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Posted on Jan 16, 2019 Print this Article

Marine Corps Commandant Caves on Co-Ed Basic Training

Marine Corps Commandant General Robert B. Neller, acting without prior notice, recently announced that for the first time in history, a platoon of fifty enlisted female recruits would be housed and trained alongside five male platoons in the 3rd Training Battalion at the Marines’ Parris Island boot camp.

This is the same Commandant who, in January 2016, was “irate” and “infuriated” when then-Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus issued similar orders to gender-integrate the boot camp within fourteen days.  Gen. Neller obtained a reprieve of that order but has now capitulated on his own.  The sudden reversal was announced on a Friday afternoon – not with a bang but a whimper.

What changed?  Actually, nothing – except for shifting priorities and equivocal rationalizations that do not bode well for the Corps.  President Trump should nominate a new Secretary of Defense and a new Marine Commandant who will restore candor and sound priorities on this issue and the larger question of whether women should serve in the infantry.

According to a Marine spokesman speaking to ABC News, boot camp recruit classes typically are much smaller in the winter months.  Housing one female platoon with five male ones in the 3rd Training Battalion allows temporary de-activation of the all-female 4th Training Battalion.

The excuse was lame, at best.  The Marines’ Delayed Entry Program (DEP) sends new recruits to boot camp on timetables set by the needs of the service, not the weather.  Someone should find out why there aren’t enough female recruits to populate the 4th Training Battalion.  Perhaps young women are shunning recruiters because they know that once they sign up, they might be ordered into ground combat units on the same involuntary basis as men.

Officials also made the disingenuous claim that the “temporary” change would support “training efficiency.”  But within a week, Marine Corps Times reported that the female platoon co-located in the men’s training battalion “may not be the last.”

Speaking at a forum in Washington, D.C., Marine Sergeant Major Ronald Green said the service doesn’t “do things as a one-time deal.”  Green added that the intent is to give everyone “the greatest opportunity for success.”  The comment failed to recognize that boot camp is not about individual “success.”  Its mission is to transform ordinary civilians into disciplined male and female Marines.

The article also confirmed General Neller’s needless campaign to increase the percentage of female Marines from 8.9% to 10%.  That quota, unfortunately, signals that the Marines are assigning highest priority to political correctness over mission readiness and combat lethality.  The Trump Administration should revoke this and all gender diversity mandates, including the 25% quotas that still apply in in the Navy, Army, and Air Force.

Green also said that assessments of the gender-mixed battalion would determine “whether it is a model the Corps should continue.”  Based on previous Pentagon practices, however, assessments of the gender-mixed battalion likely will center on sociological goals, not the primary military goal: transformation of undisciplined civilians into Marines.

Promotable officers and drill instructors will do everything possible to ensure that women are happy.  Over time standards or evaluations will change without notice, and the incremental experiment will be declared successful, justifying more “progress” in the wrong direction.

Enter the “Dempsey Rule”

Officials and media will claim that standards are “gender-neutral” and women are doing the same things as men.  Half-truths such as this in all the services, however, are misleading.  Under the Dempsey Rule, which CMR named for former Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey, high standards that women cannot meet are being re-evaluated, dropped, or scored differently to ensure female trainee “success.”

An example of how this works occurred last year at the Marines’ Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA.  As CMR reported in 2018, only one female officer out of more than thirty had passed the IOC.  Most failed on the grueling Combat Endurance Test (CET) – the first and toughest challenge in the Infantry Officer Course conducted at Quantico, VA.

The incredibly tough CET event was designed to identify and prepare infantry officers who are capable of leading other men on the battlefield, from the front.  With uncompromising physical demands and high attrition rates, the first-day test was working to separate the best from the rest.

The system was not broken, but in November 2017, without prior notice, General Neller decided to “fix” it.  Neller changed the must-pass CET into a success-optional Combat Evaluation Test.  The acronym remains the same, but now the CET is just another evaluation data point. 

Gen. Neller also raised eyebrows in February 2018, when he eased IOC standards for hiking by reducing the number of hikes subject to evaluation.  Brig. Gen. Jason Bohm claimed that the intent was to cut the 10% attrition rate in half so that more trainees could be “successful” on the course.  But that is not the purpose of the IOC; it is to prepare infantry officers for long marches with heavy loads – a skill that is critical for officers leading others into battle.   

In news reports between 2012 and 2014, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Christian Science Monitor reported that attrition rates on either the Combat Endurance Test or the entire course ranged between 20% - 30%.  In 2018, however, wash-out rates were less than 10% and headed down to 5% – all while officials kept insisting that nothing had changed.  

Four months later, a second female officer passed the Infantry Officer Course. 

All branches of the service are struggling to make changes in basic physical fitness and combat fitness tests (PFT/CFT).  They are finding it difficult to challenge stronger men without causing disproportionate injuries among women.  Gender-normed scores are justifiable in basic, entry-level, and pre-commissioning training, but not in advanced courses qualifying personnel for the combat arms.

Controversies surrounding co-ed boot camp are only part of the larger debate about the consequences of treating men and women as if they are interchangeable in all military positions, including combat arms units such as the infantry.  This debate must include an honest re-assessment of conditions leading to sexual misconduct in the military -- a problem that eviscerates morale and readiness in America’s military, and may have roots in co-ed basic training.

Social Experiments and Cautionary Tales

For insights into what may lie ahead for the Marines, it is important to review recent military/social history in the past 25 years, starting during the administration of President Bill Clinton.

In the fall of 1994, Army Assistant Secretary for Manpower and Personnel Sara Lister effectively forced high-ranking generals to accept co-ed basic training.  The concept that Lister imposed still is in use, even though its benefits have never been proved and harmful consequences have not been evaluated.

In 1996, Sara Lister publicly described the Marines as “extremists.”  When the news broke, then-Commandant General Charles C. Krulak vigorously protested Lister’s insult, and she was forced to resign.  Twenty-three years later, the current Commandant is implementing Sara Lister’s controversial boot camp agenda – an irony that should not escape notice.

From Aberdeen to Abu Ghraib

In March 2004, worldwide media published disturbing photographs of indecent,  decadent behavior in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.  Time-stamped photos showed that the soldiers had debased themselves before they abused the prisoners in an “animal house” atmosphere that shocked the world and embarrassed the Army.

Hooded and blindfolded Iraqis were stripped and forced into lewd poses, and a female soldier was photographed holding a dog-collar leash attached to the neck of a naked Iraqi soldier lying on the floor.  Outraged members of Congress demanded to know how the Army could have allowed male and female soldiers to engage in such abuse.

The scandal was repugnant, but Abu Ghraib was not the first or only place where poor training and a lack of discipline created prime conditions for sexual misconduct and abuse.  Eight years before Abu Ghraib, sensational headlines reported rampant sexual misconduct and harassment of female trainees at the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

The rash of scandals there and at other training bases in 1996 often involved drill instructors who were accused of raping female trainees.  Consensual but exploitive sexual misconduct; i.e., “consexploitation,” also sparked nationwide alarm and action in Congress.

Several studies ensued, the first by an independent advisory commission headed by former Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum-Baker.  The bi-partisan Kassebaum-Baker Commission which included future Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, criticized the “organizational structure” in integrated basic training, which “is resulting in less discipline, less unit cohesion and more distraction from training programs.”

The commission unanimously concluded that the Marines’ separate-gender basic training program was producing superior results for both male and female trainees, evidenced by “impressive levels of confidence, team building and esprit de corps in all female platoons at the Parris Island base.”

The House of Representatives endorsed the Kassebaum-Baker Commission’s findings and passed legislation to end coed basic training.  Instead of concurring with the House, the Senate established the Congressional Commission on Military Training and Gender-Related Issues, chaired by attorney Anita Blair.

CMR analyzed the Congressional Commission’s four-volume report and other recommendations regarding the issue in its 20-page Summary of Relevant Findings and Recommendations on Gender-Integrated Basic Training (GIBT).  (May, 2003)

In general, the studies found that separate-gender basic training, with same-sex drill instructors, can be tailored to challenge male and female trainees to the limit.  Such programs were found to increase “rigor” for all trainees, to force female recruits to be more self-reliant, and to reduce the risk of demoralizing injuries that often cause female recruits to drop out.  In particular:

  • The Congressional Commission found no significant benefits from gender-integrated basic training, but it did include abundant evidence of inappropriate relationships and distractions from the process of “soldierization.”  This was defined as a one-time only building-block accomplishment that must precede advanced occupational training.
  • When the Congressional Commission surveyed Army leaders about the quality of entry-level GIBT graduates compared to five years prior, 74% of those who responded indicated that “Overall Quality” had declined, and 80% said that “Discipline” had declined.
  • In contrast, the Congressional Commission found that female Marine trainees scored significantly higher than any other group in commitment, group identity, and respect for authority – all of which are important elements in military cohesion.

In a report to Congress, Commission member William Keys, a retired Marine Major General, explained the rationale behind boot camp:

“Basic training teaches basic military skills such as physical fitness, close order drill and marksmanship.  It is a military socialization process—civilians are transformed into soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines.  This training provides recruits the basic military skills needed to integrate into an operational unit.  It does not teach war-fighting skills; nor should it be the staging ground for ‘gender’ etiquette skills.” (emphasis added)

Nothing was done to end co-ed basic training, and problems continued to mount.

In a March 2002 Pentagon briefing, the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Jackson noted higher female injury rates in gender-integrated basic training, which was “not efficient,” and “effective” only in sociological terms.  A few years later, the Army was embroiled in scandals at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq.

At Camp Bucca in 2005, for example, alcohol-fueled mud-wrestling parties preceded two revolts by prisoners.  Guards failed to notice that the prisoners were digging an underground tunnel, and a massive prison break almost ensued.

Following these scandals, no one stopped to consider whether distractions in Army recruit training may have stunted the growth process of young men and women, creating a lack of discipline and respect for authority that contributed to the scandals.

The Pentagon’s failure to ask whether basic training programs were failing to instill essential discipline was no accident; it was a matter of policy.  In a statement presented in March 1999, Congressional Commission Chairman Blair reported that the services did not objectively measure and did not plan to evaluate the effectiveness of GIBT.

Some of the officials taking this position were responsible for implementing co-ed basic training in the first place.  Official protestations aside, unless sound priorities are restored there is no reason to believe that the Marine Corps will evaluate the current experiment at Parris Island with more transparency and candor than the other services have shown in the past.

Should the Marines Follow the Army’s Lead?

In a 2013 article titled Sex, Lies, and Basic Training, Military Times reported the following about Fort Leonard Wood, MO, one of two Army bases offering co-ed basic training:

“Drinking parties. Sex in the laundry room. Social dates and text messaging. Sex in a truck. In a bathroom. And in the barracks.  Between February 2007 and November 2008, twelve drill sergeants and advanced individual training instructors at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., admitted in court-martial proceedings to having engaged in such forbidden sexual and social relationships with trainees.  Each soldier pleaded guilty to at least one count of violating [regulations] – and dozens of other related offenses on and off post between December 2005 and August 2008.

Military Times also reported data provided by Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), which recruits and trains soldiers.

“[I]n the eight years between Oct. 1, 2000, and Sept. 30, 2008, 107 drill sergeants were charged with sexual misconduct under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, resulting in disciplinary action that included 52 courts-martial, confinement for many and dozens of bad-conduct discharges.  Fort Leonard Wood had the most cases with 38; followed by Fort Jackson [the other co-ed basic training camp] with 24, including two rapes . . .”

Army Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, now retired, stressed in a comment to Military Times that all personnel constantly receive training to discourage such behavior, but people cannot be controlled at every turn. "I guess we're going to have to go back to the base of the apple tree in the Garden of Eden to answer the question," he said.  The Marines need to consider whether they are comfortable with irresponsible shrugging-off comments such as these.

If Gen. Neller’s experiment with co-ed basic training becomes permanent, predictable cultural changes will follow the experiences of other services and erode the Marines’ distinctive brand.  Junior enlisted men and women will engage in inappropriate behavior, and incidents will range on a spectrum between romantic sexual relationships and pregnancies to sexual harassment and worse.

Annual reports of the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, (SAPRO) indicate that actual sexual assault cases in the military likely will continue to escalate, and unfounded accusations will occur approximately 17% of the time.

Disciplinary problems will cue the waiting army of “victim advocates” eager to reform “hyper-masculine” men with “masculinist” attitudes hostile to women.  Mandatory sensitivity training to reduce men’s “unconscious bias” will divert even more time from basic training, while drawing media attention and creating more resentment that the women don’t deserve.

In essence, men will be blamed for treating women like men -- or failing to treat women like men.  It is a no-win situation.  Political correctness clashes with military realities, common sense, and what has been learned about human interactions in military environments.

Instead of drifting down that road by default, the next Commandant and uniformed leaders in all the services should honestly assess the considerable damage done by social experiments and change direction now.

Why the Culture of “Making Marines” Matters

The best elements of military culture – meaning, how things are done – cannot be taught overnight.  The transformation known as “Making Marines” is uniquely focused at Parris Island.  It begins with a disorienting bus ride at night and placement of one’s feet on yellow foot patterns.  A controlled pattern of training leading from humility to pride requires total concentration with minimal distractions.

As stated by former Assistant Commandant General Richard I. Neal, “We don’t want them to think about anything else than becoming a Marine.”  The separate-gender culture has allowed both male and female trainees to reach their respective limits with less distractions and encourages women to solve problems without relying on men to help.  After the recruits have earned their eagle, globe, and anchor , they are prepared for advanced training programs where male and female personnel train together.

The late 27th Commandant General Robert H. Barrow reformed basic training decades ago.  His son, retired Marine Lt. Col. Robert H. Barrow, has described the program as the “center of gravity” where “The Difference Begins.”  “If its unique culture is lost, he wrote in a letter, “the Marine Corps as we know it will be lost too.”

What the Next Secretary of Defense Should Do

Co-ed basic training is only part of larger policy changes that the Trump Administration should address without further delay.  The experiment with women in the infantry is not going well; it is time to end it.

In December 2015, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter summarily announced that minimally-qualified women would be eligible for the combat arms on the same involuntary basis as men.  Carter’s order disregarded the best professional advice of former Commandant General Joseph Dunford, who exercised his option to ask that the infantry and Special Operations Forces remain all-male.

Dunford’s request was backed by scientific research and field tests that the Marines conducted over three years.  As CMR reported in a Statement for the Senate Armed Services Committee, in the Marines comprehensive combat-simulation field tests, all-male units outperformed mixed-gender ones in 69% of ground combat tasks (93 of 134).

Gender-related physical deficiencies negatively affected gender-mixed units’ speed and effectiveness in simulated battle tasks, including marching under heavy loads, casualty evacuations, and marksmanship while fatigued.  Injury rates before and during the field tests were between two to six times higher for women.

Thanks to this scientifically monitored task force research, we know that deployed gender-mixed infantry units likely would be less strong, slower, and less lethal during missions to deliberately fight and kill the enemy.  That information, however, was stuffed down the Memory Hole, in hopes that it would never be seen again.

On the related issues of women in combat and co-ed basic training, the Trump Administration cannot afford to continue Obama-era policies on auto-pilot.  Differences in physical strength and endurance are important, but the next Secretary of Defense must take a long and serious look at all consequences of co-ed combat, including persistent problems with sexual misconduct that have worsened over the past 25 years.

President Trump should appoint a new Secretary of Defense and other officials who will set new priorities and act with courage to implement them.  Without principled intervention soon, there will be no going back.

Posted on Jan 16, 2019 Print this Article