Coed military training has been a hot issue in contemporary military operations. Although the modern military units have already introduced this innovation, they have viewed their results with doubt. Inevitably, there are some proponents and critics of this innovation, depending on how an individual views the role of women in the army and the need for their involvement. It seems at this point that coed military training does have some merit in raising women’s participation in the military. However, it is associated with serious concerns and potential downsides and at present should be used with caution so as not to impair the morale of soldiers and impair the image of the army.
Brief History of Coed Training in the US
The first attempt to join women and men in initial military training was made in 1977 in the Basic Initial Entry Training Test that showed the reality of training women and men together. TRADOC then quickly integrated females into military police and chemical OSUT and integrated women and men down to the company level at Forts McClellan and Jackson.
However, this program that ran for five years was dismantled “when reports were received that male performance was declining” (Chapman, 1994).
A new coed training program in the US Army was proclaimed by the Secretary of Defense in 1994 and implemented in the same year. This program was realized based on the ideas advanced by Maj. Gen. Richard Chilcoat who insisted that gender-integrated work in non-combat positions was to be preceded by similarly integrated training, since the primary principle of training was to teach as you will serve. The program included lower physical requirements for women, based on the idea that they have weaker bodies. Although the program in general was considered successful, it was criticised, for instance, on the grounds that, by the observations of supervising officers, “female recruits suffered more injuries and illnesses – perhaps a result of pushing themselves too hard to keep up with their male colleagues” (Chapman, 1994). The officers faced complaints from men about unequal requirements which they perceived as unfair, and the officers were concerned that this could motivate men to perform worse, as in the 1977 experiment. Women, on their part, were dissatisfied with the quality of premises formerly used by men that contained too few bathrooms.
Problems with Coed Training
Thus, the basic problem with coed military training is the difficulty in defining the right amount of energy expenditure for women and men and instilling a feeling of fairness in them. The requirements for men and women cannot be the same because it will overstrain women. On the other hand, if the requirements are different, men will feel that women are getting it easier and will perceive the training as unfair. The possibility of a decline in male performance is a real one and has been confirmed by evidence from previous training. The double standard that so far acts as a main argument against mixed combat units is also relevant to coed training.
One more serious problem that has not been addressed in TRADOC report is the reported sexual harassment and abuse scandals that are associated with co-ed programs in the military. The Navy’s experience in the administration of coed programs in the Navy’s Great Lakes Training Center proves the existence of such pitfalls in genter-integrated programs. According to the Chicago Tribune report on May 8, 1998, “five drill instructors, called recruit division commanders in the Navy, have been charged with fraternization, obstruction of justice, abuse of authority and sexual misconduct” (Donnelly, 1998, p. 28). The instructors allegedly intimidated female recruits into having sex with them, promised favors in exchange for oral sex, and one was even charged with making one of the women trainees pregnant.
Even if these cases are not so frequent, it is certain that coed training will result in “sexual distraction” for both sexes (Marley, 2000, p. 17). For men especially, the environment that previously inspired them to pay attention primarily to the training, coed programs will offer new distracting factors. It is certain that not all men will sexually abuse women because such behaviour is conditioned by social norms and cultural values and not just by hormones, but many will struggle to suppress these impulses. There is virtually no way to eliminate the risk of such behaviour in officers and drilling sergeants, and as a result women will be at permanent risk of sexual abuse.
Another side to consider is the public image of the army. Any scandal that happens to the separate representatives of the US military, be it abuse of prisoners at Abu-Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay or impregnation of a female recruit, negatively affects the whole institution. The army is also closely associated with the nation itself. The question then is: do we want to risk the image of the nation and its military for the purpose of advancing women’s roles in the army through coed training? The evidence suggests that one should either try to regulate the training programs in such a way as to eliminate the threat of sexual harassment happening or find other ways to promote women’s positions.
Advantages of Coed Training
As noted above, the main idea behind coed training was that “If one of the Army’s foremost principles was to train as you were going to fight and support, did it make sense to train men and women separately during their first eight weeks in the service?” (Chapman, 1994). However, the role of women in combat positions, for instance, is by no means indisputable. There are many objections to the greater involvement of women in these positions, in particular the notorious double standards. As a result, coed training may simply not make sense. On the contrary, many oppose it on the grounds that it will increase the pressure for introducing women in combat units.
Feminists also argue for coed training, insisting on it as a way to break one of the last barriers to women’s development. It would undermine the inequality between men and women and promote a woman’s role in society. However, opponents argue as well that feminists may be sacrificing the army’s integrity and achieving spirit, disorganising soldiers and dampening morale for the sake of their experiments aimed at developing women (Marley, 2000, p. 17). This is not permissible if one considers the interests of the whole nation and not just one group of people, even if a large one.
Pitfalls of Coed Training
Even though coed education in schools and universities is a centuries-old tradition, its value is by no means indisputable. Webb (2001) points out that all-male education is now regaining popularity on the grounds that, like girls, “boys too have their distinctive patterns of development” that will be best addressed in institutions targeted exclusively men. Unlike girls, boys may more in need of “tough challenges and regimentation to gain self-esteem”, an issue that will not always be accurately addressed in a co-ed environment (Webb, 2001). The special value of same-sex bonding is also not to be discounted.
These issues that surface in same-sex college education are not to be discounted in the military as well. For men, coed environments may fail to address their needs and bring out their potential. In the same way, they will expose women to the danger of sexual harassment and make them act in “men’s way”, while drill sergeants will be oblivious to the needs of their female trainees.
Evaluation of the pros and cons of coed military training vividly demonstrates that the time is not yet ripe for such programs. The downside, associated with declines in male performance, perceived inequality of physical requirements, and sexual distraction resulting in harassment and cohabitations, is too serious to be disregarded. Those insisting on training to advance women’s involvement in different social roles forget that the army is a unique institution that depends on the spirit and morale to be effective, and these foundations have been created over time by generations of officers. If coed training poses a threat to the military, its implementation has to be postponed before the officers are sure it will not damage the army spirit. In contrast, the officers can find other ways to promote women’s roles, by offering them different positions and introducing separate training programs.
Chapman, A.W. (1994). TRADOC Annual Command History – 1994. Chapter 2: Training and Leader Development. Retrieved March 2, 2006, from http://www.tradoc.army.mil/historian/pubs/TRADOC25/chap2.htm
Donnelly, E. (1998, July 6). Boot Camp Should Not Be Proving Ground for Feminist Theories. Insight on the News 14 (25), 26+.
Marley, D.J. (2000). Phyllis Schlafly’s Battle against the ERA and Women in the Military. Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women and the Military 18 (2), 17.
Webb, S.H. (2001). Defending All-Male Education: A New Cultural Moment for a Renewed Debate. Fordham Urban Law Journal 29(2), 601+.
Cite this Coed military training
Coed military training. (2016, Sep 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/coed-military-training/