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Marines Gathering Data Re: Women in Land Combat

May 16, 2012
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Infantry Training "Test" Could be Misinterpreted in Drive for "Diversity"

The National Football League does not pursue "diversity" by training female players for non-lethal combat on the gridiron. Even the best female athletes would not survive the grueling training and punishing clashes against aggressive male opponents. Social experiments that override recognition of individual merit are not acceptable in pro football. Every team wants to win the Super Bowl.

In contrast, the U.S. Marine Corps has invited women to train for infantry battalions that engage in lethal ground combat − violent conflicts in which lives and missions are at risk. The stated motive is not to improve combat readiness, it is "diversity" and "equal opportunities for women to excel."

The armed forces' march toward "diversity" began on February 9, 2012. During a Pentagon briefing, Defense Department Military Personnel Policy officials Vee Penrod and Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton officially announced the elimination of rules affecting female soldiers that the Army has been violating for years. The briefers also mentioned five times that assignments for women in or direct ground combat (DGC) would be "only the beginning, not the end."

As CMR stated in a recent news release, the Pentagon's new policy is doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Instead of putting the needs of the military first, the Defense Department is taking incremental steps to implement the deeply-flawed recommendations of the Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC), which was mentioned during the February 9 briefing. The report, titled From Representation to Inclusion: Diversity Leadership for the 21st Century, was produced primarily by civilian military "equal opportunity" professionals who assign priority to "diversity," not military effectiveness.

The MLDC report redefines the concept by calling for management of "diversity metrics" that change organizational culture, meaning "how the work is done." The report admits that the new "diversity" is "not about treating everyone the same" under current mandates to be both "color and gender blind." (p. 18) The MLDC concept of "inclusion" is a radical departure from the military's honorable tradition of recognizing individual merit.

The latest Congressional Research Service Report, titled Women in Combat: Issues for Congress states the problem with the entire exercise succinctly: "Notably absent in this language is any mention of the effects on military readiness such changes may produce." (April 9, 2012, p. 9)

Memo for the Marines

On April 23, Marine Commandant General James Amos issued a two-page memorandum announcing that volunteer female officers will participate in a few months of training at the Marine Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA.

This will be done under an "exception" to extant Pentagon regulations exempting women from Army and Marine infantry, Special Operations Forces and Navy SEALs. Direct ground combat units are trained to close with and attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action under fire − an unchanged mission that goes beyond the experience of being "in harm's way."

Marine Training and Education Command will conduct quantitative research to gather physical performance data. In May, 383 male and 378 female Marines in entry-level training and male Marines from a Ground Combat Element (GCE) battalion began volunteering for or three GCE Common Physical Performance Standards, which are generally known as "common skills," over a period of three days. These include:

  • Day 1/Event 1: Machine gun (MK-19) lift from the ground to a truck, wearing average fighting load of 40 lbs, for a total of 72.5 lbs.

  • Event 2: Sprint 25 meters (82 feet) and evacuate a casualty wearing fighting load of 40 lbs., moving the casualty 25 meters (82 feet)

  • Day 2/Event 3: March Under Load: Wearing average assault load of 71 lbs., complete 20 km (12.4 mi.) march in 5 hours or less.

These "common exercises" are not the same as the infantry officer course (IOC). The same tasks in an actual combat environment are often performed while attacking the enemy after a long march, in bad weather, when troops are exhausted, short-handed and under fire. Performance data will be collected and evaluated on a Pass/Fail basis. (Source: Marine Women in the Services Restrictions Review presentation, Col. John Nettles, Manpower & Reserve Affairs, 25 June, 2012, p. 7)

Which Test of Gender Differences Don't They Understand?

The announced short-term test of women in infantry training will be conducted for only a few months, under ideal conditions. The test is problematic for many reasons--none of which reflect on the bravery, ability, and sacrifices of Marine women who have served with great courage in the Middle East.

Defense Department and Marine officials have claimed that training standards in the test would be "gender-neutral" and "exactly the same" for both men and women. Lt. General Richard Mills told Marine Corps Times, "It's the same exact program of instruction a male lieutenant who's going to go on to become an infantry officer would get -- exactly the same. That involves a wide series of classes."

Female trainees might excel in classroom instruction, but physical differences that are important in direct ground combat involve far more than classroom tests. William J. Gregor, PhD, Professor of Social Sciences at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, KS, has prepared an Information Paper that includes a long list of authoritative studies on male/female physiology that have been done in the United States and allied countries:

These empirical studies and more have repeatedly found there is no way to treat women exactly like men in training without increasing debilitating injuries at far higher rates among women than men. The British Army, for example, conducted an 18 month test of what was called "gender-free" training, which ended in 1998. After injuries among women increased by over 200%, the British Army returned to "gender-fair" training that lessened the physical demands on women. In 2001, Britain decided that female soldiers would not be assigned to land combat units.

A four-year study of Marine Corps training graduates at Parris Island, done by Daniel W. Trone, MA and reported in Military Medicine magazine in 2007, assessed the career implications of injuries:

 Negative outcomes included 1) Failure to complete first-term of service; 2) Failure to achieve rank of corporal, and 3) Failure to re-enlist.

To be meaningful, an experiment with women in infantry training should be longer, but even if Marine officials intend to treat women like men in short-term physical exercises, they should provide fair warning of bone-fracturing injuries that could end careers. In the alternative, the Marines may find it necessary to employ commonly-used "fair" tests for women that measure "equal effort" instead of equal results. The problem is that gender-norming of any kind would break earnest promises that in this test, female trainees will be treated exactly the same as men.

Gender-Normed Standards Are the Norm

The Officer Candidate School obstacle course at Quantico has two side-side-by side obstacle courses--one for men and one for women. Photos of the OCS obstacle clearly course show that the female trainees' course has a bar 12 inches lower than the men's. Discrete wooden "assists" nailed to side posts and the front of a climbing wall provide toe-hold help for climbing over the barriers. Even with the assists, many female officer candidates do not succeed on the obstacle course.

In the pending test of infantry training, there is no indication that female trainees will have to compete on the male side of the OCS obstacle course. The only three exercises that will be used to "simulate" combat do not include that test.

If one or more women manage to pass controlled infantry exercises, the Marines will be faced with questions about why they will not be assigned to actual battalions that currently are still all-male. At that point, having embraced "diversity" as the highest priority, the Marines will have difficulty trying to explain why it would be unwise to eliminate all "barriers" to women's careers. It won't matter that the short-term "test" does not allow for consideration of the consequences of complicated social interactions between men and women in formerly all-male units. These include sexual misconduct on both sides of the fraternization/harassment spectrum, morale, pregnancy, deployability problems and higher attrition rates that undermine readiness. By that time, "diversity" will eclipse forgotten combat realities.

Since the announced goal is "equal opportunity to excel," women will "excel," no matter how many compromises are made to achieve that result. To make "equality" permanent, trainers will simply drop or modify exercises that injure women at rates far greater than men. Within a single generation, no one will remember the previous regimen, resulting in infantry training programs that are less challenging for male Marines.

No one has explained how full implementation of the MLDC Diversity Report would benefit Marine infantry and other elite units in the Army and Special Operations Forces, which will be expected to march down the same "diversity" road. Incremental "progress" for "diversity metrics" goes only one way.

Incrementalism + Consistency = Radical Change

As CMR reported previously, in 2004-2005 the Army began disregarding what was called the combat collocation rule, placing women in or near direct ground combat units that were required to be all-male. Most of the 14,000 positions that the Pentagon announced would be opened to women in February, beginning in May, are in that category. The Defense Department is belatedly making official what the Army was were doing without authorization or notice to Congress, as required by law.

The announced limited test of women in the infantry will not stop there. Once pre-determined "success" is proclaimed, ensuing policy changes will directly affect the overwhelming majority of women in all branches of the service who do not want to be treated like men in close combat situations. Young civilian women also will be affected when the ACLU files a lawsuit, on behalf of men, challenging young women's exemption from Selective Service obligations. Due to female soldiers' new eligibility to become "combat replacements," federal courts are likely to impose Selective Service obligations on women as well as men.

The administration has dismissed all of these concerns, and more, because the goal is "diversity" for its own sake. None of this is necessary, since even the MLDC report and Pentagon officials acknowledge that for decades, women in the military have been promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.

Two important questions should be asked in the "Total Force Survey" that Marine Commandant General Amos announced on April 23, but probably won't be:

1.) How would the assignment of women to Marine infantry battalions improve combat readiness?

2.) Do you favor or oppose the assignment of women to Marine infantry battalions?

Absent honest answers to these questions, the entire exercise could create misleading impressions that likely media are likely to spin to justify pre-determined "diversity" policies that the Defense Department announced on February 9. The announcement sets up a perilous situation, which has the potential to do great harm to both female and male Marines and the culture of the Corps as a whole.

More information on these topics is provided below:

 

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