Following the Benghazi attacks on our embassy last Sept. 11, thousands of former combat veterans were appalled when outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters, "The basic principle is that you don't deploy forces into harm's way without knowing what's going on, without having some real-time information about what's taking place."
Initially I thought Panetta was simply justifying the administration's failure to respond to the embassy's distress calls. Recall that he and David Patreaus, the former CIA director, testified under oath, albeit somewhat reluctantly, of advising the White House (on the night of the attack) that the incident was indeed an organized terrorist attack, likely from an al Qaeda affiliate.
But after Panetta issued his broad-brush edict directing all military jobs, including direct combat billets, to qualified women, my thinking changed.
Perhaps our military has undergone such a transformation I no longer understand its mission or the basic rules of engagement. If the Obama-Panetta doctrine were in effect during the Vietnam War, my squadron would have never launched a med-evac helicopter and hundreds, perhaps thousands of Marines who are alive today would be names etched into a wall.
I was single during my tour in Vietnam and would have given two months' pay to have women in our squadron. No doubt they would have flown as skillfully as any other naval aviator, while providing the added bonus of a female presence in the ready room.
Additionally, I can assure you my wartime experience was vastly different from that of frontline grunts. Cooked meals, hot showers and access to flush toilets were the norm. And when not in the med-evac shack, I slept in a bed rather than on the ground in the bug-infested jungle where heat, humidity, rats, monsoons, C-rations and booby traps were the grunts' constant companions.
That said, even a pilot's life in Vietnam was far from idyllic, with nightly rocket and mortar attacks, night landings under fire, logistical inconsistencies, etc. Nonetheless, I don't recall a single fistfight, a long-held grudge or instance where one pilot just had to be in close proximity to another pilot. Such behavior would have created morale and cohesion problems while reducing our effectiveness.
But with his edict, Panetta seems to dismiss the fact that the
social dynamic changes radically when men are around women. And that's the gross misjudgment underpinning his diktat. When confronted by the inescapable sexual attraction between healthy young men and women at their physical and sexual peak, does Panetta really believe young soldiers or Marines will resist temptation?
Surely Panetta is aware of the sexual encounters that take place in high schools and college dorms across the nation. Even if he discounted the inevitable pregnancies that will occur, both planned and unplanned, he would have to be daft not to realize that inserting women into front-line combat units is a hormonal time bomb.
Did Panetta consider the potential damage to unit cohesion and mission focus when two young soldiers become emotionally involved and then subsequently have a major falling out with its attendant emotional upheaval that always accompanies young love?
Did he consider the basic human emotion of jealousy when two people are in competition for affection of a member of the opposite sex? Or what might happen if several GIs or Marines are wounded but one is the girlfriend or lover of the attending medic or corpsman? Who would be attended to first?
The PC brigade attempts to rationalize Panetta's decision by telling us warfare has changed and danger is everywhere, or that we no longer have front lines. But how does Panetta know with certainty this type of warfare is permanent? How does he know we will never again have front lines?
Some speciously point to the Israeli Army and our NATO allies as examples of successful front-line unit gender integration. But Israeli soldiers are always in close proximity to home and are granted frequent leave - hardly an apt comparison. Meanwhile, the armies of NATO don't have our global military responsibilities or the potential for prolonged combat.
No one questions that women have demonstrated extraordinary skill and courage in combat. Army Black Hawk and Air Force A-10 pilots are prime examples.
But our concern should be that women serving in grunt units, living in close quarters for extended periods of time, isolated, thousands of miles from home and under the stresses and boredom that always accompany life at the front offer too great of a potential for young emotions and hormones to run amok.
Panetta, better than anyone, knows that almost a third of all military commanders fired during his tenure lost their jobs because of sexually related offenses. So how can he expect that the average GI, whether Joe or Jane, will resist the inevitability of sexual or emotional attachments?
Could this be one of the "fundamental changes" Obama has brought to America? If so, I wish he would explain how putting women in front-line units enhances combat effectiveness.
Quote of the day: "Political correctness means 'Pizza Day' will now be known as 'Italian-American Sauced Bread Day.'" Principal Seymour Skinner, "The Simpsons."
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.