By Bill Rauch
This battle will probably not be fit in beside “the halls of Montezuma” and “the shores of Tripoli” in the Marine Corps Hymn, but it is another legend in the remarkable history of the United States Marine Corps.
From the onset of his presidency, President Obama has called for all units in the U.S. military — including training, the infantry and special forces — to be gender-neutral, which in the contemporary lexicon means not just men and women, but transsexuals too. The White House has passed that word down in no uncertain terms through its secretaries of defense.
In 2013, Secretary Leon Panetta ended the restriction that prevented women from filling nearly 200,000 combat military jobs, and called for a quota of women in the military. But that was nothing compared to the present secretary, Ash Carter, who is clearing the way for transgender troops.
But seven-and-a-half years into his eight-year presidency, in spite of the commander in chief’s ideologically-based commitment, the training of Marines is not yet integrated, nor are the Marine Corps’ combat forces.
Legendarily successful fighters on the plains of war to be sure, the Marines are an equally tough and legendary adversary in the halls of Congress and, as several presidents have learned at the White House.
Seeking to grapple with how to implement the women-in-the-infantry order, the Marine Corps ordered a “Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force” study that was conducted from July 2014 to July 2015. The study tracked all-male units and co-ed units doing what a Marine Corps infantry battalion reinforced by a battalion landing team might be expected to do in combat situations.
To the great disappointment of the White House, the study found that carrying the heavy packs that Marines in combat situations must carry caused the women in the study to suffer more occupational injuries than the men; that the co-ed units accomplished their tasks more slowly as a result of “moving under load”; and in what is most central to their mission, the co-ed units were less able to “achieve timely effects on target” than their all-male counterparts.
An example of a task that women Marines accomplished more slowly than their male counterparts was the dragging to safety of a wounded and incapacitated 200-pound Marine.
Nonetheless, the results of the study were attacked by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus — on orders from a relentless White House no doubt — and the results of the study have been ordered reviewed. That review is due in by the end of this month.
On the co-ed boot camp front, on Jan. 1 Malbus ordered the Marine Corps to develop a plan for making the Marine Corps’ boot camp co-educational. No women are trained at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. All are trained at Parris Island. The order would have made both facilities co-ed.
In the immediate aftermath of his having received Malbus’ order, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller invited the secretary to Parris Island so that he could see firsthand how men and women were being trained there.
The meeting occurred in mid-January, and people familiar with how it went say that the secretary had his mind changed when he saw the contrast between how the men handled the pugil sticks and how their female counterparts did so. It is easy to imagine, those familiar with the exercise say, male recruits in the exercise injuring female recruits, and that while helmets are worn in the training, it would take a lot more than helmets to prevent such injuries. Pugil stick training is the equivalent of bayonet training, where instead of bayonets a padded stick is used.
After visiting Parris Island, the secretary rescinded his order saying, “The way it’s done now sets both men and women up for greater success.”
But those who believe integrated training at the Marine Corps has been put to rest would be mistaken. They should be reminded that the secretary also said, “It made sense to me to do it in a more deliberate way.”
Time will tell what exactly that means. But time is running out for the Obama Administration.
Meanwhile, on requiring that combat units become integrated, the commandant has developed a merit-based approach that is based on the premise that the Marines will — blind to sexual identity — produce the most “combat-effective force by capitalizing on the knowledge, skills, abilities, demonstrated performance and full potential of every Marine.”