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Women allowed in combat: Will that mean it's less safe for men? (+video)

Critics say that opening combat to women will create pressure to lower standards so that women can meet them. Backers say that equal treatment will attract more serious women athletes.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has decided to lift the decades-old ban on women in ground combat units.
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With women now allowed to serve on the front lines, are men going to be more in danger on the battlefield?

And will America’s national security be jeopardized by men leaving the infantry in droves because they no longer see it as a tough, elite calling?

These have long been frequently-cited reasons for not allowing women to serve in combat. 

“I think some men will leave the infantry,” says one senior Marine Corps officer. “You’ve got to ask yourself why most young men join the Marine Corps, especially that group that wants to be infantrymen.”

The answer, in many cases, is to “shoot stuff and blow things up,” he adds. “So some percentage of those guys would be like, it wouldn’t be as much fun.”

These arguments are often closely linked to the shared physical hardships that lead to espirit de corps. 

Can a woman carry her fellow soldiers out of danger, or hike long distances lugging heavy packs without falling behind and holding her fellow soldiers back?

“The answer to that is very straightforward: Create a physical fitness standard,” says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, in Charlottesville, Vir., who is spearheading a conference Feb. 1 on women in combat in Washington, D.C. 

“That’s all the litigation would ask for, or – to be candid – all that we would want.”

Yet some worry that as women fail to meet physical fitness standards, the Pentagon will be tempted to lower them.  

Recent history suggests that some standards are getting higher. The Marine Corps just got rid of the flexed arm hang for women as a physical fitness standard, and instead implemented pull-ups. Women must complete two pull-ups to pass the physical training (PT) test, and eight to max it out. Men receive the highest scores for 18 pull-ups, and must complete two to pass.

“My great fear is that once they’re open, and there are physical tests and so forth – you have to be able to bench press this, carry this, hump a 70 lb. rucksack or whatever it is – then the advocates for women in combat will say, ‘Those standards aren’t appropriate,’ and they’ll attack the standards,” says Peter Mansoor, professor of military history at the Ohio State University and a former executive officer to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq. 

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