WASHINGTON—The men in the U.S. military’s most dangerous jobs care little about political correctness or gender equality. And they have a message for their political leadership.
When they are fighting in the shadows or bleeding on the battlefield, women have no place on their teams.
In blunt and, at times, profanity-laced answers to a voluntary survey conducted by the Rand Corp., more than 7,600 of America’s special operations forces spoke with nearly one voice. Allowing women to serve in Navy SEAL, Army Delta or other commando units could hurt their effectiveness and lower the standards, and it may drive men away from the dangerous posts.
An overwhelming majority of those who agreed to respond to the RAND survey said they believe women don’t have the physical strength or mental toughness to do the grueling jobs.
Some of the broader conclusions of the survey, taken from May through July 2014, were disclosed by The Associated Press earlier this year, but the detailed results and comments written by respondents had not been released.
The Pentagon released the summer survey and other documents when Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced last week that he was opening all combat jobs to women. That decision was based on recommendations by the military service secretaries and the leaders of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Special Operations Command. Only the Marine Corps asked to exempt women from certain infantry and frontline positions, but Carter denied that request.
Half the men who got the 46-question survey responded to it, and Rand did not identify any of them. In some cases people who feel most strongly about an issue are more inclined to answer surveys.
Some 85 percent of the respondents said they oppose opening the special operations jobs to women, and 70 percent oppose having women in their individual units. More than 80 percent said women aren’t strong enough and can’t handle the demands of the job. And 64 percent said they aren’t mentally tough enough.
“I weigh 225 pounds, and 280 pounds in full kit, as did most of the members of my ODA (a 12-man Army Green Beret unit),” one respondent said. “I expect every person on my team to be able to drag any member of my team out of a firefight. A 130 pound female could not do it, I don’t care how much time she spends in the gym. Do we expect wounded men to bleed out because a female soldier could not drag him to cover?”
Another said politicians don’t win the covert wars.
“Gender equality is not an option when the bullets are flying,” he said. “Most males in the area of the world I work in would rather back hand a female than listen to her speak. There is a reason we send men to do these jobs.”
Some saw it as inevitable.
“This integration will happen eventually and we might as well embrace it while we have current solid leadership and incoming solid leadership at the top to facilitate the transition,” one said.
The deep challenges the survey revealed with integrating women into tight-knit commando teams are not lost on the Pentagon. Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, posted a memo and video online last week after Carter’s announcement, explaining the decision and vowing that the qualifying standards for special operations jobs will remain the same.
He noted that women have already moved into some special operations jobs, including as helicopter pilots and crew, members of cultural support teams in Afghanistan and in civil affairs and information operations.
And he added, “If candidates meet time-tested and scientifically validated standards, and if they have proven that they have the physical, intellectual, professional, and character attributes that are so critical to special operations, they will be welcomed into the special operations forces ranks.”
The Rand report noted that many of the men had little experience working with women in combat. And special operations officials have said they expect the challenges can be overcome with training and direction over time.
The services have until Jan. 1 to submit implementation plans that would address such issues.
The bulk of those who responded to the survey were young, white married men. They worry that having women in their small teams could fuel jealousy at home or create problems with sexual harassment or illicit affairs. And they rely on and trust their teams and units as family.
Ninety-eight percent agreed that their unit is united in trying to accomplish its missions. But when asked whether men and women in a unit would be united to accomplish a mission, only 48 percent said yes. Nearly 33 percent said no, and almost 20 percent were undecided.
And nearly 60 percent said they expected that women assigned to their unit would be “treated unfairly” at least some of the time.
Some, however, said they might be willing for women to serve in some, more peripheral special operations jobs. Several suggested that women could be used as attachments or additions to some units, just not as actual members, such as the cultural support jobs they fill now.