Female General to Head Combatant Command
Female General to Head Combatant Command
When people see this headline, they are likely to think that Lori Robinson is taking command of a rough and tumble infantry or combat arms ground unit. In fact, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter didn’t really try to change that impression when he said,“Gen Robinson, it just so happens, would also be the first ever female combatant commander.” However, Lori Robinson is a four star general in the Air Force, which has a distinct absence of ground combat units. She will be taking charge of US Northern Command based in Colorado. Not trying to take anything away from General Robinson; it is great that she has risen on her competency and merits to this high profile command position, and she is a fantastic role model for other women who wish to have a rewarding military career.
Air Force General Lori Robinson will be appointed as the next head of the US Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which is responsible for the defense of the US “homeland” with an area of operations that extends from Alaska to portions of the Caribbean.
The command was created in the aftermath of the 11 September terror attacks to coordinate and improve homeland defence and to provide support for other national disasters.
This promotion rewards this woman’s accomplishments and can serve as a guide to all services that women should be considered for command positions generally. Simply being a woman does not make someone ineligible for command. Women as are capable as men as serving with honor and distinction in the role of a commanding officer. Further, any command that has a corresponding component of high level management in a stressful environment such as a combat theater should be given equal weight as those commands that incorporate combat arms missions.
The reason for pushing women into combat started off as being a beef about women not having the same promotion opportunity as men. Men, who were eligible for commanding combat units, were able to gain an advantage in the promotion process. This was true for any man – if he was able to gain combat leadership experience his resume would be much stronger than another man who had command experience but who was not in a combat arms unit. So the military culture rewards those who have proven themselves in a combat environment – not surprising, and not necessarily an unfair result. If a man wants a combat arms position he must compete for it. If he doesn’t want it, then he goes in with the understanding that his career opportunities will be affected accordingly. In the past this has been a significant issue just within male promotion opportunities – so men fight to get combat arms specialties, and combat theater assignments.
However, once this disparity showed up in the form of women’s promotion opportunities also being affected by the lack of combat experience, and not because they made conscious choices not to enter combat arms, but because they were prohibited from doing so, the idea to open up combat positions to women came to life. The problem of lack of promotion paths for women was correctly diagnosed, but the remedy road we have taken will put us in the ditch.
The way to improve the career benefits for women in the military is not to put them into combat, but to properly evaluate the criteria deemed valuable for promotion. Command experience is essential, particularly when reaching the field grade ranks, and command experience in combat is certainly an achievement to be held above nearly all other accomplishments. In fact, combat command experience should still be held as one of the highest accolades one could achieve in the course of a military career.
But achieving combat distinction should not be limited to the narrow combat arms specialties or command of a combat arms unit. As we are painfully reminded, there are no front lines anymore, so any unit that experiences similar stresses or operates in a combat environment should be given the same credit for combat command. For example, this could include supply or transport units that have missions that take them into combat zones. Had this been the tack taken to correct the lack of promotions for women in the military, mission, unit cohesion, and women’s health would not have been threatened as it is now with the opening of all combat arms positions to women.
There may still be a tiny handful of women that would truly have wanted and been able to compete with men for combat positions, but the number is so small that it cannot justify the repercussions we will be feeling from this ill-fated journey down Social Justice lane.