Marines "Experimental Task Force" Unlikely to Change Reality
Under orders from the Department of Defense, the Marines have been conducting research on whether it makes sense to assign women to direct ground combat units. Partial findings released so far indicate that this is not a good idea. Enter the "Marine Corps Force Integration Plan," a recently established experiment that some advocates hope will produce something. . .anything. . .that supports the theory that women can "succeed" in the combat arms.
The Center for Military Readiness has produced a concise but comprehensive CMR Policy Analysis presenting the latest information about ongoing "research" on the misguided push for women in direct ground (infantry) combat. After two years of trying, results do not appear to fit the template the Pentagon had in mind:
In January 2012, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the Obama Administration's intent to push for "gender diversity metrics" in aggressive fighting teams such as Marine and Army infantry, armor, artillery, Special Operations Forces, and Navy SEALs.
Within weeks, Marine Commandant General James Amos announced a multi-phased research project to lay the groundwork for women's "success" in the combat arms. The Marines began surveying the troops, bumping up women's boot camp requirements to male minimums, inviting women to try infantry training, testing men and women performing "common tasks" and "proxy" tests, and authorizing "exceptions to policy" for women to serve in formerly all-male combat units.
Theory vs. Reality
What have we learned so far? In January came the inconvenient news that policy-makers had over-estimated the abilities of normal female recruits to do three pull-ups, the male minimum test of upper-body strength. Fifty-five percent failed the new test, compared to 1% of the men.
We also know that since 2012, fourteen spirited female Marine officers tried but did not succeed on the grueling Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA. About 40 enlisted women did make it through the Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Geiger, NC, but the less demanding ITB course includes Physical Fitness and Combat Fitness Tests (PFT and CFT) with gender-normed requirements and scoring systems that are different for men and women.
As for the online poll of thousands of Marines − survey questions erroneously suggested that ground combat assignments for women would be "voluntary." The 122 questions nevertheless failed to produce the politically-correct answers that some in the Pentagon wanted. Navy officials glossed over survey responses with an inadequate 5-page summary that was quietly slipped out the door last fall. Had Marine respondents been more supportive of the administration's goals, poll results probably would have been spun and "leaked" for maximum impact in the Washington Post.
Meanwhile, the Army surveyed 30,000 female troops whose voices should not be ignored. In a smashing blow against the women-in-combat cause, only 7.5% of female respondents said they would take a land combat assignment if it were offered, meaning that 92.5% wanted nothing to do with such assignments.
In 2012 and 2013, the Marines asked hundreds of male and female volunteers to perform "common task" and "proxy" test phases of what was billed as "Quantitative Research." Congress and independent experts should be able to study the data resulting from this research, but Pentagon officials have withheld the findings and metrics, even from members of Congress and FOIA requests.
Protesting too much, Commandant Amos insisted in a recent email to retired generals that his plan is a "DETERMINED, MEASURED, AND RESPONSIBLE" way to approach the "integration of female Marines, as much as possible, into heretofore closed MOS' and units." (Emphasis in original) "Determined," yes, "responsible," no. How can research be "measured" without metrics?
Hence the need to substitute perceptions for missing empirical evidence. Enter the Marine Corps' latest project, an "Experimental Task Force" that is supposed to. . .well, it's not really clear what the group actually will do.
Task Force Social Experiment
According to Stars & Stripes and USA Today, an Experimental Task Force of 460 self-selected Marines − 25% of them women − will be headed by a male commander and a female senior enlisted sergeant major. The mission of the group, about half the size of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), will be politically-loaded: evaluate the performance of women in a "simulated operating environment" that does not involve deployment overseas.
Military Times has prepared a graphic showing how this "controlled experiment" might work. A typical platoon would be divided into four squads: all-male, all-female, half & half, and mostly male. Academics from the University of Pittsburgh will evaluate the reality-show, which will simulate actual combat operations like Disney's Epcot Center simulates the world. What actually happens won't matter; this is all about the optics and perceptions.
In a March 12 Marine Corps "White Letter" and briefing slides, General Amos described the Experimental Task Force as "built around an infantry company" and "reinforced in the Battalion Landing Team model." The group will "activate in June 2014 for a period of 12 to 15 months." Members will "train female Marine volunteers in closed MOS skills" while a "dedicated research team observes their performance in both entry-level training and an operational environment."
Physical standards for the Experimental Task Force have not yet been finalized, which is not surprising. If the standards are "gender-neutral," there will be none to meet at all. As explained by a senior officer in the Army's 4th Infantry, who is quoted in the CMR Policy Analysis, almost all men can do heavy lifting and endurance tasks in the combat arms. Male-only designations, therefore, have made specific standards unnecessary.
As the officer has personally observed, women in "exception to policy" (ETP) positions are not asked to do heavy lifting that the men know they cannot do. The success-enhancing practice is "gender-neutral" because the men were not asked to meet specific physical standards either. This "catch" helps to create the illusion of equality by managing perceptions even if performance falls short of expectations.
In comments to USA Today about the Experimental Task Force project, Brig. Gen. George Smith reflected the over-arching goal: "gender diversity" in the combat arms. "This is about ensuring that our female Marines are set up for success," said General Smith, adding, "This is not about women in combat."
The inevitable "findings" of what might be called "Task Force Social Experiment" could become more political than empirical. Instead of highlighting ways to strengthen the Marine Corps, the project may be used to convince the media and Congress − though probably not the troops − that it makes sense to order unwilling women into the infantry and other Ground Combat Element (GCE) fighting teams.
Members of Congress need to pay attention to this one-way, incremental process, instead of looking the other way. Most have confused direct ground combat with women's courageous service "in harm's way" in Iraq and Afghanistan, forgetting that most women do not want to be treated like men in the combat arms.
Cowed by intimidation and political fears, members of Congress are allowing the Obama Administration to proceed with courses of action known to harm women, men, and the military as a whole. Congressional irresponsibility also threatens civilian women, who will likely become subject to Selective Service by federal courts interpreting a "new equality" that reflects perception management, not reality. With our military very much at risk, Congress must take these issues seriously and quickly intervene.
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