (and most others posting here) agree that the standards should not be lowered. BUT mark my words, standards WILL be lowered. The truth is they will HAVE to be lowered for women to participate. Nobody whose primary concern is military capability will WANT to lower them, but they will be over-ruled by higher-ups with other concerns. This is the US of A; our military answers to civilian leadership. If putting women in combat forwards their social agenda, or gets them re-elected, we both know military readiness will take a back seat.

  30. And lest you think I am blowing smoke (when I say that the standards will have to be lowered for women to participate) here is a study done by the Army themselves, with real male and female soldiers. (http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA148846) Male soldiers tested 1.5 to 1.6 times as strong as females in isometric tests (single muscle, single motion, like a bicep curl). Throw those muscles together into complex motion (lift, throw, run, etc.) and males tested 1.8 times as strong as females. The female body is different than the male body – it is designed for a different purpose. And when trained (weightlifting, etc) the male body responds differently, and those differences are amplified. If you set the standard high enough that a typical male has to train for 6 months to reach it, virtually no women will reach it. They can train forever, but their bodies will plateau. (Just like men.)

  31. Now, if you want to be stubborn, you can continue to try to twist my words into nonsense about women being “second string quality people”. But I won’t be baited into it. Statistically, I’m sure there are outliers in the female population, so if we really wanted, we could form a few squadrons of Amazon Warriors. Sounds like a great project for Hollywood Democrats. But formulating your military policy to accommodate such ideas is, in my opinion, a foolish peace-time luxury. The purpose of an army is to destroy the enemy, not to advance careers, or social agendas.
    One final note – as somebody else posted, REAL infantry is not driving around in Hummers from base to base. Think WWII, marching for months across frozen tundra from Berlin to Leningrad. Think Viet Nam, trudging through jungle swamps for months on end. There is no time or place to change your tampon. And no clean tampons to find. Women are NOT BUILT FOR THIS. (Be glad. It sucks.)

  32. Make up your mind. You say "I will take individuals based on their willingness", as if physical fitness is a secondary matter. Then you complain that they are "overweight, weak minded, lazy". (Oh, but who cares if they are capable, as long as they are willing, right?) Decide what you want, then select and train for it. It really is that simple.
    Yes, I could fix it, and so could you (if you were allowed). Raise your standards, eliminate those who fail to improve to meet the higher standard. I understand that physical fitness is not the be-all to end-all. There is much more to military success than physical strength. (Tacitcs, weaponry, planning, etc.) But to the extent that fitness DOES matter (especially for infantry) make it a priority in your selection and training. You are the leader, right? Ruck up and Lead!

  33. If this had come a few years ago, I'd have been more than happy to sign the contract. But in my mid-30's and PhD almost in my hand, the timing is not the greatest anymore. So I will just continue doing expeditions to the faraway places from the hottest to the coldest corners of the world, climbing the world's tallest mountains, guiding on the mountains and doing rescue stuff – aka carrying 250lbs guys out of the trouble :-) And competing in Ironman races.

  34. And hence your negative rating. Join the gang :)

  35. We should not, and cannot, go back to WWII. BUT…there are TWO pitfalls in military thinking 1) planning for the last war, thinking that the next war will be the same, and 2) ignoring the lessons of the last war, thinking that the next war will be different. If you think that physical standards are no longer that important, because in every war from here forward our troops will be carried from point to point in armored vehicles, like in Iraq or Afghanistan, or that the extended foot march, with months in the field, is a relic of the past, then you are guilty of the second pitfall, and could use some of the wisdom that comes with age. Yes, this is a different age. They are all different. But physics (and physiology) haven't changed. Learn from the elders. (Or not. In which case – may reality be your teacher.)

  36. My only rebuttal to your comment is that there are no men who start out as perfect physical specimens for the Infantry. They have to be trained and they have to be developed.

    By that standard, the physical differences can be overcome. Not all women will meet them but then not all men meet them either.

    One point of reality. The issue has been raised. You will not prove your point unless you willingly allow them to try. If they pass fine. If they fail fine but the arguing accomplishes nothing when the decision has already been made by those with the power to make it.

    Now it is time to soldier on. We take our orders and march because we have been given them.

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