I don’t intend to get into the underlying issue of women in the infantry — I’ve intended to ever since that mandate came down from civilian leadership, but I just haven’t felt up to the huge and predictable argument that would lead to — but in reading this I felt motivated to make some remarks on general fitness in the Marines:
WASHINGTON — New physical standards established so women can compete for combat posts in the Marine Corps have weeded out many of the female hopefuls. But they’re also disqualifying some men, according to data obtained by The Associated Press.
In the last five months, 6 out of 7 female recruits – and 40 out of about 1,500 male recruits – failed to pass the new regimen of pull-ups, ammunition-can lifts, a 3-mile run and combat maneuvers required to move on in training for combat jobs, according to the data.
The tests, taken about 45 days into basic training, force recruits who fail into other, less physically demanding Marine jobs. And that, the Marine commandant says, is making the Corps stronger.
The high failure rate for women, however, raises questions about how well integration can work, including in Marine infantry units where troops routinely slog for miles carrying packs weighed down with artillery shells and ammunition, and at any moment must be able to scale walls, dig in and fight in close combat.
The new standards are a product of the Pentagon’s decision to allow women to compete for frontline jobs, including infantry, artillery and other combat posts. But Marine leaders say they are having a broader impact by screening out less physically powerful Marines – both men and women.
“I think that’s made everybody better,” Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told the AP in his first in-depth interview on the subject. “We’re trying to raise everybody’s bar a little bit and we’re trying to figure out how to get closer together, because at the end of the day we’re all going to be on the battlefield and we all have to be able to do our job.”…
I have a series of reactions to this:
- These new standards are only eliminating 40 out of 1,500 male recruits? That doesn’t sound like the Marines to me. They’re supposed to be the few, not the 1,460 out of 1,500. Were the ratios always like this? If so, that sort of tarnishes the image I have in my head of the Marines as an elite force. Even the Army, at the very height of WWII, was rejecting a third of draftees. I really that’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, but still — wouldn’t you think more Marine recruits than that would wash out, if standards were what they should be?
- Assuming for a moment that we’re all in agreement that women should be in foxholes, I don’t think we have any reason to look at 6 out of 7 women washing out of an elite light infantry unit as bad news. Seems to me that the best argument always advanced for letting women in is that we should treat people like individuals — that we shouldn’t say, just because most women lack, say, the upper body strength to keep up with male Marines, that all women should categorically be barred. Shouldn’t we make exceptions for, say, the Lady Briennes of Tarth among us? That always seemed a good argument to me. (I,for one, would not want to be the officer deputed to tell Lady Brienne she was out, especially since Ser Jaime let her keep that Valyrian steel sword). Besides, if six women don’t make it, the more honor to the seventh.
- What happened to the notion of “every Marine a rifleman?” Should Marines keep the feathermerchants who can’t pass a test that 97 percent of male recruits can pass? What’s this about “other, less physically demanding Marine jobs?” When did the Marines start offering such jobs? I’ve always known the Army had places for the less fit — or at least they did in the days of the draft, when things like food service weren’t outsourced to civilian contractors and you could always put a sad sack to work peeling spuds or policing the area for butts — but since when is that an aspect of the Marines? They’re the point of the spear, are they not? Let the swabbies do the paperwork, right? Every marine is a rifleman.
I should probably stop there before I offend the Air Force, too.
But when I hear that almost all male recruits can pass the new physical requirements, it makes me think that even I, at my age, might have a shot. And I really like to think of the Marines as having higher standards than that…