First Women Graduate From Army Ranger School

Media Call: First Women Graduate From Army Ranger School

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With two women set to become the first graduates of the U.S. Army Ranger School on Friday, CFR senior fellows Gayle Tzemach Lemmon and Janine Davidson explain the significance of the graduation and its implications for military operations and strategy.

Speakers

Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

CFR Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy and author of the New York Times bestseller Ashley's War

Janine A. Davidson

CFR Senior Fellow for Defense Policy

Presiders

Jonathan Masters

Deputy Editor, CFR.org

MASTERS: Hi. Good morning, everyone. I'm Jon Masters, deputy editor for the Council on Foreign Relations website, CFR.org, and I'm very pleased to be joined by two distinguished speakers this morning for this media conference call reacting to exciting news coming out of the Florida Panhandle yesterday, which is that the first women have graduated from Ranger School; of course, the U.S. Army's elite leadership training. And according to the Army, the Rangers' primary mission is to engage in close combat and direct fire battles.

With us, we have Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, a CFR Senior Fellow for Women and Foreign Policy and author of Ashley's War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield. She will be able to provide us with insight from her reporting on women in combat units. And we have Janine Davidson, CFR Senior Fellow for Defense Policy. She's a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for plans and former U.S. Air Force aircraft commander and senior pilot. Janine will provide her expertise on military operations and defense strategy, and she writes regularly on these topics on her CFR blog, Defense in Depth.

So Gayle, if I could start with you. You just wrote a piece in Foreign Policy detailing the grueling process these young women went through, and you were able to interview a number of people, including former Defense Secretary Panetta who put this effort into motion in 2013.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you learned in that?

LEMMON: Sure. And good morning to everybody. I mean, this really is a story that's big today, but has been years in the making. And from the start of the opening of Ranger School, a lot of folks at Fort Benning have wanted to show reporters something essential, which is that there are no different standards, that they were going to be able to open Ranger School to women and really keep the standards at the same level they always had been.

And that's really—a lot of reporting I've done over the last, you know, several months has been focused on, you know, what is it that women are doing in Ranger School, and, you know, the truth is from everything you see, the biggest story we saw last week when we were at Camp Eglin is—or Eglin Air Force Base in Florida was that there was no big story. You know, you could not tell physically who the woman—who the women were who were members of this Ranger School class. And it was business as usual.

And so I think that—we spoke with Secretary Panetta at length yesterday talking about what this means, and I think it really is the next step in the opening of various roles, including combat roles, to women.

You know, in January 2013, Secretary Panetta and Chairman Dempsey had lifted the rule banning women from ground combat units, and I think today, you see it's what is a natural progression in that. And as Secretary Panetta said, you know, we always thought that there would be women who would be able to do this, but that doesn't mean that anything about the process has been easy.

And I think Fort Benning leadership has really worked hard to make as transparent and as open a process as they could while also really protecting the integrity of Ranger School and getting what is a class that looks different but has done the same thing.

And just one other thing I want to add is that, you know, the ground combat role had long been passed by reality. I mean, there are no shortage of senior military leaders who will talk to you at length about that. And, you know, Ashley's War was a story about an all-women Special Operations team recruited in 2011, while the combat ban was very much in place, to go out on SEAL and Ranger missions to assist in, you know, nighttime operations on the ground in combat.

So I think this is just the next step in a progression of opening up schools to women, and there's no question there's a history-making moment.

MASTERS: Great. Yeah, I think I saw a statistics, something like that, you know, in modern combat operations, over 9,000 women have received the Army Combat Action badges for engaging the enemy and two Silver Stars for gallantry.

So Janine, if I could turn to you, what are—what are some of your initial thoughts on this graduation? And could you maybe tell us a little bit about sort of where the Pentagon is in terms of the policy process toward gender equality.

DAVIDSON: Sure. So thanks to everybody for being on the call.

I mean, I think that this is an important moment, an important week. And in many ways, I see it as sort of reality and perception kind of catching up with each other.

I mean, as you just mentioned, women have been on the frontlines in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and there's been a transition. I mean, the fact that they even have been receiving combat badges, that was controversial. The first women that were out there in—on the ground (inaudible) like military police units even as far back as the Balkans, they're the ones that were taking fire.

Because they weren't legally supposed to be in combat, they weren't being acknowledged for actually having been in combat. And so we've had—like Gayle pointed out, this has been years, and I would say, even decades of an evolution of people recognizing that the perceptions that people have had in the past about whether or not women are capable physically, mentally or otherwise, those have all broken down. What's left here now would be the barriers about our social perceptions about what is—what is doable.

So you've seen policymakers in the Pentagon are ready to say we don't see any reason why women can't be in all of those. Another role—that was what Secretary Panetta had said, we see the uniformed military leaders saying the same thing, but they want to make sure that any particular—any particular reservations anybody has can be addressed. So this—we have physical barriers that these women have demonstrated can be overcome, I think, is a big step, since that has been historically the main thing that has kept women from being allowed to serve in these units.

MASTERS: Great. And I think you touched on this. I mean, you know, over the—I would—you know, over the last several years that—you know, since Desert Storm, the nature of conflict has obviously changed. And are these—do you—do you see these reforms also as—I mean, you talked about policy catching up with reality, but are these reforms reflective of the changing nature of conflict?

DAVIDSON: I mean, I think that's really true. I mean, you know, when you have the image of combat from World War I, World War II, I mean, it is different today. You know, it's urban, it's people-centric. That doesn't mean that it isn't very physically demanding on the front lines.

But the—even my using the term "the front line" I think is one of the things that has really, really changed. It's hard to say you're going to be in a support role, and you're going to be, you know, back in the back when the sort of combat is everywhere.

What you had in places like Iraq and Afghanistan that was really telling was, you know, you needed to do things like checkpoints and going house to house, like you see in Ashley's War. And what—you know, knowing that they need women with them because they're engaging with populations that are, well, 50 percent women was an important recognition. And in the beginning, just sort of throwing any women that they had in the back into these operations was really sub-optimal. I mean, they don't have the training that they need.

So, you know, making sure that they have the training that they needed to do the job that they've already been asked to do, because of the blurring of the lines of combat and non-combat roles, I think, is an important recognition that the nature of conflict has changed, that women are required in these roles, and that we can do this. We women and we as a society can make this happen.

MASTERS: Gayle, did you want to jump in on that or --

LEMMON: No, I—as I disagree with Janine. I mean, I think, you know, when you look at what the on-the-ground realities have been in Afghanistan and in Iraq, I think you see policy now catching up. And there was a lot of question about whether women would be able to do it.

And I just spoke with, you know, one of the Ranger sergeant-majors who did more than 13 deployments in the last decade of war, Silver Star recipient, former Best Ranger, and he said, "Look, you know, I was—I had a lot of doubts, and they changed my mind. They changed my mind because of what they did and because of what I saw."

And, you know, that's what I found a lot in the reporting of Ashley's War, was a lot of Rangers—you know, guys who had done 12, 13 deployments, which is more or less the equivalent of four straight years of war, if you put it all together.

And what they wanted were people who could be out there, perform to the standards, make a contribution and add value, period.

MASTERS: Right. And let's get to—I mean, you know, we have to—the critics are obviously—some critics are concerned that, you know, women serving in ground combat roles will negatively affect readiness and unit cohesion. Is that—is that still a fair concern?

LEMMON: I mean, I think you hear these concerns. And, of course, you understand that there is a lot of—plus a lot of planning and conversation that would need to happen when you talk to people who are leading these changes.

But I think what you see from the Lioness Program in Iraq, the female engagement teams in Afghanistan, the cultural support teams who are out on night raids, direct action combat raids in 2011, as far back as 2011, right, is that the more that you see women on the front lines making a contribution that matters, the more a lot of these questions get put to rest. And I would ask Janine that—I'd love to hear Janine on that.

DAVIDSON: Yeah. I mean, I think the idea of readiness and unit cohesion is related to two things: to standards and attitudes.

And on the standards piece, I think that is what—is what has been so important that through this training that they're not lowering the standards. I have to tell you, you know, in my experience as, you know, being a pilot, being the first woman to fly the Tactical C-130, there is no way I wanted the standards to be lower for me than they were for other people.

And in the Air Force, the women's physical fitness standards were lower. And no one I knew—no woman I knew met the women's standards. They all made a point to meet the men's standards, because we knew that that was just going to fuel the attitudes of people who didn't want women there.

So no self-respecting woman that I know or that I can imagine wants the standards lowered. And so that's why I applaud the Army leadership for making sure that the Ranger standards were not lowered here. That's incredibly important.

And as that happens, over time, I think attitudes can and will change, just like they did in the flying community. I mean, nobody even blinks an eye that there are women flying fighter planes, which, you know, my generation wasn't allowed to fly. Women in Muslim countries fly fighter planes. Nobody—I mean, people say, oh, maybe, that's a little different.

But you could see it as a natural evolution. And there is no doubt that women can do it. Same thing in the ship community, and now this sort of last real holdout of combat arms.

MASTERS: Right.

LEMMON: Yes, just again, you know, I had reported on Ranger School since going down to Benning for a pre-Ranger course and, you know, had known some of the folks involved from all of the years of reporting of Ashley's War. The first thing that women will come up and say to you is, "Do not let them change the standards." Do not let anybody get involved and ask for a different standard because that will be the worst thing that could happen, and you shouldn't be there if you can't meet the standard.

And that I heard over and over again, to the point that I wrote a Defense One piece that was only—I think had the word "standard," in it 7,500 times, you know, because—and that was the theme and that was really important to the people who were involved.

And they're the first ones to say, you know, there aren't going to be, you know, endless numbers of women who can do this. But for those who can meet the standards, and for those who have the guts and the grit and the physical and mental capability, we want to meet that standard.

MASTERS: And so for these women have graduated, and one is being recycled, if I'm not mistaken. And so, what now? What is the Army—what is the Army and the rest of the Pentagon doing now in terms of the remainder of this review process?

Maybe Janine, you could—you could talk about that a little bit?

DAVIDSON: Yes. Well, I mean, getting—and I think Gayle can talk a little bit about this as well, but the—going through Ranger school and getting a Ranger tab, and I think there's a lot of confusion out there about, oh, that means they're going to immediately be in an infantry unit.

Well, they haven't made those decisions yet, but they're still going to study it, and the Marine Corps also is studying it. The—being actually assigned to an infantry unit, or especially a special operations unit, those are still—the Pentagon is still taking information and taking the data before they make those decisions.

Because it's kind of like what I was saying before, where the Pentagon leadership isn't going to, you know, ram a decision, you know, into the culture of the military without the military being able to say we've looked at this, we know what the barriers are, we—and we're comfortable that it—that it will work. And any kind of opposition has been either understood, addressed or mitigated.

LEMMON: Yes...

MASTERS: And so—go ahead. Go ahead, Gayle.

LEMMON: Well, I was just—so you know, I think you'll see the coming months will be telling. There are a lot of conversations going on now about whether or not the services will ask for exceptions, because all roles are expected to open to women by January 1, or a reason given as to why they will not.

And, you know, Special Operations Command is looking at various studies that it has commissioned. There are a number of people who are looking at, you know, which roles are going to open, are all roles going to open up, and a lot of conversations happening now.

Secretary Panetta in our Foreign Policy piece basically said, "Now the door is open." You know, and I think he was—his view, as somebody who is no longer in policy but who helped put this policy in place, was that, you know, this is another sign that women can do anything and that the best fighters for the United States defense soon will be both men and women.

And Odierno—General Odierno in his outgoing news conference the other week said more or less the same thing, that if they can meet the standards, you know, I think that is telling and a powerful data point. And that's the conversation you're going to see now.

How—does everything open up, how does it open up, and what does that mean in terms of the pool?

But one thing that's interesting is that these two women, what the Rangers have now, and then potentially one more come September, there's going to be a lot of demand for those women. And I think you will start to see a lot more women get very interested.

I have talked to probably two dozen women just in the last two months who are really—who are watching and waiting to see how and when they could go to Ranger School. And just yesterday, the military announced that—the Army announced that November's Ranger School class—and this is in our Foreign Policy piece—November's Ranger School class will be open to women also, which is sort of a quiet headline that passed through.

MASTERS: Right. and it's...

DAVIDSON: I'll just say that this issue of—this issue of unit cohesion and attitudes, that—those can break down over time. But the transition to getting more women into these roles is what is really important.

If you're the only woman, who's—you know, or one of only two women who has made it through Ranger School and then you get assigned, you know, to an infantry unit, that's going to be hard, you know. And so what you need is a—is a cadre of women.

You need—you can't just have onesies and twosies, we've seen this before. It's those social (inaudible) that then break down when—I remember when they had the first woman cadet at The Citadel. One woman.

The media was all over her, and it was just immensely stressful. And she—and she flunked out, you know, for just the stress of it all. I mean, the whole idea of combat and unit cohesion is people looking after each other. And so, you know, if you have one person standing out and being mobbed by the media, it's just not going to work, which is another reason why I think that the way in which they're doing it this time with this particular very sensitive career field is—is wise.

MASTERS: Right. And—and obviously, there's going to be a role for Congress as well, right? I mean they're going to be reviewing this, I think, next January. And—and what—how do you see the role of Congress? What should the role be in—in—you know, in overseeing the Pentagon and some of these—some of this policy implementation? Either of you can—can take that.

LEMMON: Janine, why don't you take—

DAVIDSON: (Inaudible)

LEMMON: Yeah. I mean, Congress is a reflection of the attitudes of the American people and—but it also—you know, the attitudes of the American people is also shaped by what they know to be true. And so I think the more that comes to light about the degree and the scope and the breadth of which, you know, women have been engaged in these fights over the last 10 to 20 years is really important.

How we—the fact that women have demonstrated that they can perform to the standards physically is very important, and I think that the Congress' role is to, you know, ensure that there are—that there aren't going to be any barriers but then also, you know, leave it to the military to then execute and implement in a way that makes best sense and preserves operational effectiveness.

MASTERS: OK, great. And—and for those of you who may have joined us late, this is a CFR media conference call with Gayle Lemmon and Janine Davidson discussing women in combat and the news that two women have graduated from the Army Ranger School.

So at this point, Operator, I think we can go ahead and—and open it up to questions.

OPERATOR: At this time, we will open the floor for questions. If you would like to ask a question, please press the star key followed by the one key on your touchtone phone now. Questions will be taken in the order they are received. If at any time you would like to remove yourself from the questioning queue, please press star two. And once again, to ask a question, that's star one.

Our first question comes from Richard Sisk at military.com.

QUESTION: Yes. Thanks for doing this. Can I ask both of you, could you put in some context what this means, the two women passing Ranger School for the—for the other services? And Ms. Davidson, could you—could you apply that in more—in more detail to the Air Force—the Air Force Special Ops?

DAVIDSON: Sure. I mean it (inaudible) it almost goes in reverse. I mean, you know, just as a personal story, when I—I went through pilot training in the early 90s, and women weren't allowed to fly fighter planes or even C-130s, and then I was first woman to be assigned to the tactical C-130. And it just—the assumption was well, you can fly the C-130, and you can fly low-level, but you can't fly the special operations version of the C-130 and you can't fly the Gunship C-130.

So there's always just these little things that they just hold back in reserve and then, you know, when somebody challenges it and says well, why can't I, you know, or what's—what's the—what's the barrier, and then they try and obviously let them in and then—and then they'd be fine. And so you saw the same thing then when the fighter community opened up and they recognized not only were there no physical barriers for women to fly fighter plans, but in fact they have no problem handling G forces, and it was—it wasn't an issue.

And so women are already in those communities in the air, it's just the ground role. And also—and the other holdout was submarines. And only, like, two or three years ago, they opened submarines to women, and they're still in the integration process there. And so I think that, again, the barriers will likely be more social once we recognize that the physical barriers are not there.

And it just takes the—it's very generational. You know, once a—once a cadre of women can demonstrate that they can do it, you know, the younger generations are like, OK, got it. You know, what's the mission? Let's go. And they operate as a team. Gayle, what do you think?

LEMMON: I'm going to agree with that. I think this is one more step in a process that began long ago while very few were paying attention. And, you know, this was battlefield necessity that brought women out front in so many of these stories.

And you see—you know, I interviewed a Ranger last week who said, you know, all of these people who are complaining, where were we when—where were they when we really needed people in these wars and we needed people who had specific capabilities and had the ability and the desire to be out there and who could add value on the mission.

And you do see that of course there is real cultural evolution that is happening and already under way with very few people paying attention. And that's brought about by forward-thinking leaders, a lot of men who rarely get credit for just how open they are to anybody who brings value to the mission and by women who perform to the standard and who push themselves and who understand that, you know, while they don't want to be making history—that's not why they're out there—they are by nature of being first. And so I think you see them pushing themselves to meet an even higher standard.

And I think that's the time that we're seeing—you know, one of the Ranger instructors in Ashley’s War said that, you know, when they first told him he had to, you know, go train girls, he was like what? You know, this is 2011. And what he saw was grit and heart and courage and people who actually—you know, they cared and wanted to be there. And by the end, you know, his view to me, in an interview years later, was, you know, it felt like perhaps this was our own Tuskegee Airmen. I mean, those are their words.

And you see guys who have fought a lot of war wanting people who can make a difference to their mission, period.

DAVIDSON: Yeah. I mean, I think the issue of battle necessity is very important. You know, in previous eras, people would say oh, this is just using the military for social engineering—

LEMMON: Yeah.

DAVIDSON: —and it's rammed down our throats or whatever. This—and the ground combat piece, this has become this, you know, reality catching up with reality and policy catching up with reality. I mean, these women have been out there, there's a battle necessity for them. And people that have been, you know, shoulder-to-shoulder with these women out there already aren't questioning it anymore.

And when I think generational, I mean, it is—you know, it is really interesting when you go to talk to high school students or junior high students and you talk to them, they actually are shocked when they learn that women aren't already doing this kind of stuff. The idea that they—that they themselves would not be allowed to do it or that their sisters wouldn't be allowed to do it or be part of something that they were capable and willing to add value to is so shocking to them.

And so it's always refreshing to me to go talk to the next generation and see their attitudes about these things, so much different than my grandparents or my parents.

MASTERS: OK thanks. I think we have another question here. Operator?

OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Judith Miller with the Manhattan Institute.

QUESTION: Hi. Thank you very much for doing the call.

I guess it's just a two-part question.

One, you spoke a little bit about the generational difference in the trainers who had worked with women and understand now that, you know, women are capable of meeting the requirements, the same requirements, as men.

But what about the—the—the soldiers themselves, the male soldiers themselves? I mean, because when I—I mean, I remember in Iraq, the thing that struck me was how sexist many of them were and just never thought that a woman—I mean, does that just go away, the male culture problem in the military?

And second, in your view, both of you, what is the—now the most important remaining obstacle to full integration of women who are capable of meeting the standards of being accepted and part of the—the operational battlefield?

MASTERS: Gayle, I don't know if you want...

LEMMON: Do you want me to start or...

MASTERS: Yeah.

LEMMON: Sure...

(CROSSTALK)

LEMMON: I think—look, the women who are out there performing the jobs, they are the people who are changing people's minds.

You know, I've had rangers. I spent, you know, two years talking to people who had served, you know, to—obviously, the women on these teams, but also rangers and other special-operations folks who had served with them, and all of them would say at the beginning—you know, these were guys who had been continuously deployed since 9/11. All of a sudden, they had people with different training schedules, different recruitments, different background in terms of being in conventional army rather than special operations, and now they had to give them a very precious seat on their helicopter. I mean, you can understand the skepticism.

And I think what is important is that they had a mission that was transparent where they could immediately show whether they added value and how they added value, and they were out there not looking to do anything other than to serve with purpose.

And so I think this is a story that's been going on for years, and we are now just at the country catching up with it. And I don't think we give enough credit to these guys on the front lines, because yes, the overall culture may—may, you know, sometimes be challenging, but what you see is women puncturing with their performance old attitudes and, you know, fellow soldiers who just want people who can make a difference out there on the battlefield next to them. And I'm not trying to present too rosy a picture, but this is really what you find and—fascinating.

You know, I—I would tell people when I was working on Ashley's War, you know, I'm working on a special-operations story. "Oh, that's awesome." And you say, "Well, it has to do with women," and people would pause and genuinely look at me and say, "Well, is it about race or PTSD?"

And that really struck me at the beginning, because the valor story about what women already have been doing on the battlefield has been overlooked in the broader conversation. And I do think that these two women, pushing their way through ranger school in a very transparent way and meeting that standard is one more reminder of the valor story we haven't heard that is very much out there of people who just want to serve.

And I think that's my personal view, is that that's how you change hearts and minds over time, and I've seen it. You know, I was at a wedding recently next to a Ranger sniper who was trying to convince his wife to go to Ranger School.

DAVIDSON: That's awesome.

Hey, Judith. I mean, I think you're right that there're—there is sort of a—sometimes people see a culture of sexism. But, you know, I—I'm not going to totally dismiss that or think that it's not true.

That said, I've seen in other communities that whole mentality sort of shift over time. And again, you know, it's—it's exactly what Gayle is saying. Once you demonstrate that—that you can do the job, people are, I mean, more concerned with, is this—is my—is this colleague of mine, is this leader of mine going to be able to do the job, carry the weight, add value, keep me safe, lead this unit?

Having, you know, a platoon leader or a company commander that can get it done and that can keep the unit together and—and lead is, you know, exponentially, I think, more important to these professional soldiers than whether they're a man or a woman, and I think over time that's going to become really, really obvious.

It was very clear in the flying community. At first, there was massive resistance. I mean, I had a colleague who was the first woman to fly A-10s in her unit and the only woman, and when she showed up, the men in her unit literally had agreed among themselves that they would not speak with her.

So imagine going to your workplace every day and having people pretend like you're invisible. I mean, that's just completely ridiculous, sexist, sophomoric behavior.

But that kind of behavior is completely absent today. It's gone. Once you get in the cockpit and you demonstrate that you can operate (inaudible) keep people safe, you're getting the mission done, it goes away. And I—I—I'm optimistic that a similar—a similar evolution will happen with respect to ground combat.

So to answer that last part of your question, which is what is the biggest obstacle left, it's attitude.

LEMMON: John, can I just add one thing?

I was—I just interviewed for the Foreign Policy piece Sergeant Major (inaudible)—Silver Star recipient, former Best Ranger, did more than 13 deployments—and he was talking about how much grief he had gotten from older folks who said that, you know, you're going to water down the Ranger tab by having women in Ranger school.

And his answer was, you know, that's an insult to me and my guys. We get—you know, we are holding them to the same standard. And he was talked about.

He—in his view, he said, "You know, I have a 12-year-old daughter, and in six years, if she tells me she wants to join the Army and go to Ranger School, I'm going to make sure she's ready." And this was a guy who was very skeptical at the beginning, by his own admission.

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS: Sorry. It—it seems that we talked about, you know, capability that these women are—are certainly capable of meeting these standards. But I'm wondering what it, you know—if—if maybe either of you could talk to what, you know, special or unique, you know, skill sets that women are really needed for and—and bring to the table that maybe their you know—their—their male counterparts don't to some of these combat roles, if we could—

DAVIDSON: Well, I'm going to let Gayle take that one because she just literally wrote the book on it.

MASTERS: Right.

LEMMON: You want to pause on that because I don't want anybody to think that there is, you know, quote-unquote, "women's work" or that this means that...

MASTERS: Right. Right, right, right.

LEMMON: ... women couldn't do other things.

But I do think it's important that even while the ground combat ban was very much in place, women were recruited by the special-operations community.

You know, in Ashley's War, we showed the poster that said, you know, "Female soldiers become part of history." And that poster went up because there was a battlefield necessity and a security gap that they needed women to fill.

You know, the request for forces for women to go out on Ranger missions back in 2010 came through—or 2011—no, 2010—came through because there was a battlefield need, and women were out there filling the security breach, talking to women, searching women, questioning women and finding valuable intel that—information that, on occasion, could either help accomplish the mission or save lives. And every night, they were out there making a difference.

You know, there are stories in Ashley's War. Just one of the first nights out, one of the officers who is part of the cultural support team out of a Ranger mission realizes that she's doing a count of the people in the house. The Rangers match her count of the people in the house with theirs, and that leads them to information that there's a barricaded shooter lying in wait to get Afghan and American forces when they walk through the door.

You know, another night, another West Pointer who was on the team learns that there're IEDs all between the path that they—where they are and the path that they're going to to go to the next compound.

So that's the kind of information they were getting every night, and that's why they made a difference out there. And that's why I have, you know, folks who served with them reach out to me on Twitter, saying thank you for telling this story, because, you know, I was skeptical at the beginning, and—and these women made a difference.

And so there was work that women were uniquely suited to do for that mission in particular that made a difference.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIDSON: ... because I think that gets to your point earlier about the changing nature of conflict.

I mean, it may be the case, yes, that in American and Western society, these barriers are breaking down. But in a lot of the places where our military is operating, they're very gendered societies.

And so to just be sending American men over there to operate in these gendered societies is actually like fighting with one hand tied behind their back. And so I think that's what really comes out of Ashley's War.

And the last thing I'll say is, you know, even if that isn't a factor, what you've basically done now is you've opened the all-volunteer force recruiting pool up to the other half of the population, and that can only improve our ability to get the most talented leaders for the future.

(CROSSTALK)

MASTERS: Go ahead.

LEMMON: I was going to say, there's a Panetta quote in the foreign-policy piece that was, you know, "The country's going to benefit by having the best fighters in the world, and there's no question in mind"—this is Panetta saying that the best fighters are going to be both men and women.

MASTERS: Right.

OK, Operator, I think we have another question.

Our last question comes from Jacqueline Albert Simon with Politique Internationale.

QUESTION: Yes. Hello. Hello to both of you for expanding so much on the topic.

Actually, you both responded to Jonathan's question, which I think he asked a little gingerly, being a man. I wanted to talk more about that, but I'm not sure you have more to say.

It was the life experience that works in other disciplines. I have noticed that it's a fight for us women to belong in any cultural setting where we haven't been accepted before. OK, fine.

Now, we bring to it in both cultural settings a life experience which is different. You just pointed out that women can play different roles in the rangers. Does that mean that there is a difference in what we bring to the table beyond the standard, which must be neutral.

DAVIDSON: I mean—this is Janine—I—I know a lot—there's a lot to be (inaudible) written and there's a lot being discussed about that issue. You know, there's books about women's leadership being different than men's and—and women in the workforce, and—and there may be something to that.

I—I—my own experience, especially with respect to the military, is that the military has a certain way of training and educating and preparing its leaders, and—and there's a certain sort of a style.

So any—any sort of stylistic or cultural differences with women in those sorts of ways might get watered down in the military, might not mean as much, but I think over time we may—we may—we may observe some of those things. But it could be more individual than it is gender, but that's just my personal experience. And maybe because I'm from a previous generation, it could be different as we move forward.

LEMMON: You know, I think I would agree with Janine. I'd say it depends on the person. One thing I do think is really interesting is that so many of these women who have already been in these roles, you know, their fathers were huge influences, and they grew up in families where they were pushed in exactly the same way as their brothers, and—if they had them. And I do think that it's a—you know, there were women who wanted to meet the same standard that men had been allowed to for years, and I think you see women who have pushed themselves to reach that moment.

I think a lot of them themselves wouldn't say that they bring things that are different, but there's no question that when they can bring capabilities that are different to the battlefield that they couldn't raise their hand fast enough.

DAVIDSON: That's right.

MASTERS: I have a—maybe a little bit more provocative question, but you know, some argue that, you know, granting equal access to combat roles should mean that the women should also be required to register for Selective Service. Thoughts on that, either of you?

DAVIDSON: Yeah, this is Janine. I don't see a problem with that, actually. I mean—you know, we talk about service to our country, and we as women, I don't think we should necessarily have it both ways. But, you know, that doesn't mean that when they—if we, God forbid, ever did have a draft that we would draft women into—into combat roles that they're not capable of doing, just like we wouldn't draft certain men into those combat roles.

You know, we haven't really talked about that, but the vast majority of men wouldn't make it through this Ranger training either. I mean, it's very elite no matter what. That's what we're talking about here. So...

MASTERS: Right.

DAVIDSON: I mean, if America needs a draft, then Americans should probably be registered for it. There's plenty of ways to serve in a high-tech battle environment besides being on the front lines, you know, in a very physical environment.

MASTERS: OK.

LEMMON: John?

MASTERS: Thanks, Janine. Go ahead, Gayle.

LEMMON: You know, you hear that a lot. In fact, General McChrystal in our interview raised—(inaudible) raised this question. You know, we are operating in the era of the all-volunteer force, and yet, you know, you've seen, what, close to 300,000 women or roughly 300,000 women have deployed. I mean, you know, you see women who have been raising their hands to—to volunteer since, you know, America was founded as a country.

So, you know, I don't—I think this is what you see now is a natural evolution of women who have wanted to serve from the start.

MASTERS: Great. Well, I know that we have to—to stop at the moment, but I think this is a very engaging discussion and I think we'll leave it there. But I want to thank you—both participants, Gayle Lemmon and Janine Davidson, for—for their insights this morning and of course, as well for the callers for their interests.

Again, this is a Council on Foreign Relations media conference call, and thank you all for joining us.

END 

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