by Sue Fulton
October 9, 2015
I read the 14-page memo, three third-party reviews, and the PowerPoint deck of the Marine Corps findings on their recent study of women in combat roles, all so you wouldn’t have to. BLUF*: the study doesn’t say what you think it does.
*Military acronym; Bottom Line Up Front.
The Marine Corps wants you to believe that this study proves that gender-integrated combat units can’t perform as well as all-male units because they are slower and women more prone to injury.
In reality, the study doesn’t prove that at all. Here are eight reasons why:
1. They didn’t screen women volunteers for physical fitness standards.
When the Army asked for volunteers for Ranger School, they required the women to pass the Ranger Physical Fitness Test standards as well as a physically demanding Ranger Training Assessment Course. You don’t meet the male standard, go away and come back when you’re stronger. The Marines, however, brought in any woman who passed the minimum basic PT test. The same one that any Marine company clerk has to pass.
“Female volunteers were screened against a minimum passing PFT/CFT, which does not correlate to higher levels of physical performance.”
What’s more, this led DIRECTLY to the increased injury rate that is a primary justification for keeping women out. To quote the study: “When fitness is considered, female injury rates are the same as males.”
So – physical fitness is key to performance in combat roles; but the USMC didn’t consider that variable important enough to screen for. What’s even more baffling is that…
2. There ARE no physical fitness standards for the Marine infantry – and it’s hurt their ability to fight.
“The Marine Corps has long relied on the fundamental assumption that simply because a Marine is a male, he should be capable of performing all of the physical tasks associated with a ground combat role… That has been the only physical standard applied…”
In fact, they acknowledge that many male Marines can’t hack it, adding that creating infantry-specific performance standards “will serve to reduce some of the ‘wastage’ that occurs in our ground combat arms units due to Marines being physically incapable of meeting the demands of service in those occupations.”
So – the Marine Corps allows men into the infantry even if they’re physically incapable, but bars ALL women because the AVERAGE woman can’t meet the standard?
Bottom line? Without real standards, the Marine Corps has no idea whether women Marines can serve effectively in the infantry.
3. The men had significantly more Infantry training prior to the evaluation.
Many of the men currently serve in the infantry, so they were performing tasks that they do regularly. Not so for the women. They were allowed to go through the basic Marine infantry school, but none of them had been assigned to Infantry units – and can hardly be compared to experienced infantry Marines. To compound the problem, men and women are separated in Marine Corps basic training (the other services integrated basic training many years ago), so the women don’t start with the same basic combat training all Marine men get. So trained Marines outperformed units with untrained Marines… must be because they were WOMEN (sarcasm intended).
And of course, since women Marines are trained separate from the men…
4. Marine NCOs don’t know how to train women.
The Marine Corps Times reported that “some noncommissioned officers were hesitant to hurt the feelings of more junior female Marines with orders or correction.” Every Army Soldier I have read this too has cracked up laughing, unable to imagine failing to make a correction because of “hurt feelings.”
How do you correct a female Marine? LIKE A MARINE. Years of gender segregation have indoctrinated junior leaders so thoroughly that, faced with a female Marine under their command, they are paralyzed. Here’s the thing: if you’re not correcting and training the women just as you correct and train the men, they’re not going to perform to standard. All the other services figured this out long ago.
5. Positive results were ignored.
Despite the failure of screening and the lack of training, the report notes that “female Marines scored significantly better than male Marines on flexibility, balance, and biomechanical variables.”
And more important, in a test we are told was supposed to evaluate teams, not individuals, the report notes:
“All-male and integrated teams attempted to solve challenging field problems. For more cognitively challenging problems, the female integrated teams performed as well or better than all-male teams.”
Perhaps the Marine Corps expects the Army to handle any complex or “cognitively challenging” situations in the field. Hey, we’re here for you, guys. Semper Fi.
6. The author reveals his bias in suspicion about the women’s motives.
The report’s author comments that women want to go into combat arms roles because they have “something to prove” personally, or a “selfish desire” to put their “career before the good of the nation.” He never considers that women might just want to serve their country, like the men. And this kind of bias blocks clear thinking, for example…
7. Deep-seated bias about women means they are never viewed as individuals, some of whom might be capable of outperforming the men.
The telling phrase throughout the report is “On average” as in, “on average, the males outperformed the females on the following tasks…” But since when do we allow “average” women – or average men for that matter – into the Marine infantry?
Here’s the thing. Fewer than 3% of Navy SEALs are African-American, yet no leader in their right mind would decide that African-Americans shouldn’t be allowed to go to BUDS to qualify for the SEALs. Yet this report refuses to separate one woman, who might be capable, from another who might not be fit for the Infantry. Whenever the report says “Women are…” the reader wants to say, “Which women?” It never occurs to the evaluators that SOME women might be more capable than the men; they can only see them as a homogeneous (and alien) mass.
Oh, and one last thing.
8. Fancy gear doesn’t equal science.
“The Marines’ approach to the question of integration was unique in its rigor.
The Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force turned training bases into laboratories, hooking Marines up to heart-rate monitors and GPS devices. Their rifles were rigged with devices that could determine the placement, accuracy and timing of every shot.” (Marine Corps Times, 7 Sept 2015)
It doesn’t matter how much tech you hook up to the Marine, if you don’t screen and train properly, the Marine is not going to perform.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
At the end of the day, the one thing we might agree on is that the Marine Corps has a long way to go to integrate women into their fighting force. The thing is, that’s the fault of the Marine Corps leadership, not the women. By their own admission, they would rather have men who fail to hack it physically than physically tough, smart, capable women. As long as the Corps sends the weaker Marine into battle instead of the stronger, just because he is male, they will continue to fall behind the rest of the Armed Forces.
Brenda S. (“Sue”) Fulton is a 1980 West Point graduate, part of the first class to admit women. She was commissioned in the Army, served as a platoon leader and company commander in Germany, and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain. In 2011, President Obama appointed Fulton to the West Point Board of Visitors.