The Marine Corps is being commendably rational on the issue of integrating women into military occupations previously restricted to only men.
In a new white letter sent out to top Corps’ leaders, the Marine Commandant lays out how the Marine Corps plans to follow the 2012 Pentagon directive to open all combat roles to women by Jan. 1, 2016. In short, it boils down to: Research and get the data, make an informed decision, and execute.
A test-based approach makes sense as it could provide hard, empirical data that women can cut it in fields like infantry and special operations; or conversely, if tests determine that women can’t cut it, the Marine Corps will have the evidence it needs to demand a policy change.
To get a sense of the opposition to putting women in combat, a widely-shared article from OAF Nation, touted as “A common sense analysis,” argues against researching the issue entirely, with the opening argument as:
I know that I can form a unit comprised of 100% men and it has the potential to be combat effective. So if women really are fit for combat, shouldn’t I be able to make a unit composed of 100% women and have the potential for combat effectiveness? If I’m trying to find a golden ratio of women in a unit before it’s no longer combat effective, aren’t I admitting from the start that having women in a unit will degrade its combat effectiveness? If the goal of the military is still to fight and win wars, isn’t pushing women into combat units counterproductive to this goal?
That’s actually incorrect. 100% of men cannot make a combat-effective unit. As I saw during my own time as an instructor at the School of Infantry (West), there were plenty of young male Marines who couldn’t handle infantry training and washed out. 100% of well-trained, physically fit, and tactically proficient men can make a combat-effective unit. It can be reasonably argued that a physically fit woman with the same training could do likewise.
The other arguments against women in combat boil down to anecdotal arguments that can be easily dismissed: Combat zones are dirty and females can’t handle it (Plenty of men can’t either). Sports teams aren’t integrated so we shouldn’t do it in the military (Red herring). Dropping a woman into a unit will screw up the brotherhood (The same was said for integration of African-Americans in the 1950s. There were growing pains, sure, but we figured it out).
So far, the Corps has already sent a number of female officers to the gruelling Infantry Officer Course, and none have yet made it through. And on the enlisted side, four female Marines made history in November with their completion of the School of Infantry.
Here’s what’s next, via Marine Times:
- The Corps will begin moving more female Marines into ground combat units, at the battalion and company level. While not on the front lines, they will likely serve in staff/support positions inside infantry units. This is a no-brainer, while “combat” is certainly in the name of the role, most of these roles involve office-type work, with some pulling security or minimal patrolling while deployed.
- The continuation of the research at entry-level training already taking place. The tests continue at the enlisted Infantry Training Battalion and officers’ Infantry Officer Course.
- The establishment of an “experimental task force,” ground combat element to research social and psychological effects of integration of infantry units. With many opposed saying that men and women working in close quarters infantry units won’t work, the data here will be crucial to seeing if that really is the case.
- More openings for previously-closed occupations. Again, if they can handle the job and the data shows it, there’s no reason to keep them closed.
Whichever side of the argument you may be on regarding women in combat, the Marine Corps is not bowing to emotional pressure. They are going after real data on the issue, and we should wait and see — rather than speculate — on what the ultimate outcome might be.
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