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Posted on Sep 9, 2020 Print this Article

Marine Commandant Letting Down Women and the Corps

Is the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, insulting the intelligence of Marine women?  It appears so, since he seems to doubt adult women’s abilities to make career and life decisions for themselves.

In August General Berger issued yet another “Solicitation” message practically begging female Marines to consider making “lateral” moves into the infantry and to attend the physically grueling Infantry Officer Course (IOC) at Quantico, VA.  The obvious question is, Why?

Why should women assume greater risks than men just to bump up “gender diversity metrics,” another name for “quotas?”  And how would more women in the infantry, which is not short of officers, strengthen the Marine Corps?

In a recent interview, Gen. Berger offered a weak rationale: “We’re going to fight and operate better if we’re a more diverse force.  We’re not doing it to be politically correct, but science proves that if you have a more diverse group of people, you are going to reach decisions, you’re going to operate better.”

The General’s denial of “political correctness” rings false since the obvious goal is to placate diversity-demanding members of Congress and the media.  Gen. Berger also protests (too much) that his plans are “all about combat effectiveness.”  This equivocation is not consistent with the Marines’ own Core Values Card description of Courage: “Doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons.”

“Woke” social theories are contradicted by abundant, factual evidence resulting from a $38 million research project that the Marine Corps conducted from 2013 to 2015.

The three-year project culminated in nine months of Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force field tests.  University of Pittsburg scientists and respected experts in military training monitored the GCEITF exercises, which were designed to prove the hypothesis that men and women could perform equally well in the combat arms.

During rugged west-coast field exercises, highly trained women joined with average-ability male volunteers in performing simulated land combat operations in armor, infantry, and artillery units.  If Gen. Berger’s claims about gender diverse groups of people operating better in combat were true, the Marines’ own tests would have proved that claim in 2015.

Instead, empirical findings disproved the hypothesis.  All-male teams outperformed gender-mixed units in 69% of ground combat tasks. (93 of 134)

Physical differences in mixed units reduced speed and effectiveness in simulated battle tasks such as marching under heavy loads, casualty evacuations, and marksmanship while fatigued.  The field tests also showed that women’s disadvantages in upper and lower-body strength contributed to more stress fractures and twice as many injuries as men.

A summary of findings also reported that all-male rifleman infantry squads had better accuracy compared to gender-integrated squads.  The data matters because effectiveness in direct ground combat depends on superior speed, physical strength, accuracy, and endurance.

A report on research findings quoted a statement by the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, describing the risks of misplaced priorities:

“Winning in war is often only a matter of inches, and unnecessary distraction or any dilution of combat effectiveness puts the mission and lives in jeopardy.  Risking the lives of a military unit in combat to provide career opportunities or accommodate the personal desires or interests of an individual, or group of individuals, is more than bad military judgement.  It is morally wrong.”

Gender-Neutral Test, Unequal Results

There are many fields in all branches of the service in which women can and do outperform men.  No one questions their courage serving “in harm’s way” in combat zones.  But in physically demanding specialties such as the infantry – missions that attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action – men have physical advantages that are not going to change.

Policies that increase injuries, reduce deployability, depress morale, or weaken combat effectiveness cannot be described as “operating better.”  General Berger surely knows this, but he persists in trying to coax more women to serve in the combat arms.

Five years ago, the Obama Administration ignored former Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford’s formal request, backed by solid research, that infantry and special operations forces remain all-male.  Since then, “opportunities” to serve in the infantry have been wide-open to women, but results have not met expectations.

Between 2013 and 2015, 29 female officers attempted the Marines’ elite Infantry Officer Course (IOC), but none of them graduated.  Nine more tried out after women became eligible for the infantry, but only two made it through the IOC after adjustments were made in performance evaluation standards.

Only 50 female Marines have earned the infantry specialty since 2016, and the Corps’ only female officer left the service once her contract was up.  Nevertheless, last February Gen. Berger issued his first “wish list” request for women to change their career paths and move into combat arms infantry units.

Some women have excelled in male-oriented environments, but most seem uninterested in the Commandant’s offer to change specialties.  Anyone who respects women’s intelligence and ability to make their own choices should be able to figure out why.

As CMR reported in 2014, numerous medical studies in the United States and Britain have shown that military women’s injuries occur at rates much higher than men.  A group of spirited Marine enlisted women participating in the Infantry Training Battalion (ITB) course were injured six times as often as men, and the strongest of these were injured twice as often in subsequent GCEITF field tests.

Capt. Katie Petronio, a combat-experienced female officer who spoke out in an article for Marine Corps Gazette, described the unequal burdens placed on her when she served as a member of the Lioness program in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Capt. Petronio was physically well-prepared and strong before her two deployments but overseeing a construction team supporting infantry forces took a devastating physical toll on her body, which she did not foresee.

When women work beyond their maximal capacity just to match the men, medication to remedy one condition often worsens other health issues.  These can include loss of bone mineral density, stress fractures, depression, weight gain, and infertility.  A 2018 Army study reported rates of infertility three times higher than in civilian women.

If a female Marine performing at the top of her career track makes a lateral move into a formerly all-male infantry unit, she can find herself rated near the bottom in comparison with men.  Lower scores in marksmanship, ability to lift heavy objects (including human casualties) and endurance when marching long distances under heavy loads can disadvantage women in promotions and assignments.

None of this is necessary, since Defense Department reports have shown for decades that women in uniform are promoted at rates equal to or faster than men.

Attrition and Recruiting Data

Capt. Petronio asked, “Can women endure the physical and physiological rigors of sustained combat operations, and are we willing to accept the attrition and medical issues that go along with [gender] integration?”  Retention numbers suggest that many women are answering “no.”

In December 2019, the Marine Corps presented a briefing to the Pentagon’s Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS).  The briefing tracked attrition data in previously all-male combat arms communities such as the infantry, armor, field artillery, and combat engineers.

Special preparations were made to welcome the women, and when inevitable mistakes and problems occurred, some men tried to help, often insisting that all the women were doing well.

Still, attrition rates for female Marines were twice as high as men.  (29.5% of female officers left the service, compared to 13.5% for men, and comparable numbers among enlisted personnel were 23.9% female and 11.2% for men.)

Defense Department youth surveys of propensity to serve since the Fall of 2015 through the Spring of 2019 have not improved, registering 8% for young women and 17% for men, down from 19% for men in the Fall of 2015.

These numbers suggest that extra time and expenses required to recruit more women are not paying off very well in the United States and in some allied countries.  In the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), for example, a pilot test of women in tank units was not even a partial success.

According to gender equality activist Ronit Dror, Ph.D., all the female IDF soldiers who took part in the pilot program failed.  As Dr. Dror noted, “The physiological differences between them and the men won out, and the motivated, courageous female soldiers couldn’t meet the physical demands of the training.  The same thing happened in the mixed-gender Caracal [border patrol] infantry battalion.”

British military officials followed the Americans’ lead on women in the infantry, despite objections they had previously stated several times.  According to a September 2019 news report, female Royal Marines and Army recruits suffered career-threatening injuries and agonizing leg and hip problems from wearing high-tech battle rucksacks designed for men.

Some allied nations that rarely engage in close combat can afford to put military “diversity” first, but the United States, Israel, and Britain must put combat readiness first.  Potential adversaries such as China, of course, are not diverse at all.

Human Feelings and Failings

Men are not expected to sacrifice their male identities in the combat arms, but some women believe they must forget their femininity to “fit in with the guys.”  Whenever outside critics are quick to blame “sexist” men for treating women like men or failing to treat women like men.  Either way, it is a no-win situation.

In January 2013, Army General Martin Dempsey, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, claimed without evidence that assigning women to direct ground combat units would reduce sexual assaults.  Annual Defense Department reports have proven the opposite to be true.

The Defense Department’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) issues annual reports on sexual assaults, which keep escalating, year after year.  Total numbers of actual cases (not estimates based on surveys) rose from 5,277 in FY 2017 to 6,236 in FY 2019 – a 19% hike in two years and a 155% increase since the 2,444 service-member cases reported in FY 2007.

Pentagon officials have devoted countless hours to wheel-spinning exercises purporting to examine every aspect of the sexual assault problem, except for one: the possibility that misguided policies rooted in false assumptions and ideology are increasing the numbers of sexual assaults, not decreasing them as promised.

Human emotions also lead to consensual sexual relationships that exclude others, weaken unit cohesion, and sometimes result in pregnancies that affect readiness to deploy.  Gen. Berger’s call for longer maternity leave time may benefit mothers and children, but missing personnel do not help deployable infantry battalions to “operate better.”

“Diversity” Re-Defined

In 2011, the Pentagon’s Military Leadership Diversity Commission (MLDC) pushed for “diversity and inclusion” of women in the combat arms.  In its Final Report, the Commission admitted that non-remedial “diversity management. . . is not about treating everyone the same.”  The concept is about demographic group rights, not individual rights.  “This can be a difficult concept to grasp, especially for leaders who grew up with the EO-inspired mandate to be both color and gender blind.”

The report called for a “Chief Diversity Officer” (CDO), reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense, with power to approve (or reject) all promotions for senior officers.  (Gen. Robert B. Neller – Berger’s predecessor as Commandant who is pictured to the left of him above – was a member of the MLDC and signed its report.)

Nine years later, the House of Representatives has voted for language in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2021 establishing even more radical concepts enforced by a cabinet-level Council on Diversity & Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officers in the Defense Department and all branches of the service.

At a time like this, the Marines could use a real leader.  General Berger should support non-discrimination and recognition of individual merit, but vigorously oppose “Diversity and Inclusion” mandates based on group rights and demographic quotas.

Instead, Gen. Berger is going along with congressional pressures to abolish the Corps’ separate-gender basic training, which several studies have found to be superior in “making Marines.”

In August 2017 Marine Corps Times reported that 3 out of 4 women had failed to meet combat standards in newly-introduced gender-neutral physical tests.  If “diversity” is the primary goal, the only option for making the numbers is to omit tougher challenges and “validate” standards that are “equal” but lower than before.

The late General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., the 30th Commandant, expressed support for all Marines’ rights to develop and maximize their abilities and opportunities in the military, but also questioned the presumption that demographic, percentage-based “diversity” should be considered a “strategic mandate.”  The unanswered question, he wrote, is “Why?  This is an unproven and conjectural opinion.”

Instead of acting on disproven opinions and setting up women for failure, the Marine Corps should follow the facts.  Gen. Berger could start by revisiting an unredacted copy of the Dunford Memorandum, which asked that some combat units remain all-male and providing reasons why. 

Since the Dunford Memo was sent to the Secretary of the Navy on September 17, 2015, it has been mostly hidden from public review, despite numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for an unredacted copy, filed by the Center for Military Readiness and Judicial Watch

Why the secrecy?  The current Commandant should pull the Dunford Memo out of the Memory Hole where the previous administration stuffed it, and take a fresh look at better ways to manage talent and strengthen the Corps.   

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The Center for Military Readiness is an independent public policy organization that reports on and analyzes military/social issues.  Tax-deductible contributions to CMR can be made by clicking here.

Posted on Sep 9, 2020 Print this Article