If I told you Warren Buffett had a stock tip, you’d listen, right? Would you see a movie if Meryl Street recommended it? Of course you would. You look like a smart fella. It just stands to reason. Some expertise is unimpeachable.
So if the member of SEAL Team Six who shot Obama bin Laden had an opinion on whether women could meet the grueling demands places on Navy SEALs, you’d better sit up and listen.
“Absolutely,” former Chief Petty Officer Robert O’Neill recently said.
The Armed Services are taking the rest of the year to evaluate which jobs in the military should be opened to women, and then Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will make the final determination. In his confirmation hearings, he said he was “certainly committed to gender neutral standards” and “strongly incline[d] towards opening [military positions] all to women.” Some of the more than 200,000 military jobs now closed to women will likely be opened.
We’ve been at war for so long now that letting women serve openly in combat occupies two different worlds. It sounds both like a radical strike against tradition and something I thought we had done a long time ago. A 2013 Pew Research Center poll found that two-thirds of Americans support the change. This is a change whose time has come, and in some ways-280,000 female troops have served in Afghanistan and Iraq-it has already come and gone.
We’ve got a long way to go before our military can take the best man for the job even if it’s a woman-hey guys, it happens-but some males-only bastions are opening up. Last month, the Army opened 4,100 special operations positions to women, and six female soldiers completed the Ranger Training Assessment Course. Next month, they’re headed to Ranger School while 80 more female soldiers are coming up behind them.
But even if some of them make it all the way through Ranger School and earn their Ranger Tab, they still won’t be able to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment. For now, that’s boys only. You want to tell a woman with a Ranger Tab she’s not good enough for the Rangers because she doesn’t have boy parts? Good luck, fellas.
As messed up as that is, the Army Rangers and even the Marines are at least experimenting with letting women prove they have what it takes. The SEALs aren’t even letting women go through the training. To O’Neill, SEAL training should weed out the weak, not the women.
“It is the toughest in the world,” O’Neill said. “It’s tough physically. But it comes to a mental spot where you need to talk yourself into doing more. And you can convince your body through your mind to do anything and I think a lot of women are mentally tougher than men. Like I said, if they don’t lower the standards. If they can do the amount of pull ups, do the slide for life, get over the cargo net, and carry the log then, yeah.”
I looked up the “slide for life.” It’s about a thousand times harder than my morning workout, and I’m being kind.
To be sure, letting women compete for any job they qualify for in the military could make some men uncomfortable. But they said the same thing about letting people of color to serve equally and allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly. And for that matter, there’s a reason we don’t call them “firemen” or “policemen” anymore. If you have a problem with that, in a couple years you might be able to take it up with a female Commander-in-Chief.
Or you could ask O’Neill what he would have thought if a woman was in SEAL Team Six when they got bin Laden. There’s some controversy of whether he really did shoot bin Laden, but ask yourself: Does it matter if it was O’Neill? What about if a black SEAL shot him? Would it matter if a gay SEAL had put a bullet in bin Laden’s head? What if it had been a woman?
I don’t know. I’m no expert.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford