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Posted on Nov 13, 2012 Print this Article

A Challenge for the Commandant

For many months, the Center for Military Readiness has been analyzing the Marine Corps's plan to research the possibility of assigning women to infantry battalions. General James Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, announced the multi-phased research project with a Memo to All Marines on April 23, 2012.   Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution has written an article about that project, still in progress, and its implications for the future of the Marine Corps:

With admirable clarity, O'Hanlon describes the physical demands of the Marines' Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA:

"The [infantry officer] course is physically and mentally intense....It is where, at 2:00 AM, after marching all evening through a drenching downpour with 100 pounds of gear on their backs and no foreknowledge of when the exercise will end.  Marines might stage a mock ambush of an enemy, or figure out how to evacuate a wounded comrade, or navigate through deep woods after their GPS devices are switched off by instructors....Some might challenge the irreducible strength standards demanded of Marine Corps infantry officers.  But being able to lift oneself − while wearing body armor and carrying a pack − up and over walls is essential in modern combat.  So is being able to move a wounded fellow Marine across a field to safety, or to haul part of a dismantled mortar to an ambush site."

It is refreshing to read an article about what is at stake in this debate without repetition of the usual cliché, "There are no front lines in war anymore."  The article also suggests what should be obvious: The Marine Corps exists to defend the country; it is not just another equal opportunity employer.

General Amos has said that he is seeking new and credible information on the consequences of putting women in infantry battalions.  This research could prove useful, even though more than thirty years of studies in the United States and allied countries already have provided voluminous evidence of physiological differences between men and women that are relevant to infantry requirements.  In 1992, the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Services heard from many witnesses who testified that in conditions of close combat on land, women do not have an equal opportunity to survive, or to help their male colleagues survive.

CMR remains concerned, however, that perceptions of the outcome of Gen. Amos' review could precipitate irreversible policy changes that could weaken the unique culture of Marine infantry and Special Operations Forces battalions.  Gen. Amos' recommendations to the president reportedly are due sometime this month, and irreversible policy changes could be imposed by the administration before the 113th Congress has had the opportunity to have extensive, open hearings on the subject.  Defense Department officials and the media have raised expectations that women will be assigned to Marine and Army infantry battalions, regardless of the consequences.

The Center for Military Readiness has prepared a detailed analysis of the situation, and will call on members of Congress to provide diligent oversight that is authorized in the United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 8.  The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has not heard testimony about women in combat since 1991, 21 years ago. Nor did the SASC have time to hear a single word of testimony about the findings of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Services, which recommended that most of women’s combat exemptions be retained.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) did hear five minutes of testimony from former commissioner Elaine Donnelly about the panel’s report in 1993, but nothing more on the subject was heard until May 19, 2005, when the HASC briefly debated limited legislation regarding women in or near land combat. The last committee hearing on the subject occurred in the House in 1979, 33 years ago.

Failure to discuss and analyze this issue in Congress will likely result in successful litigation to include civilian women in Selective Service registration. This would happen by court order, without a vote of Congress. It is long past time for the Obama Administration and Congress to pay women the compliment of taking this issue seriously.

What Is the Standard of Review? 

The presidential commission approved an over-arching resolution of principle, setting forth priorities that we thought should be applied to all issues affecting American women who volunteer to serve: "Equal opportunity is important, but if there is a conflict between equal opportunity and the needs of the military, the needs of the military must come first." 

The 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission has made recommendations that reverse these priorities.  At a Pentagon news conference on February 9, 2012, officials prominently mentioned the MLDC report and pledged that policy changes announced that day would be "only the beginning, not the end." 

Without public awareness and debate, the MLDC Report recommendations have called for a new definition of gender-conscious "diversity" that departs from principles of non-discrimination and recognition of individual merit.  In order to promote gender-based "diversity metrics" in three- and four-star ranks, the MLDC has recommended that women's exemptions from direct ground combat assignments be abolished.  If the Marines affirm and follow that mandate, there will be no going back to the focus on combat readiness for which the Marines are famous.  

The issue here is not discrimination against women.  Pentagon reports repeatedly have confirmed that military women are promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.  The question centers on the purpose of the military and the requirements of direct ground combat in infantry battalions that engage in deliberate offensive action against the enemy on land.  Compromises that would be required to implement the MLDC agenda would undermine the best elements of military culture and core values.

There will likely be attempts to impose radical policy changes on an incremental basis, before Congress has had the opportunity to review the facts, risks, and consequences of ordering female Marines and soldiers into "tip-of-the-spear" infantry battalions.  Misleading media reports likely will be a key factor in this, just as they were during the lame-duck session of Congress that rushed to repeal Section 654, Title 10, USC.  It will take intervention and diligent oversight by Congress to prevent irreversible policy changes that impose gender-based "diversity metrics" on land combat communities in the Marine Corps and eventually the Army.

In 1992 a member of the Presidential Commission asked a female Marine gunnery sergeant at Camp Lejeune whether women should be assigned to direct ground combat units.  "Not if it's not good for the Corps, Ma'am," the gunnery sergeant replied.  The nation, and especially the Marines, hope that the Commandant stands for principle in the same way. 

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Posted on Nov 13, 2012 Print this Article