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Adm. Tidd prepared remarks: IADC Gender Integration Seminar

March 7, 2017


Good morning.  Martha, thank you for the invitation to kick off this seminar.  I’d like to take the opportunity to recognize our many distinguished participants, and the IADC and ANEPE, for their leadership on an issue of such critical importance for all the nations represented in this room.   

Thank you all for taking time out of your busy schedules to participate, and for your willingness to share your different experiences and learn from each other.

As we engage in discussions about strategy and policy, I think it’s important – especially for those of us in uniform -- to keep the practical implications of gender integration front and center. 

So over the next ten minutes, I’d like to share my perspective as an operational combatant commander.  I hope these observations can help us make concrete progress today and in the days to come.   

I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this timely conversation.  I say ‘timely’ because now, more than ever, the issue of effective gender integration is connected to the present and future capabilities of our armed forces and national security institutions.

Let’s put today’s seminar in context.  Right now, the men and women of our security forces are engaged in a wide spectrum of missions, across a wide range of conditions, all over the world.  The operations they’re serving in are a far cry from the types of missions most of us in uniform served in – or even contemplated -- at the beginning of our careers.

Even peacekeeping has changed.  Today, two-thirds of all peacekeepers are serving in active conflict zones. [1]

Peacekeepers from our hemisphere are supporting UN missions on four different continents. They’re deployed to Kashmir, Cyprus, Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire, the Sinai, Mali, and Haiti.  At the same time, U.S. troops are involved around the world in operations as diverse as counter terrorism missions in Afghanistan, supporting coalition operations in Syria and Iraq, and building partner capacity right here in our own hemisphere.

And no matter where our men and women are serving, the security environment they face is unlike any we’ve seen before.  It’s more unpredictable, far more dangerous, and extraordinarily complex. 

Just consider the following examples:

  • New technologies are fielded faster than ever before—by our forces, and by those who seek to do us harm.  Technologies are used in ways that were unthinkable a few years ago.
  • Violent state actors, non-state Islamist extremists like ISIS, and criminal networks now operate across geographic boundaries and domains.   
  • The information landscape is more crowded and competitive than ever before.  We’ve seen new social media platforms extend the reach, scale, and speech in which both real and fake news move…this new reality directly influences the operational environment and collapses the decision space of our civilian leaders.
  • Tactics and techniques continue changing in ways that pose enormous ethical and cultural challenges…from the use of female and child suicide bombers to entire families traveling to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS…the battlefield is literally moving under our feet.

Keeping pace with this change involves asking ourselves how our forces need to adapt— and how our cultures and institutions need to change to support our forces.  This means evolving the way we unleash the full talent, initiative, and potential of our men and women.  This means evolving how we cultivate capable, adaptable, and creative leaders who can thrive in this challenging world of change and complexity. [2]

This is why effective gender integration, and the integration of gender perspectives into military operations, is an absolute ‘imperative’ for each of our armed forces and security institutions if we are to successfully adapt to meet the demands of the 21st century security environment.  Our ability to quickly adapt is critical to our operational effectiveness.  It’s how we attain and maintain our respective competitive advantages. 

Integrating women and gender perspectives into military operations is part of that adaptation. 

I won’t go into all the many examples that are out there.  Instead, let me cite just two.

UN studies have shown that female peacekeepers improve the understanding of the operational environment, especially as it relates to the issues affecting women and children in conflict and post-conflict societies.  

As we’ve seen in Bosnia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Namibia, and South Africa, the presence of female peacekeepers in our formations increases access to, and support for local women affected by conflict, improving the likelihood of attaining a lasting peace. [3]

In our own military, we saw how the integration of female Cultural Support Teams—or CST’s—into U.S. special operations forces units made for a fundamentally stronger, more capable and flexible fighting force. After action reports reveal the CST’s were highly effective at de-escalating tense situations. They were uniquely placed to protect women and children when raids turned deadly, enhancing the legitimacy of U.S. and coalition forces. 

And by interacting with a portion of the population that was previously off limits to U.S. troops, they were able to gather critical information and intelligence about weapons caches and insurgent hiding places, improving force protection of U.S. and coalition troops and the situational awareness of our commanders in the field. But as we begin today’s conversation about effective gender integration, we need to remember that there’s a fundamental difference between the mere inclusion of women as participants in our militaries, and the recognition of women as equals. [4] 

The first is window dressing…meeting a quota…advancing an agenda.   The second is transformative for our forces and our institutions.

So, during today’s discussions, I urge all of us to look beyond the simple question of how to integrate women into military operations. 

We aren’t looking for the right number of women…we’re looking for the best teammates.   Those people—men and women—with the irresistible drive to contribute to mission success, who have the right team ethos, and who possess a diverse way of looking at problems and coming up with unexpected, creative solutions.

Effective gender integration is really part of a larger question—how do we attract, develop, and retain the best people, with the right skillsets, to meet the ever accelerating demands of military operations in the 21st century?  

As we discuss best practices today, I urge all of us to think about the real-world impact of the strategy we develop, and what it means for our training and human capital development pipelines.

I can only speak from my U.S. perspective, but the issue of standards tends to dominate any discussion of gender integration.  In the U.S., we’ve had a lot of talk about whether women can meet the physical standards required for combat. 

In my opinion, there should be no compromises in the name of equality and opportunity.  It undermines what we’re trying to do, and reinforces the stereotypes we’re fighting against. All the women I’ve worked with in the course of my career reject the idea of double standards. They want to receive the same treatment, and have the same opportunities, as their male team members.  They want to be held to one standard -- a mission standard—not a gender standard. [5]

We all recognize that the readiness of our forces and the security of our nations depend on the maintenance of tough standards that reflect the mission, not gender. Female military professionals, exactly like their male counterparts, want to be judged on the basis of their grit, their determination, and tenacity—the things that matter most.  The things we prize in all our team members. 

Our female military professionals only want the opportunity to compete.  If women fail, they fail like many other men who have failed.  If they succeed, their reward is being part of an effective team that wins on (and off) the battlefield. When our U.S. Marine Corps examined the performance gap between men and women on combat fitness tests, they discovered that the primary physical obstacle for most women was upper body strength. 

Now, some people would focus on the word ‘obstacle.’ what we should focus on is the word ‘most.’

The fact that some female Marines could complete the most challenging upper body strength tests suggests these barriers are neither inherent nor biological.  Previous studies have clearly documented that women (and men) who are strength and endurance trained can increase their performance on combat-related tasks. [6]

So when it comes to standards, we must think in terms of gender-blind standards.  I’d ask that we focus on specific outcomes, and not on specific genders.

Our U.S. military is still working through this…we haven’t figured it all out yet, either.  Whatever it involves, it needs to include opportunities for all our men and women to train for the jobs they aspire towards.

And while preparing our men and women physically is important, we also need to think about preparing them mentally and emotionally.  Excelling in the complex 21st century security environment is not simply a matter of physical strength.  It’s about the ideas we generate, the creativity we cultivate, and the problems we solve. Ultimately, it’s about the effective teams we build.

In addition to numbers of pushups and distance running speed, we need more comprehensive measurements of intellectual, professional, and character attributes. 

We need to develop women and men who excel in complexity, anticipate change, recognize opportunity, and adapt to meet new challenges.  The complex environments our forces face demand critical thinking, flexibility, and creativity.  Our mission success depends on it.  Ultimately, gender integration has nothing to do with leveling the playing field…it’s about making sure we put our best possible team on that playing field.  To quote one of my NATO colleagues, this isn’t just about operational effectiveness…it’s also about organizational excellence.

Finally, I think it’s important that we all exercise some strategic patience.  The small number of women in some of our ranks—especially in the combat arms—doesn’t mean this isn’t worth pursuing. 

Developing the force we need takes time.  It’s not going to happen overnight.  There is much work to be done. 

Today’s dialogue, and others like it, will help us develop the necessary strategies and policies, adapt our doctrines, revise our training guidance, and retool our learning curriculums. This seminar is a significant step in a long road ahead, and I’m incredibly proud to be part of it.  I hope we can continue this dialogue in our 2017 Women in Military and Defense Conference, which will be co-hosted with the Guatemalan military later this summer.

I’m also proud to share that USSOUTHCOM has brought on board a combat-seasoned gender advisor.  Master Chief Diane Tortora’s charge is to work with our partners on the operational aspects of effective gender integration. She couldn’t join us today, as she’s in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina this week.  She is a resource not just for USSOUTHCOM, but for all of our teams.

Finally, as we’re doing the necessary strategy and policy development, we shouldn’t forget that something else is happening, something that is much harder to see, or measure, or quantify, but is nevertheless incredibly important to the ultimate success of effective gender integration.

Imagine what a young Haitian girl thought when she saw female peacekeepers from Uruguay, Peru, and Brazil…patrolling the streets of Port-au-Prince…providing security and delivering medical care to Haitian citizens...and helping the country recover from the devastating earthquake. Imagine what a young afghan girl thought when she saw our cultural support teams taking fire and saving lives, not just American soldiers, but Afghan civilians. Imagine what a young American school girl thought, when she heard that three women graduated from the U.S. Army’s notoriously tough ranger school—achieving a level of leadership training that few men will ever accomplish.  Or what she thought when she heard that for the first time, a fully qualified woman has been selected to serve in our ranger regiment, an elite unit that conducts some of the most challenging and precise offensive operations undertaken by the U.S. military.

The women serving in our forces today are incredibly powerful sources of inspiration for the future.  Because if those young Haitian, Afghan, and American girls can see it…they know that if they prepare effectively, they can be it.

Like the men they serve beside, the women serving in our forces today are pioneers of a new generation of military professionals.  The women serving in our forces today aren’t a milestone.  They’re a motivation — an inspiration -- for all of us.  Thank you


[1] Remarks by General Dunford at a UN Meeting on Peacekeeping, June 20, 2016.

[2] Gen Dunford, “The Pace of Change.”

[3] UN Peace and Security Facts and Figures.


[5] Amber Smith (Gender Advisor, Concerned Veterans of America).  “Opinion: Gender Equality—A Double Standard.” 

[6] Jason Jameson et al, Performance Differences Between Male and Female Marines on Standardized Physical Fitness Tests and Combat Proxy Tasks: Identifying the Gap