Former IDF Chief Medical Officer Brigadier General (res.) Professor Aryeh Eldad is not sure that easing the physical demands of women in combat units will indeed reduce their chances of getting injured. “Medicine has advanced, and so have medical ethics,” he argues in an op-ed in Ma’ariv on Thursday, suggesting “we must make sure that these volunteer soldiers are willingly conscientious [of the risks], precisely because their injury rates are much higher.”
The integration of combat female soldiers into the IDF has been discussed at length, comparing the benefits in terms of equality to the costs in terms of injuries, in the context of the value of the contribution of female combatants to military operations.
“Much has been written about the integration of women into combat roles in the IDF, but too little has been written about the price paid by women who wish to become combat soldiers,” Eldad wrote. “Preliminary discussions began on the subject about 20 years ago, when I served as chief medical officer. In the wake of the Supreme Court appeal of Alice Miller (Miller won a petition to the court in 1995 to become admitted to an aviation course that had previously been blocked to women), the discussion expanded to other combat areas.
“The first company of [mixed sex battalion] Karakal began training in the winter of 2000, at the end of my term. We closely followed the medical implications of the training. At the outset, it was clear that many adjustments were required for women in the training track, because the rate of female’s stress fractures, for example, in most of the corps, was much higher than among the male soldiers (up to four times higher).
“We have recently heard that the light infantry battalions will enjoy a reduction of the contents of the combat vests the fighters are required to carry in the mixed battalions – among other things, fewer cartridges. In the Combat Intelligence Collection Corps, the corps chief decided to give up the obstacle course requirement to scale a wall, which many of the female cadets had failed. ‘In recent wars there was no need to scale walls,’ that senior officer said.
“The commander of the ground forces, an even more senior officer, told Ma’ariv columnist Ben Caspit last weekend that tanks with female fighters would not storm Lebanon, it was still unclear whether [female armored corps fighters] would be able to load a 120mm shell into a cannon (the shell weighs about 55 pounds) even if they are stationed only as reinforcements for infantry battalions stationed in the Jordan Valley, the Arava, or along the Egyptian border.”
“Why is it happening?” Eldad asks and answers: “The anatomical and physiological differences between men and women are well-known. Women’s lower body weight limits the load capacity of the female combatant (the weight a combatant may carry without causing himself known damage is determined as a certain percentage of his/her body weight). Higher fat percentages (up to 80% in women) result from lower muscle mass (50% lower in the upper body and 30% lower in the lower body). Bone density is lower among women (leading to multiple injuries and stress fractures). Differences in the ability to regulate body temperature in the sweating apparatus, hemoglobin and lower blood iron levels – are all well-known.”
“This is why, for instance, in all individual and group sports there are separate competitions for men and women. And athletic achievements are measured in accordance with the above physiological and anatomical differences,” Eldad explains.
“When we integrate more and more women into combat units, we must make sure that they are consciously willing to volunteer, precisely because their injury rates are so much higher,” Eldad concludes. “Just as we ask a patient before surgery to sign informed consent only after we have explained to him the risks involved in the procedure, the possible complications, even the rare ones, and stressed to him, if need be, that he belongs to a risk group that increases the rate of complications.”