[Rosemary Mariner, guest-blogging, December 20, 2007 at 2:10am] Trackbacks
The Americanization of the Armed Forces-Entry Standards, Strength, Fitness, and Cohesion:

The American military does not recruit, enlist, commission, promote, court martial, or entrust command to groups. Although the demonstrated ability to work well within a group is important to unit readiness, especially on the tactical level, selection and performance are ultimately individual functions.

The emphasis on individual qualification starts with the recruiting process. The definition of a high quality recruit includes brains and health, but not brawn.

Entry level standards have been gender neutral since the 1970s. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when male propensity to enlist was at a low, high quality female recruits were essential to maintaining the quality of the volunteer force.

The primary measure of aptitude for determining eligibility for enlistment is an individual's score on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). The AFQT is designed to measure the trainability of potential recruits and identify individuals unlikely to complete entry level training. It includes sections on math and reading comprehension.

A high quality recruit is defined as a healthy individual with a high school diploma and AFQT scores in the top 50%. There is a strong correlation between the ability to graduate from high school and complete an enlistment contract. These are the same people the civilian labor market desires.

The correlation between high AFQT scores and military performance is also well documented. In 2006 the Army almost doubled the number of Category IV recruits scoring in the 10-30 percentile range.

Age requirements are especially elastic, with the services targeting 17-26 year olds, but expanding the range when demand exceeds supply. Today the Army will take recruits up to age 42.

All recruits must pass a basic physical fitness test and medical exam. While Army positions are assigned a physical demands rating, this is only used to give recruits an idea of what the job entails. The Army does not submit male recruits to physical strength tests before assigning them to ground combat positions.

No tests are given to measure courage, spirit, motivation, commitment, aggressiveness, maturity, affability, or other character traits. Waivers may be granted for certain criminal records.

The inclusion of women, a majority of the military age population, to the recruiting pool enhances the military effectiveness of the force by maximizing the human capitol that can be drawn from.

While female propensity to enlist tends to be lower than men surveyed, the addition of women to the pool is significant. This is especially true in a difficult recruiting market; it would be that much more important should the nation face a full mobilization.

Strength vs. Fitness Standards

In tasks that objectively require physical strength, quantifiable standards should be established. The argument that too few women would qualify to make it worth while begs the question, by what standard? How many women is enough, according to whom? When individual capability is the criteria, the degree of overlap doesn't matter.

Many demanding military tasks involve skill, not strength. Training programs teach skills as well as establishing if a person is strong enough to do the job.

An individual man or woman who completes flight training or Ranger school is strong and skilled enough by virtue of successfully completing the course. These difficult programs also provide the important "gut checks" which test spirit and commitment.

Prof. Browne's example of a male pilot requiring all his strength to land a damaged airplane as justification to exclude women from combat aircraft is just plain silly.

First, it ignores the fact that women have flown all types of aircraft since the beginning of aviation, including under much worse conditions. Second, it is analogous to saying that if Arnold Schwarzenegger used all his strength to keep from crashing his Hummer, only people like Arnold should drive.

The notion that pilots shot down behind enemy lines become infantrymen is equally nonsensical. Not only have women done that too, but I don't know of any aviator POWs making such claims. These are survival, escape, resistance, and evasion situations.

Finally, physical fitness tests do not measure strength. Fitness standards are designed to ensure a person's health; they are properly age and gender-normed. If more fitness is required, than raise the standards for everyone.


From the Revolutionary War to WW I, the primary method of raising ground forces was to call forth the militia. During most of the nineteenth century local communities raised regiments which were enlisted into federal service as the U.S. Volunteers. Depending on the state, regiments elected their own officers while governors appointed senior officers. Militia units had built in cohesion; often soldiers were related or had grown up together.

Unlike the militia, the Continental Army (and later the U.S.Army) had to create a cohesive force from disparate troops. Beginning at Valley Forge, under Friedrich von Steuben's leadership, the Continentals drilled and trained together to emerge a greatly improved fighting force. Since then, the armed forces have been well aware of the connection between leadership, cohesion, and the precept that you train as you fight.

The introduction of women has not changed the principle that cohesion is a function of leadership, shared experiences, common identity, and purpose, --not homogeneity. Discipline must overcome emotion, and gender is not an excuse for misconduct. Commanders set the tone and the example for everything under their authority. This is key to the U.S. military's professional ethos.

Prof. Browne's assertion that having women in military groups adversely affects cohesion is not supported by research. A 1997 RAND study conducted to assess military effectiveness after the expansion of women's roles concluded "that divisions caused by gender were minimal or invisible in units with high cohesion." A 1999 GAO report on perceptions of readiness in selected units opened to women in 1993 concluded: "most men and women agreed that women either affected readiness no differently from men or affected readiness positively or very positively."

The published research suggests that gender itself has no affect on cohesion in military groups.