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News ::
J.David Galland's...It's So Overwhelmingly Male Here!
11 Feb 2004
J. David Galland exposes the institutional bias directed against male soldiers by their uniformed female contemporaries. He further describes the obtuse and infantile policy by the U.S. Army to treat our fighting force as though they were mentally deficient toddlers.
"It’s So Overwhelmingly Male Here!”

By J. David Galland

That’s exactly how Army Staff Sgt. Wendy McDermott described the reality of combat duty in Baghdad: “It’s so overwhelmingly male here!”

Interviewed by the military newpaper Stars and Stripes on Feb. 8, the 31-year old NCO from Selinsgrove, Pa., described the dangers, demands, challenges and rigors of war. An Army medical NCO currently stationed in Baghdad, McDermott is assigned to the 67th Combat Support Hospital.

How does McDermott prepare and buck-up for such duty? Like all soldiers, perhaps, does she check her ammunition, make sure her weapon is clean and well functioning, inventory and check the grenades on her web gear, and sharpen her bayonet? Nope!

The NCO said, “It’s bothersome, but you have to be careful in this environment!” Well, as a combat veteran I couldn’t agree with her more. One sure does have to be careful in combat. Describing the dangers as “bothersome” is putting it mildly.

The problem is that McDermott is apparently just as afraid of her fellow American soldiers as she is of the Iraqi insurgents. She told Stars and Stripes that she always travels in pairs as “a measure of protection against all enemies-foreign or domestic [italics added].”

Wait a minute! What the heck is going on over there in Baghdad?

Why does a female NCO see male American soldiers as her enemy? In the same vein, why must our female soldiers in theater be consigned to traveling in pairs? Do we really have a problem on the ground with rampant sexual assaults?

The buddy system, which is apparently the policy of some, if not all units, is a policy that seeks to protect deployed female soldiers from sexual assault. This issue is reported to be on the forefront of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s schema and he has ordered a sweeping review, Defense Department wide, of its policy on sexual assault and the treatment of victims.

Do we or do we not have a serious problem? Well, Mr. Rumsfeld seems to think so. A recent Denver Post article that disclosed that 37 female soldiers who had served in Iraq have sought counseling and other help from civilian rape crisis organizations.

(Bear in mind that the 37 female soldiers were part of a cohort of approximately 59,742 female soldiers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq between October 2002 and November 2003. And while it is known that they sought help, the Denver Post could not specify what their problems were or if, in fact, any had been raped at all.) But the Colorado newspaper report motivated Stars and Stripes to go out and interview a number of female soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Here is what some other female soldiers said:

“I haven’t heard of anything like that,” said Pfc. Francesca Duke of the 501st. M.P. Co. of the 1st Armored Division, when asked about sexual assaults in her unit. Duke went on to say that, “Most of it’s squared away,” military jargon for saying that everyone was playing by the rules and accountable for their actions.

Sgt. Pam Beasley, of the 2nd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment, also of the 1st Armored Division, said that female soldiers trusted their chain of command to handle any such report. Beasley added, “Nine times out of ten, if anybody were caught doing something like that, they’re gone.”

Are these the kind of statistics that cause a defense secretary to order departmental policy reviews? From my experience in uniform, I can honestly say that having had this particular policy shoved down my throat continually, for years, as though I were a serial predator and rapist, the emphasis is indeed adequate in its context and frequency.

Let me tell you, and if you have never spent more that thirty-seconds in the Army, there is no quicker way to an untimely end to your career than engaging in sexual harassment of any kind.

The fact that Stars and Stripes quoted McDermott when she said, “It’s overwhelmingly male here,” does not speak well for the publication. If McDermott’s anti-male utterance is tolerated by the ever-sensitive chain of command then the floodgates are open and you have a widening morale problem.

If I were a male junior enlisted soldier serving under this NCO, I would be badgering my supervisory ladder for reassignment.

But the problem here is not exclusively the fault of the NCO in question. The larger issue is the U.S. Army’s juvenile treatment of adult soldiers who are capable of dealing with the normal problems that occur when people of all walks of life are forced together. That coercive approach deserves equal blame.

Let me offer a recent personal observation. A few weeks ago I attended a three-week course at a U.S. Army training base in the United States. The course was conducted in a building where numerous classes were being conducted for “Initial Entry Trainee” (IET) soldiers. These soldiers had all been in the Army for less than a year and the training was male-exclusive.

After about a week of using the public restrooms in the building, I noticed a rather strange trend. Nowhere did I ever see a male IET soldier alone in a bathroom. If two soldiers had to perform a #1, then four soldiers were in the men’s room, two of them, for no apparent purpose. At the same time, when soldiers needed to retreat to the sitting position in the men’s room, there was always another male soldier standing at the stall door, usually engaging the soldier in the stall in small talk.

When I asked if this was normal, I was assured that it was. Each soldier must be in the presence of his battle-buddy at all times. Even at those special times.

This “policy” would be hilarious if not for the dangerous, corrosive effect it has on all soldiers – male and female alike – in terms of weakening the trust and respect we must have for one another, particularly in combat situations.

Just ask Staff Sgt. McDermott.

J. David Galland is Deputy Editor of DefenseWatch. He can be reached at defensewatch02 (at)
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