Some girl soldiers just wanna have fun

Posted: Apr 08, 2005 12:00 AM

It's been 25 years since Goldie Hawn played the unlikely military enlistee, Pvt. Judy Benjamin, who discovered the Army wasn't what she'd had in mind when she signed up for travel and adventure.

But that was then, and it was fiction besides. Now, we know that women soldiers are just like men soldiers. Or so we're supposed to believe.

Flashback to two weeks ago: I'm washing my hands in an airport restroom in Columbia, S.C., wedged at the sink between two blondes gleefully applying makeup. When I ease past one to reach a paper towel, she apologetically blurts:

"You'll have to excuse us, we haven't seen makeup in three months!"

Revlon should have had a hidden camera. Rarely has anyone enjoyed the feminine joys of lipstick and mascara with such unabashed relish.

The two were "soldiers" just out of basic training at Fort Jackson. Both were leaving the Army because of medical problems - one with arthritis, the other asthma - that hadn't been diagnosed when they enlisted.

If they had looked like soldiers earlier in the day, they didn't now. They looked more like sorority sisters, giggly and equally excited to let down their hair, which they'd had to keep pulled in a bun during training. They confessed to having spent the morning binging on candy bars and other junk food they'd missed.

I took their names and numbers, explaining that I might write about them, but have decided to protect their identities out of consideration for their privacy and in light of what I'm about to say. With apologies:

If these two were what the U.S. Army considers soldiers, we're in trouble. The gals probably would agree.

When I asked why they had joined the Army when we're at war, which can flat-out ruin a manicure, they reported wanting to escape their small towns and earn college tuition. Both now were headed home to minimum-wage jobs. One hoped to save enough money to go to cosmetology school, which seemed like an inspired idea.

Obviously, two young women escaping the mistake they'd made three months earlier are not representative of the military as a whole, but these giggly-girl soldiers may be symbolic of a larger problem - not so much recruiting promises that fall short, but the Army's stubborn insistence on gender-based recruiting quotas for women and coed training.

Here's the problem, as explained to me by Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness: When boys and girls join the Army, they must be transformed from what they are into soldiers, a process that requires concentration and focus. Recall the purpose of a soldier is to kill people and break things.

Not that most of us need reminding, but boys and girls tend to be distractions for one another. The Marines understand this, which is why they separate males and females during basic training. And the Army knows it, as evidenced by its own research, but chooses to ignore the facts in deference, apparently, to feminist goals.

As long as men and women are seen as interchangeable, then feminist theory survives - even if some of our "soldiers" don't. Never mind that coed training was found to be "not efficient" according to a 2002 "Gender Integrated Training" report presented to the secretary of the Army. The briefing also reported that coed training negatively affected "rigor" and "standards" (translation: women couldn't keep up with men), and that women suffered a disproportionate number of injuries, especially stress fractures to the shins and feet.

Nevertheless, the Army concluded that coed training was "effective" because women were accepted more readily, and men and women "shared" training experience. In other words, the Army defines military "effectiveness" in sociological terms of acceptance and sharing.

If we could break for a moment from roasting s'mores and singing "Kumbaya," we might focus on the contradiction that it is "not efficient" but "effective."

The point is not that women don't belong in the military - though given women's statistically diminished "rigor" and "standards," they inarguably don't belong in the infantry - but that women can't be properly trained (or men either) in a distracting, hormone-rich environment.

If the Army were serious about transforming girls to warrior-soldiers with a capital "S," the theme of the Army's post-Jessica Lynch "warrior ethos" training program, the brass would follow the Marines' lead and separate the sexes.

The fact of human nature, as opposed to feminist theory, is that girls will be girls when guys are around, and vice versa. This maxim produces beneficial results when population growth needs a boost, but otherwise leads to something less than military readiness.