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tv   Discussion on Women in Combat  CSPAN  May 2, 2015 11:35am-12:36pm EDT

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to me, i don't know when the issue was settled. i am probably supposed to be an objective moderator. but to put my cards on the table, my sister is currently serving with distinction as a detective in the gang unit of the new york police department. [laughter] host: she could kick my ass that's for sure. over two years on the sharp end of the battlefield, i can tell you i have seen more than enough examples of women distinguishing themselves, including in the close fight, providing the fire support, whether it's from a cockpit or another platform we desperately needed at various times, defending their convoys when they came under attack. for many of us who have seen this movie out on the ground this is a debate that was over a long time ago. so those are my cards, and they're on the table. any pretense of objectivity, i will abandon now. out of curiosity, how many currently serving or former members of the military, u.s. or otherwise, do you have in the audience today?
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i should have asked how many civilians were in the audience. yes, excellent. [laughter] host: it is no exaggeration to say there is a wealth of knowledge and experience in this room, and that's why we're going to try to make this more of a conversation than a series of presentations. we're looking forward to that. this discussion is really about the central question of unit cohesion and leadership. in the battlefield, especially in the close fight. we have with us four people that i think provide a great perspective across the board. dr. megan mckenzie from the university of sydney. she's a senior lecturing in the government. the center for international security at the university of sydney. research crosses gender studies , security studies and , international development. she's published in top journals, including security studies. her first book, "female soldiers in sierra leone," and the newest
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book, beyond the military and myth women can't fight, debunks ss the belief that women can't fight. a debunks core arguments used to keep women out of combat roles. and explores the centrality of the band of brothers myth. it is one of my favorite mini series, but i'm willing to see that happen. we have dr. robert egnell, a visiting professor and director of teaching with the security studies program, as well as a senior faculty adviser for the georgetown institute for women peace and security. he's currently on leave from a position of associate professor at the swedish national defense
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college. he's the founding director of the stockholm center for studies. the think tank created in response for non-governmental research and policy advice in the swedish and international context. we're joined by my friend captain john rodriguez of the u.s. army national guard. he's a 2015 herbert peace fellow who works with me at the center for national policy. served six years as an army infantry officer, including a deployment to afghanistan. that place will mean something if you look it up. i had the privilege of spending time there at a different time. john provides an incredible experience. the sort of infran triantry unit in a daily grind fight. we're happy to have him. he's a member of the maryland national guard and has worked as a national security intern focused on human rights complaints and security policy. beth.
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we're joined by mary beth bruggeman. i should have asked you how to pronounce your last name. >> you got it. host: graduated in 1999 and commissioned to the marine corps. she had a deployment to iraq. she was combat arms. is a combat engineer. after trang sigssitioning from active duty, she developed robots to marines. she's the executive director for the mission continues. any student of policy management at georgetown university. i will start by turning to dr. mckinsey and asking her to replace me at the podium. if you could tell us about this question, what did you find is you are researching this book on the question of the band of brothers and what does it mean for combat integration? dr. mckenzie: i am the outsider a researcher. i spent the last several years looking at the topic of women in combat, primarily because i started my research in sierra
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leone, interviewing women who participated in the conflict there. it was interesting as i found some of the arguments, there was a high percentage of women who participated in that conflict. even know i talked to a lot of the women who participated, when i presented my research, i got a lot of feedback that said they were really soldiers. they were just following. i found some of the arguments were similar in the debating around the combat exclusion for women in the united states. that's how i made that shift. i spent the last three years really sifting through all the research i could find on physical standards, cohesion and women in combat. so i'll talk about that. first of all, i want to say, thank you for inviting me. it's a real honor to be here. focusing on cohesion, one of the most common arguments used to justify the combat exclusion in the u.s. and elsewhere has been the position that women undermine the types of bonding
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necessary for combat troops to operate efficiently. so the cohesion hypothesis, as i call it, presumes that all male combat units are more cohesive and, therefore, more effective than mixed gender units. this became the dominant argument, along with physical requirements, for excluding women from combat in the two decades leading up to the january 2013 decision to remove the combat exclusion. it remains the main argument used by other militaries across the world to retain the combat exclusion. today, i would really like to talk about the myth -- the role of myth, emotion and gender bias in shaping the debates around combat cohesion. there are 2.0 would like to make. -- two points i'd like to make. first, there is an extensive amount of research on women and cohesion. the question of women's impact on cohesion is addressed in actually a staggering amount of well-funded studies, conducted both within the u.s. and abroad.
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at present, there is a greater need to reflect on the results of these findings, which i'll get to in a minute, rather than call for another study on cohesion. second, in my book, i argue that all male units have been central to military identity and national identity in the u.s. for a long time. there are deeply embedded assumptions associated with the band of brothers. from my perspective, cohesion arguments, rather than simply focusing on mission effectiveness, can sometimes be code for preserving the band of brothers. while cohesion is often treated as a group dynamic that can be objectively measured, much of the debate around cohesion is driven by emotion and stereotypes that serve to reinforce the perception to camaraderie and bonding is exclusive to men. let's start with the evidence related to combat cohesion.
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the first point to note is studies show the need to dissegregate between social and task cohesion. social cohesion is the bonds particularly the feelings of trust and camaraderie. by contrast, task cohesion is defined as the commitment of a group towards a shared mission or objectives. put another way, social cohesion refers to whether the group members like one another. task cohesion is whether they can work well together. despite the important distinctions between task cohesion and social cohesion researchers measure them together, ignoring the difference. this is important because there is some indicators that women slightly impact social cohesion. this makes sense. many types of workplace studies found we tend to want to work with people who are similar to us, in terms of race, class, gender, ideology. so to learn that men tend to feel more socially bonded to male colleagues in the military is no surprise. but those studies that isolate
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social and task cohesion found that task cohesion is linked to mission effectively than social cohesion. in fact, one major study concluded simply, quote, "military performance depends on weather service members are committed to the same goals, not whether or not they like one another." knowing the task cohesion is a greater indicator of true effectively is significant. because when we focus on task cohesion, women are not a factor. leadership is. here, there's room to learn from other militaries that have integrated women into combat. for example, research on the israeli defense forces found that cohesion can be inspired through shared commitment to a mission, irrespective of previous social or personal interactions. a canadian report on gender and diversity determined the cohesion of a mixed gender combat unit was primarily a leadership challenge. in turn, research that conputs
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-- conflates social and task cohesion mistakenly overemphasizes the social dynamics and underestimates the role of leadership and training. moreover, they lead to potentially flawed conclusions about women and cohesion. now, getting to the heart of the matter, there's actually quite a few studies that indicate that -- that have been conducted domestically and internationally that find little relationship between the integration of women and various understandings of cohesion. as early as the 1970's, the u.s. military conducted tests that determined that women did not have a significant effect on operational capabilities. 1970's. we're still having similar conversations. these conclusions were supported by a 1993 report that found that gender was not listed by focus participants as a requirement for effective unit cohesion. rand has done a couple of excellent studies found in the 1990s, that the real cohesion story was one of leadership.
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so something that is often overlooked here is the fact that similar cohesion arguments were used and then put to rest when it came to african-american troops and gay and lesbian service members. we tend to ignore the negative effects of social cohesion. in various workplace settings, including the military, overly cohesive or homogeneous groups are associated with group think, and diverse groups enhance intelligence and problem-solving and decision making skills. moving on to my broader point about gender and cohesion. i think there's two main indicators that there may be gender bias in relation to discussions on cohesion. first, cohesion is often referred to implicitly or explicitly as male bonding. second, evidence indicates that the main impediment to cohesion may be men's attitudes, not
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women themselves or their ability to perform. this first point, cohesion is male bonding. when we're looking at the public debates and the broader literature around cohesion, some descriptions assume cohesion requires segregation. it is the masculine nature, not the bonding itself that's essential. anthony king acknowledges that sociologists prefer informal masculine rituals in cohesion. similarly, kingsley browne former u.s. supreme court clerk, , made the following observation. quote, "men fight for many reasons. but probably the most powerful one is the bonding. male bonding with their comrade.
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perhaps for a fundament ralal reasons, women don't invoke the same feelings of comradeship and followership that men do." linking national security to all male units makes it difficult for those trying to integrate women into combat units. defining military cohesion and troop effectively by masculinity places women as outsiders and as a threat by the nature irrespective of their performance. this perspective can't be countered with more research. the requires a change in perspective. this is why attitudes matter. going to the second indicator. i mentioned research earlier that shows little correlation between women and reduced cohesion. there are some studies that find the contrary. if you dig deeper into the studies, you can find interesting conclusions. let me explain. one study found that units with higher numbers of women may report lower levels of cohesion because women, as a group, tend to report lower levels of cohesion.
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the more women you have, the lower levels of cohesion because women report lower levels. another study found that women that negatively impacted cohesion found that men's acceptance of women impacted the cohesion. the more men were accepting of women, the higher the rates of cohesion in the group. here, you have a separate factor, attitudes that impact cohesion. this has been reproduced in international studies on mixed gender units, which found that men's acceptance of women positively correlated with horizontal cohesion and combat readiness. this is really important because it means that men's attitudes toward women and their acceptance of women, not women themselves, might be the key factor in levels of cohesion. it's also important because it seems that irrespective of women's performance, important negative attitudes about their place in the military persist and impact how a group describes its cohesion.
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just a couple of weeks ago, the results of a survey given to the american special operations forces were reported. and this was a survey just to gauge apprehensions that troops may have in relation to women in combat in order to preemptively address them. and the results did show several misgivings and concerns, including concerns about sexual assault. so we need to understand how these types of misgivings and reactions to women in combat might impact group dynamics and reported levels of cohesion. we also need to acknowledge that sexual assault is not a gender integration or cohesion problem. it's a sexual assault problem. again, what these studies show is that the main issue may be men's attitudes and perceptions. we may want to spend our attention to focus on cultural change rather than future studies on cohesion.
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debates around women and cohesion, particularly those focused on women in combat leave several important questions unanswered, including why does there seem to be more concern regarding women and cohesion with regard to combat units? do women only hinder cohesion for combat troops? do combat units require different types of cohesion from other units? are we suggesting that the training and military leadership are unable to foster task and social cohesion amongst the soldiers soldiers? i would argue it's not a gender neutral concept. an essential element of the band of brothers myth is the unexplainable or indescribable bonds of the all male group. this representation of cohesion can make it really a moving target. that's impossible to pin down and measure. and therefore it's very difficult to counter with research.
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irrespective of the vast research indicating that women don't impact cohesion, ideals associated with sacred or special bonding between all male units are all too often treated as fact rather than narrative. i think this characterization sells both are male and female troops short. it implies that men cannot be professional and serve alongside fellow service members. irrespective of their gender. and it assumes that women are not as trustworthy or dependable comrades as the male counterparts. evidence indicates these claims simply aren't true. we cannot let the myth override reality. the ideal of all millionaires on the front line and women staying behind in support roles is over. stories like ashley's war are stories i'm hearing over and over again -- not only in the u.s., canada, and new zealand. women are on the front lines and play a major part in modern warfare.
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speculation about cohesion can actually reinforce myth rather than make women's jobs easier. i think we need to move forward when it comes to combat cohesion, and we have the research we need to. now we need to consider how military culture needs to catch up with the reality of women's participation in war. thank you. host: thank you very much. [applause] host: thank you for that overview of the landscape. and the research behind it. robert, can i ask you a straightforward question? based on your experience, your research, do you feel that the evidence and the experience of international military supports the idea that introducing women into combat units will degrade performance? or do you not feel that way? dr. egnell: we'll see. i'll come to the answer at the end of this. first of all, thanks for a
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brilliant presentation there. i was desperately flicking through my notes wondering what i could possibly add. i'd like to go back to the quote. by general dempsey that was up here in support of this earlier on. i'm an academic. well, i'm slightly -- and i'm a foreigner, i don't have to be nice to anyone in here. [laughter] dr. egnell: so he said, we will extend opportunities to women in a way that maintains readiness morale, and unit cohesion. we'll preserve our war fighting capability to defend the nation. and that sounds good, but when i unpack that, there's a lot of really problematic assumptions and negativity baked into that one. it's about maintenance, about preservation of the existing order. that, to me, is an assumption that the existing organization is perfect. and whatever we do to change it can only have negative or no impact if it's done really, really well.
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that to me is the wrong starting point when it comes to the inclusion of women in combat. i just wanted to put that out there. i think it's horrible to join an organization and feel that the only way i could impact is negatively or not at all. let's think of this more in terms of increase combat effectiveness or maximize combat effectiveness. i also think, on the other hand, that military effectiveness unit performance, etc., those of the right measures. those are the right topics to talk about. we have military organizations for those -- for very specific purposes. the army calls it fighting and winning the nation's war in order to defend the nation. i should probably add that military units do a lot more than just fight the nation's wars or that fighting the nation's wars these days entails a whole host of very complex
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tasks beyond tactical level engagement with the enemy. but physical fitness and unit cohesion's are two critical factors. it's absolutely right we're focusing on those things. that's also where you hear most of the complaints or the fears about integration of women. so we have to tackle them on their home court, if you will. i think we've done a pretty good job of the physical fitness. and at this point, i would just say get over with it. just do it. let women compete with the existing standards but then also work with those standards to make sure that they are not only gender neutral, because that's a dodgy term that quite often hides gender blindness. we assume just because it's the same for everyone, they're neutral while actually they're part of a highly masculine tradition, highly masculine view of what war is and it means and how it's conducted, et cetera
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and tradition, also part of a masculine such. so we have to be aware there and create gender aware standards for all rather than gender neutral or slash blind. i also think we should be aware about this argument about effectiveness, since we have not exactly come out of 15 years of almost continuous war with great success and category. -- and glory. there's been tremendous mistakes, most of them at the strategic level, but also at the tactical level. there's all reason to try to improve the way we fight. the way we train and organize. and i think we should view this issue as part of that ambition to always try and improve and maximize the effectiveness of
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the armed forces. something really interesting that came out of iraq and afghanistan are a number of organizational innovations. we have the lioness teams were the early versions. the female engagement teams, gender feel advisers -- field advisers focal points, cultural , support teams, et cetera, et cetera. lots of interesting innovations going on. those were not ordered from the political level and imposed on the organization. they were attempts at dealing with tactical level challenges our units we're facing in the field. again, let's not just look at this in terms of maintaining effectiveness. let's look at it as a way of improving it. these were necessary measures. and i'm going to come back to them in terms of what are the most appropriate ways of integrating women or creating female engagement teams, et cetera, et cetera. but, remember that they were responses to tactical challenges, not imposed on
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units. there's a number of fields of research. and megan did a great job of covering them. you often hear this argument. we need more evidence, and there is quite a lot of evidence out there. the challenge is that we are up against what is considered common sense within the armed forces. a feeling that what we have really works. and we know how to train a good infantry unit. we've done it for centuries in the same roughly way. and our drill sergeants know exactly how to push or recruits very hard, and they know they should encourage the weekend activities that men do, as well, quite often hard drinking and wooing the ladies down at the local pub, et cetera. those are always that we know work. and we are comfortable with it
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because we assume it is the way we do these things. if it worked for centuries, why should we change it? there was also quite a lot of research highlighting that these types of masculine social cohesion units are constructions if you will can quite often lead to extreme and very automatic cases of hyper masculinity abuse. i don't know if it is to record related to sexual violence within the armed forces for example. but it seems to me a pretty obvious connection. there was also the link to toxic leadership that we quite often considered quite except double because they are usually quite effective. they create the kind of units that perform according to the standards and can of the day. why should we fire them if they are effective as officers? while
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they are producing unit cultures that in the end may become really problematic. in all kinds of ways. there is again some experiences from iraq and afghanistan with the worst cases of units is -- is behavior leading to crimes or war crimes for example. we have the business literature the civilian literature out there supporting us more and more. that does not mean so much because again we are looking at combat. that is considered unique and very special to if the business community is improved by -- and does not apply because worker is something completely different. you can always dismiss that. that is very clear though. we are seeing the same thing in diplomacy and negotiation, if you conduct gender desegregated analysis you will do it more
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effectively. one might assume that applies to the military affairs and intelligence gathering as well. unless it is so unique that it doesn't, right? we can look at the impact on noncombat units. that is most of the studies we have in the past. there is no serious indicators that it ruins it. if there were, we would all know it would not work. you cannot mix men and women. sex and love the what have you. it ruins unit cohesion and effectiveness of the military, etc. get with it -- we have had decades of military units. if no one said anything shouldn't they be on trial for misleading the country in such an important way? we are talking about direct combat support units who are absolutely crucial to those fighting on the front lines.
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by the way, that distinction these days in modern worker is the everyday killers every -- anyway. we have plenty of experience on integration of combat units internationally as well. so far, and megan would know where it -- more about this in the, but what i'm seeing is her for two as or dismissed as anecdotal these days. we do not have enough cases to make it really quantitative. we are seeing very little negativity in those studies. what you hear first of all is usually it is an absolute nonissue. it does not matter at all. she perform the job great. she became one of the guys. i do not see why sex or gender has anything to do with this. that is the first reaction. when you program a little bit they will actually acknowledge that it is an issue. it has an impact on the unit.
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that you had to resolve certain issues. love, sex, again, it happens. those are not the worst things that can happily -- happen to you any good leader can tackle those those challenges. it is an issue and i think we should be aware. rather than be gender blind, let's begin are aware. let's adjust leaderships of the contact of those issues that might arise. you also hear really interesting stories of improved effectiveness from inclusivity or gender integration. the one being that men over perform when there are women around they get better when there are women around. they do not want to lose to woman. you hear lots of stories about the matured culture within the units. again, we have diversity
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dimensions. with more backgrounds, more expenses you become more effective problem-solving units avoided the groupthink. it is a bit of a mix bag, but it is looking positive. as i always highlight you very seldomly here from these anecdotal evidence the opposite. that i served with women and it really did not work. it ruined the unit, etc.. you hear that from the people who have never served in a military unit. but are very vocal about how it should function because they have seen in the movies. but also the people within the organization who have never actually served with women or with women in combat. again that is rare. there is a staggering amount of people who have served with women and you would think those
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stories would seep out more than in the angry commentator field and professional journals. that some of them would step up for the sake of the country, for the sake of the organization if it was such an important issue to defend the existing effective organization. but we do not have that. that is very encouraging. men's attitudes toward women as a key factor. i thought that was absolutely astonishing and in so many ways provocative. and also accurate. it was a way of saying what i've been try to get it for a long time. that also raises issues about bigger consequences perhaps of integration as well. it is not just a nonissue. it is not just about preserving the existing culture in order. it might be something more fundamental.
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it has an impact when you mix men and women. but it can be an incredibly positive and rewarding process for our armed forces. let's study that as well. but try to study the improved impact as we try to find the negative impact these days. i will stop there. i'm sure john -- >> that advances the discussion beautifully. it does indicate that too often we asked the wrong question. frequently we are asked how we avoid hurting the force by doing this. i think the real question we have to be asking ourselves is how do we improve the force. i think it is fair to say there has been an endeavor in the sphere of human endeavor that is not benefited from extending the opportunity to join in that endeavor that has not benefitted
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from extending the opportunity to join in that endeavor to all of those are qualified regardless of gender or any other characteristic. this feels to me like a case like that. but you raise a couple of important questions if you do. and i want to turn to john and mary beth about those questions. and john, you can speak to this with great credibility. is combat, as robert asked, so different from every other sphere of human endeavor that rules don't apply? john, you had the experience of -- you're a ranger qualified infantry officer. you had the experience of leading, training and leading almost new combat formation into some of the heaviest and most sustained combat the army's experienced since the vietnam war. so of all of the folks who can talk about this, you know, i think you're certainly one of them. from your perspective, given that experience, do you feel that having access to a talent pool of women, for your unit would've improved your
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performance? would you have some concerns as a line leader about that? how do you think it might have improved your performance in the close fight? rodriguez: yeah. so first off, i want to say that my views here today are my own, don't represent the department of defense or the maryland national guard. to answer your question. breen: should've said that up front. rodriguez: you know, there i was, fall of 2008, deploying to afghanistan with my rifle platoon to the valley, to the most kinetic company sector in the war or terror. and my platoon was at 75% strength. when you ask, would my platoon have benefitted if we opened up a greater pool of talent to draw from? i think the answer is yes. why was michael tune understrength? we trained up for a year before deploying and we lost people. because of
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injuries, because of, you know drugs and discipline issues. and as many recruits as we would get into the unit as we were building up strength, we would p -- continue to lose folks. and so we never got 100% strength and been sent into this crucible. and so we kicked out some folks and didn't bring them with us there were some folks we took overseas that maybe i kind of regret taking them with us. they weren't necessarily physically fit enough to do the job. to be an infantry man in the army, you need to be a male and pass, you know, the bare minimum of the pt test. that's a standard across the board. and it's not differentiated whether you're a light infantry man in the mountains of afghanistan or a cyber guy or gal here at fort meade.
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when i think about the women that are impeding are going through ranger school right now. i don't think that 42% of my platoon could've made it through rap week that i deployed with. that is a pretty tough challenge. and to open up the field to have like the best people possible i think would have been a value added. going to the point that robert, you were making about, you know, we idealize the band of brothers and idealize unit cohesion. certainly i serve with a lot of outstanding human beings. and i thought that our unit overall performed at a very high level. but, you know, not every infantry man is, you know, john rambo, right? you have folks like that out there. and i served with individuals who were heroes. but there's other folks
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that, you know, are just kind of barely skating by. and so when we think about, you know bringing in, you know, women into an infantry unit like that, i think in the popular debate, it's always we're thinking, oh, you're going to replace john rambo with jill rambo. and she could never keep up. but that's simply not the case. right? i think that a lot of women would be able to perform at that same level. at least certainly well enough to have been a value add overseas. getting to some of that discussion about cohesion and what did it take to build cohesion. we did focus on task driven cohesion as much as possible. you're leading a bunch of 18-year-old, 19-year-old kids and you try to make being squared away, doing your job
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make that what it is to be cool, right? so these young soldiers emulating their squad leaders, looking up to them, they're role models for them. and you make being physically fit, competent at your job, what it means to be a good soldier. and i think we worked at a really high level. now, going to the idea is combat different than working in a business environment. i do think that at least the stress that my unit was put under in afghanistan was much higher than the stress you would find in civilian occupation. and so we were really tested. and there were times when individuals weren't able to kind of keep up. we had a number of soldiers that would go home on r & r and they wouldn't come back because they weren't scared. they were suffering from ptsd.
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there was a lot of issues. and you had other soldiers who were suffering but work toughing it out and kind of did not see -- seem to care because they do their friends were out there. that if they left, you know, we'd all be soldier down. so that level of stress and the level of cohesion you need to maintain -- just maintain in the face of level of adversity is much greater than what i've found going into the world. but most of my experience in the military was not the valley. and there were times in afghanistan that weren't necessarily hell. so, yeah, you want the most cohesive unit possible when you're going into high-intensive combat like that. but most of the techniques
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and leadership skills that you would use in the civilian sector and the way you can kind of have a broad base of support and reach out to a broad community of people works in the military, as well. breen: mary beth, you lead a company of marines on certainly not an office retreat. the invasion of iraq in 2003. can you speak to what that experience was like for you? and some of the leadership challenges you may or may not have had? and i think also possibly speak to this larger question of -- i'm continuously fascinated by the way we look at this as if we're diving into an unknown world that we have not in any way experienced in terms of having women in direct fire combat. does that strike you as accurate? or maybe something's been going on for the last 15
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years? bruggeman: yeah. for sure. it is interesting that we approach this as though this is the first time we're dealing with this issue. when i see so many faces in this audience. some of them familiar to me. we've been doing this for an awfully long time. the difference, i hope, between my experience on active duty and the experience of the young women i see in the audience is i hope you won't have to fight so hard to get there. when i was on active duty and i served from '99 to 2007 as a combat engineer officer, i was in a field that was open to women, but there were a number of units within the combat engineer field that were not open to women. so i could only do 2/3 of my job. i was barred from training in a whole third of my occupational specialty. i wasn't allowed into that part. so we fought everywhere we went. we fought to train. and i'll actually say. i may say "i" while i'm talking here, i was, actually, the only woman in my combat engineer platoon. so it was very much me fighting as a woman to get these
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training opportunities. but everywhere i went, i had things closed to me. because i was a woman and closed to my platoon because i was a woman and i wasn't allowed to lead them to certain places. so, you know one example, i had an opportunity to take my platoon to bridgeport, the mountain warfare training center with a combat engineer company which was closed to women. there were no women there. i had an opportunity to train with them with my platoon for a month and do the mountain warfare training package. i was told no by a number of people. fortunately, my commanding officer was not one of them. i'll come back to that common theme is a go through. i had some amazing leaders. despite being told no by several people, i did it anyways. and everybody survived, we did great. and the nice thing was being able to compete with the men up there and i wasn't in competition with them. being able to keep up with them and excel on that mountain, it said something. and the 200 men that walked away from the experience, having seen a woman complete
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those tasks left having a different idea about women. for the first couple of days, i was a distraction to them. i can't deny that. they were fascinated by me. like i was some weird alien creature. they were really, really fascinated by me. but they got over it really fast and the rest of the month went extremely smoothly. and i built some incredible bonds, amazing relationships through that experience. fast forward a little while to a combined arms exercise in 29 palms where i was an engineer platoon commander. and we were organized at that time. they were trying a wonderful experiment where they organized all the engineers into a pool, male, female, no matter what part of the field we were in, they put us in a common pool and they farmed this out the units that needed them. i was essentially detached from my parent unit and put into an engineer pool to be used wherever engineers were needed. well, when they tasked out my platoon, they forgot i was the
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platoon commander and tasked me to a light armored reconnaissance company headed out to the field for a week into practice to train for combat. so i showed up all bright eyed and cheery with my platoon of all men. and immediately, the platoon sergeant for the lar company said, you can't come with us. i mean, there's -- i wouldn't want you to get in trouble. you know, there's this combat exclusion rule says that women can't train with combat units. and i said, wow, no kidding. what time do we go? because i'm what you've got and i'm here and this is my platoon and i'm coming with you. and again, for the first couple of days i was out there with them, i'll admit, i think i was a distraction to those guys, but they got over it so quickly. and we went on to have an amazing week in the field, built lifelong relationships with those guys and some great laughs about it over a few beers at the club afterwards. just them getting over that process. so
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fast forward a little bit more to kind of the culmination of my career, i think, which was the invasion of iraq. i was a company commander. we were in kuwait ready to cross the border with the third infantry division. the first units that went across. and the days before, all of a sudden, a colonel who will remain unnamed realized that i was a woman and thought this is going to be a problem. and he told me i would not be able to take my company across the border and i would be replaced after being a company commander for nine months and training my company and doing all the prep work that needed to be done and being extremely well bonded with them and my platoon commanders. two days before the invasion of iraq, i was told i couldn't go. i was being pulled out of my unit and i'd be replaced by someone these marines had never seen. again, fortunately, i was surrounded by amazing leaders and one of those leaders was my commanding officer. and he kind of did the -- you know. and at this time, the fog of war worked for me. [laughter]
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and they forgot. and i did it anyways. and it was great. and obviously me being a female did not hold me back from that mission at all. and so, you know, crossing the border was by far one of my proudest moments. second only to bringing everybody home and crossing the border back into kuwait safely afterwards. so, yes, absolutely. this was 12 years ago now. this is not a new argument. women have been doing this for a long time and doing it extremely successfully, extremely proudly. i am so proud to be counted among them and among you in the audience here. the ones who have gone before me. and juliette snuck out, but i owe a special thanks to her. she busted through that glass ceiling and made a nice neat hole for me to climb through with my compatriots. i appreciate that. the key was great leadership all along the way. the key was not whether or not i was strong enough to do it. i was. that helped me. but the key was always that i had terrific leaders who trusted in me and trusted in my ability to lead my marines and that was all that
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mattered. i love what john said earlier, just kind of listening, he didn't say this explicitly, but just kind of listening we've broken this down now over the course of the day to being so much about the physical standard. and truthfully, and not to discredit the research here, but -- or draw attention away from it, but i'd like to keep the focus on that. because i honestly think that's the only thing holding us back anymore. and it's not going to very long as women. women have figured it out for a long time. and once the standards are thoughtfully made. maybe they're there now. once they're thoughtfully made, women are going to figure out a way to do that. and that needs to be the last barrier. because the talk about any other surrounding issues is gone. we've proved that. my generation proved that many years ago, and the generation, i mean, i've got two rangers sitting in the audience. female rangers. women who went through the ranger course sitting with me. and it's amazing. sorry. i don't know the exact term there. but we've done
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amazing things. women have done amazing things. and i think that the focus should be on what the true barriers are left. which parts many. breen: thank you. that's a really, really inspiring story. and you talk about decisions made on the basis of what's good for an organization. as you were telling your story, john and i were sort of sharing a look like i can't think of anything dumber than switching out a high-performing line combat leader two days before the invasion of iraq because of gender? a major company is realogy that did not happen. i'm sure there's pointed to discuss. what anybody like to jump in? we have microphones orbiting your positions. >> army national guard. i had a question that mary just touched
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on. as i was talking to you here, do you and the researchers see it more as a generational gap that as we continue on in generations, those things will kind of go -- not go away, but kind of allow it? like she said, when she was in the class with the lieutenants. they were worried that you were female. maybe it's more of a generation as you said, generations before. i think i graduated the same year as you. i saw different things and probably the lieutenants coming out today. that's my question. and is there research being done? but maybe a generational gap as far as culture. we change our culture. i definitely believe it is leadership's ability to change that and make a difference. breen: it's a great question. anybody want to take a crack at the research about the generational question?
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mackenzie: i think there is research that indicates there is sort of a cultural gap. and certainly with don't ask, don't tell, there's indications. the problem is that often the leadership is part of the generation that may be stuck in the old culture we're talking about. it may take some time for cultural change. and so, yeah. i mean, i certainly think attitudes among new recruits. there is indication. especially around issues of gender and don't ask, don't tell. we're very different. bruggeman: i think just to add quickly, i think military historically is not great at quick culture change. it takes some time to come along. and while i do see huge differences between the generations of my parents and myself and the young men and women here in the audience, i think that's not good enough, and i think, you know, for us to be able to push it gently in the right way, in a thoughtful fashion is extremely important. and that's why, you know, these panels and these discussions are really important. it will happen on its own, but not enough time.
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egnell: i'd just like to echo that. i've been in so many conversations with different levels of command, as well. where the younger generation will say, with all due respect sir, and then explain the fact that they're all already everywhere and they're performing excellent. there's something tremendous happening in terms of the generational shift. >> so my name is jessica darden, i'm a assistant professor at the school of international service at american university here in d.c. and big shout out to my georgetown colleagues. i would just like to speak to this point a little bit about generational shifts and cultural shifts. so dr. mackenzie brought up the israeli defense forces, and they have historically had women integrated into their operations. but even in pushing through some of their removals of gender based combat exclusions, they're having an extremely difficult time. for example, women who operate on
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unmanned aerial drones are allowed to employ in theater but not with infantry units. they're only allowed to stay back with artillery unit. so there is still, even amongst the most advance countries in overcoming these hurdles hurdles still remain. so i think it's a little bit naive to think all these issues are going to go away immediately. in part because of a lot of these developments are tactically driven. and so i'm very excited that came up as point of a conversation. my own research deals primarily with irregular armed groups. rebel groups, et cetera, insurgencies. and what we've seen is a lot of the developments in developing world military. for example, the sri lanka military, in response to the high levels of female participation in the insurgency in sri lanka. so the degree to which these developments are being externally driven from our engagement in conflicts heroic
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-- like in iraq and afghanistan versus internally driven through changes in american culture or perceptions of a role of women in the workforce, et cetera, something i'd like to see you speak on. because there does seem to be this tension in the conversation of this panel about whether it's about manpower and manpower shortages and getting full staffing levels. or if it's about acknowledging -- as owen harding said earlier, we should all be able to participate in the same roles. so your view on whether this is an externally or internally driven development would be very helpful. breen: that's an interesting question. anybody want to take a crack at it? egnell: i can start, perhaps. it is a great question. and it's, you're opening pandora's box here, as well. the short is, it's both. we haven't talked at all about u.n. security council resolution 1325, the u.s. national action plan on women,
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peace and security, which are -- you could say a more rights based argument that this is the right thing to do. we have to empower women, gender equality et cetera. at the same time, those come from an understanding that the existing order isn't working and that we can improve the way we create peace, development, humanitarian affairs by higher representativeness of women. so even there, it's a combination. operational experience from the last decade is hugely important. we've learned a lot of lessons there. so they all combine. so the way i try to avoid that issue of deciding whether it's the right thing to do or the smart thing to do is to say that there's a difference between that sort of very difficult fundamental chicken and egg sort of discussion versus how we sell this. as an agenda to a highly reluctant organization. and the rights based arguments to me
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simply do not work. they will acknowledge that it is really important with gender equality and improved opportunities for women. but we're in the business of war. we can't deal with that within the military. is the response you get. but if you do explain it with examples scenarios that indicate where it has an impact on operational effectiveness, you will have their ear for a little while and sort of crack a door, at least gain access to the organization and explain yourself. i find that argument always gets their attention, at least, when you focus on the operational effectiveness. i would encourage you to do that, not because it's the real reason why we're doing this, but because it's the most effective in terms of organizational change, which is what we're approaching. but you're also touching upon a number of how questions.
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how do we go about this integration process? and you ask a really good question to the last panel about the engagement teams, cultural support teams, et cetera. there are necessary capabilities. i think most would agree with that these days. we're never going to fight a war where those capabilities are irrelevant. so how do we do that? now, we can create female m.o.s.s, female engagement teams with the function that fills the gaps of the existing organization. but this is the panel on unit cohesion. and we all agree that it is a very important thing for military effectiveness and unit performance. so if you have ad hoc solutions, if you bring in a woman to the special operators or if you add a female engagement team to an existing platoon when they go out on the patrol, that's always going to be a liability because they will not be as cohesive and trained together as they will be if that platoon has those functions
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baked into it. i would always say, first of all, get the women into the units, if they need them rather than add that as a specific sort of add on to the unit. apart from the fact that having female m.o.s.s, et cetera, will always then create the risk of feelings of different standards, for example. so if you have a ranger platoon where you hypothetically have standards that no women have so far past. and you add a few women because they need it. it's always going to be seen as a second rate ranger even though they might be performing extremely well. i would avoid that. but, again, as they highlighted in the last panel, we have to look at all of these standards and rethink them. breen: unfortunately we have to wrap up. i would encourage everyone to continue outside where the cliff
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bars and the coca-cola is are. thank you all for being a part of this conversation. [applause] >> more now from the women in combat for with first-hand accounts of women who served in combat roles. this discussion was moderated by gail lamon. she's the writer -- tells the story of a female soldier killed in combat operations in afghanistan. >> does this make a difference for anyone. lemmon: it is a privilege to be on stage ability. second of all it is a privilege to be talking about a book that is out. because some of you know you spent two years with something that is your baby and it is just
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you and your laptop and now it is out in the world with all of you. it is nice to see it again. this, for me, has been two years of cross-country travel. a lot of holiday inn express stays. and conversations with some of the most seasoned military leaders. to talk about what happened in 2010 and 2011 that led to women on the battlefield alongside special operations. we begin with the question that led to more questions that after months and months finally led to answers. which was i was hosting an event and a marine said it is 2012. in a marine said it is like that lieutenant who died on a night raid in afghanistan last year. and i said what? what was a funeral soldier doing on a night operation in afghanistan? who
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were these people? why were they there? and how do not know about them as a country? and those sets of questions really led me on this journey. and what i have learned after conversations with folks like admiral olson, general mcchrystal, and lots of soldiers who abets computed -- executed some of the most difficult missions is that in 2012 -- 2010 and 2011 there were people starting at the end of 2010 going into the start of 2011 who answer the call. female soldiers become part of history. they joined special operations on the battlefield and i can't stand. -- afghanistan. my personal journey with this started in ohio at the home of mr. and mrs.


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