Home » Military Personnel » WEST: Former NATO Commander Stavridis Says Integrating Women Into Special Operations Might Not Be a Big Deal


WEST: Former NATO Commander Stavridis Says Integrating Women Into Special Operations Might Not Be a Big Deal

 Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro prepares to hike to her platoon's defensive position during patrol week of Infantry Training Battalion near Camp Geiger, N.C. on Oct. 31, 2013. US Marine Corps Photo

Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro prepares to hike to her platoon’s defensive position during patrol week of Infantry Training Battalion near Camp Geiger, N.C. on Oct. 31, 2013. US Marine Corps Photo

SAN DIEGO — When asked for his thoughts about the pending integration of women into the military’s male-only special operations forces, retired Adm. James G. Stavridis thought back a generation.

In 1993, Stavridis took command of the destroyer USS Barry (DDG-52), his first tour as skipper of a ship that, like the combatant fleet at the time, had an all-male crew. But the Navy was changing. It lifted restrictions allowing women to be assigned to all ships. During that 1993-1995 command tour, which included deployments to the Persian Gulf, Mediterranean and Haiti, the Barry became the first combatant to have women aboard`as crew members.

“We spent a year getting ready for that, my all-male crew,” recalled Stavridis, responding to an audience member’s question after he delivered the opening speech at West 2016, a three-day conference cosponsored by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA International. “We did workshops. I walked around and talked to every work center on the ship. We spent a lot of time thinking about the role of women.”

“And then we did a change out, where 15 percent of the crew left and in came 15 percent new,” he said. Those included the first group of women, including a junior officer and now-retired lieutenant commander he recently encountered again.

“I’ll tell you this: Within three weeks, after the women got aboard, we all shrug our shoulders and we said, ‘What was that all about? What was the big deal?’” he said.

Stavridis, former NATO supreme allied commander and now dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said he supports the full integration of women into the military, including special operations forces, in the same vein as he experienced with Barry.

“At the end of the day, if women can meet the standards — just like they met the standards on the Barry — if they can meet the far higher standards of special operations, I think they should be part of that community,” he said. “I don’t think that is a particularly complicated set of decisions.”

To Stavridis, a former head of U.S. European Command and chair of the Naval Institute board, it’s a pretty straight-forward issue.

Former NATO commander James Stavridis speaking at West 2016 on Feb. 18, 2016. U.S. Naval Institute Photo

Former NATO commander James Stavridis speaking at West 2016 on Feb. 18, 2016. U.S. Naval Institute Photo

“I am perplexed why this is such a complicated issue,” the retired admiral later told USNI News. “I think they will establish standards, and if you can meet, terrific, welcome to this community, and if you can’t, sorry, you can’t be a member of this community — be that a surface officer on a destroyer or an Army Ranger going through the Ranger course or a Navy SEAL.” The same applies whether talking about women joining the Marine Corps or Army infantry, he said.

Lessons from the Barry “have been very well assimilated” in the Navy, Stavridis said. These include “spending a lot of time discussing and explaining the issues, ensuring everybody understands the parameters.”

“It’s like on the fairway of a golf course. On one side, people get in trouble because of fraternization, which is being too friendly. The other side of the golf course is sexual harassment, being ugly and unpleasant, and both of those have varying extremes,” he said.
“But the fairway is a pretty wide place where men and women can interact in the military. You just have to make sure people understand where the edges of the fairway are. So it’s education and leadership by example, and all the things that make a ship very good at shooting its guns ought to make it very good at integrating women and men into the crew.”

  • Michael D. Woods

    Aboard a technically-oriented weapon system like a modern ship, he could be right. More physically demanding specialities select to minimum standards from a population whose average exceeds the standard. If you add selections from a population whose average is lower than that of the first population you necessarily lower the overall average, even though every individual selection meets the minimum. That’s the trouble–total unit performance. A Marine experiment last year showed this.

    • James B.

      It should move to a system whereby each service, and each individual MOS, has physical and mental requirements, and a minimum combined score higher than simply the meeting the individual minimums. We can accept some weaker servicemembers if they are smart, and some dumber ones if they are strong, but we need most to be in the middle.

  • Michael Desrosiers

    Maintaining the standards necessary for mission success remains the key. Lowering them for political correctness would likely result in the needless death of elite warriors and mission failure. As long as our military leaders don’t cave, it makes sense to leave all jobs open to anyone qualified and welcome females to draft registration. We’re all on equal footing.

    • James B.

      One issue that the Marines discovered in their study was that their primary standard for ground combat arms was being male. By defining those standards, I imagine that the post-integration Marine infantry will be of better quality than the pre-integration force, but it will probably have the same number of women.

  • Bo

    What experience does this man have that comes close to humping a 100-lb ruck 40 miles through the Hindu Kush or any of the rigors of close quarters combat? Why not ask Major Generals Eldon Bargewell or Gary Harrell (or the thousands of senior NCOs at our SMUs in a non attribution survey) their opinions on this matter? Is it because the politicians do not want to the truth?

    • WRBaker

      I’m glad we didn’t have women with us in Vietnam, too. Most men were raised to protect women (at least back then) – more men would have died doing so back then too, as a consequence.

      • disqus_zommBwspv9

        my 3rd cousin did two tours as a army nurse in Vietnam. She still has her 38 that she carried over there. Yes, she violated orders and carried a handgun for self defense. especially against drunk soldiers. She still shoots and hunts.

  • Thomas Peavy

    Basic statistics reveal that as more are added to a population there is a regression toward the Mean. This was demonstrated in the Marine Experiment last year. In the scenario of Special Ops and gender groups, there are two populations from which the select group is being selected. Both have an average (Mean) and that average is different for the two. When the above average is selected from either group it does not change the difference in there being two population means. The blending and adding to the total population will produce a regression toward average and thus total unit performance becomes an issue. This is the antithesis for selection for Special Ops personnel. Purging those who illuminate this statistical reality is shortsighted and reflects poorly on leadership that insists on myopic adherence to political adherence over force readiness and unit performance.

  • Russ Neal

    Spoken like a true bureaucrat. He doesn’t see”the big deal,” and concludes like all modern servants of the administrative state that all of the people who came before us were stupid and evil while we are suddenly wise and good. Of course military effectiveness will be sacrificed to ideology, but the greater damage is to society. Stavridis no doubt thinks the long standing ethic that boys cannot hit girls and that men are supposed to protect women is part of our shameful past to be ditched.

  • ADM64

    It’s disappointing to see yet another senior officer – especially one as intelligent as Stavridis – toeing the party line when he knows perfectly well that the women taken to sea did so with standards very definitely changed. How many of his female crew could have carried, unassisted, an unconscious average size man up a ship’s ladder or how many could have managed a two-man stretcher carry of an average size man? The Navy changed the latter task to four person for that very reason. Sure, you can slot in one woman into a group of 10 men and claim that damage control and other tasks are being met, but equal capability is not actually being achieved. That’s without the circus of fraternization and pregnancy that are rampant in the fleet, to say nothing of the affirmative action that gave us Holly Graf and Etta Jones, amongst others.

    Being a White Knight is an unacceptable with the lives of men and the nation’s security at stake. It is a betrayal of trust and of one’s fundamental professional duties as an officer. Putting the stamp of official approval on a fundamentally bad and unworkable policy – one whose contortions and exceptions and separate standards and lowered standards all attest to – explains the immense disgust many in the service have with the senior leadership. Indeed, a top heavy officer corps that has not fought a war at sea since 1945 and that hasn’t seen serious action arguably since Vietnam, that currently presides over a fleet that can’t build ships cost-effectively, whose officers no longer know how to navigate (and that need civilian pilots to dock their ships), and whose current burning issue is whether the suffix “man” should be dropped from seaman, clearly has lost track of its priorities. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the Chinese to teach them to us.

  • Thomas Peavy

    Looks as if there is a Troll in the discussion. I note a change in Avatar to comments made previously and then add-on that perpetuates discussion that was concluded.