Army Integrating Women into Field Artillery Units. Again.

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

field artilleryIt was just a few years ago that artillery units were being stripped of their guns and pressed into service as infantry – both in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s not stopping the Army from integrating women officers into gun batteries, though. The Fayetteville Observer comes up with a made-to-order puff piece about at least one such officer, Lieutenant Shannon Syphus, a female artillery platoon leader currently assigned to C Battery, 3rd Battalion, 321st Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, in November.

Not to denigrate Lt. Syphus personally – she is clearly a smart, fit and capable officer. The article, which seems to have been half written by the 82nd Airborne Division PAO, certainly stated that Lt. Syphus was able to perform to the minimum standard required of male artillerymen – that is, she passed the test requiring her to lift a 100-pound 155mm shell. What was left unanswered, however, was how many shells in a row she could lift and load, say, if her unit were required to fire a desperate self-defense mission in the direct-lay mode, or an urgent final protective line mission.

Granted, as an officer, Lt. Syphus’s job does not normally require her to man the guns, personally. But the 18th Fires Brigade is also expecting the first batch of enlisted women to join the unit in May. The article does not deal with how many 100-pound shells in a row these young women can load, either, compared to their trained male counterparts.

Miraculously, the story’s author was unable to find anyone in the unit or the Army who cited on record the obvious physiological challenges of integrating women into the field artillery branch.

The article also does not mention the challenge of integrating women, as part of artillery units, into the infantry mission. While the Army has not attempted to integrate women into the infantry MOS, the early attempts by the Marine Corps to include women in the infantry officers’ course have predictably failed.

This shouldn’t exactly be a revelation: The Israeli Army experimented with integrating women into combat roles some years ago – in an environment that is generally less logistically austere than the expeditionary role frequently taken on by the United States military. They, too, abandoned the experiment as a failure.

On the other hand, there have been women graduates of the Artillery School at Fort Sill in the past. Lt. Elizabeth Tourville graduated from Fort Sill’s Artillery Officer Basic Course in the 1970s. Lance missile and Pershing missile units were open to women until 1989. General Carl Vuono closed the field artillery branch to women that year, though, because the Pershing and Lance were scheduled to be deactivated. Continuing to bring in women to man these weapons would have doomed them to dead-end careers as they could not be laterally transferred within the branch specialty to other weapons. The Lance Missile was deactivated in 1992, however, and the Lance Missile was deactivated in 1991.

Additionally, the MOS 82C, Field Artillery Surveyor, was opened to women in the mid-1990s, though the MLRS weapons system remained closed to women, as it was generally stationed well forward, close to the FLOT (forward line of own troops) in the defense, according to Women at War: Gender Issues of Americans in Combat, a 1999 book by Rosemarie Skaine.

We have some extremely promising and capable women officers and soldiers up and down the ranks. The same is true in the Marine Corps. But the continued effort to integrate women into combat arms billets without a headlong grappling with the secondary mission of artillery as infantry – already proven in Iraq and on battlefields elsewhere – and without seriously dealing with the already-demonstrated difference in injury rates, in stress fractures, in illnesses, in lost duty hours and field time due to pregnancy, in a 50 percent greater utilization rate of troop medical clinics (TMCs), in upper body strength and stamina, the fact that combat loads cannot be gender-normed, and without grappling seriously with the failed Israeli experiment with women in combat roles, is an exercise in PC-inspired stupidity and it’s going to get some of our finest young women needlessly hurt in the process. 


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