"Marines moving women closer to the front lines" (574 hits)
By James Dao / New York Times News Service
Published: April 25. 2012 4:00AM PST
The Marine Corps is taking its first steps toward integrating women into war-fighting units, starting with its infantry officer school at Quantico, Va., and ground combat battalions that had once been closed to women.
The moves, announced by Gen. James Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, in a message sent to all Marines on Monday night, are intended largely to study how women perform in formerly male-only units and reflect new Pentagon rules released in February allowing women to serve closer to the front line.
The new Pentagon policy continues the ban on women serving as infantrymen, Special Operations commandos and in other direct-combat positions. But it has opened the door to thousands of new jobs for women, who represent about 15 percent of the force.
The Army, which like the Marine Corps has excluded women from many jobs because of the physical demands or proximity to combat, is also studying ways to integrate women into ground combat units.
In the coming months, Amos said in an interview, the Marine Corps plans to assign about 40 women to 19 battalions of six types: artillery, tank, assault amphibian, combat engineer, combat assault and low-altitude air defense. Infantry battalions, however, will remain closed to women.
Amos said he would limit the initial group to more mature Marines: gunnery sergeants, staff sergeants and company-grade officers, meaning lieutenants or captains. Navy medical officers, chaplains and corpsmen could also be assigned to those battalions.
A step closer
The women will serve in specialties they already have been trained in — administration, logistics, communications, supply or motor transport, but not intelligence — and will be assigned to staff billets as they come open. The jobs will be at the battalion level, one step closer to the front line than had been previously allowed, although not quite at the very tip of the spear.
“I’ve tried to approach this exactly the way the secretary wants me to: responsibly, honestly,” Amos said in the interview, referring to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “This has to be measured, responsible.”
Starting this summer, the corps will also start allowing women to attend its infantry officer course, a demanding three-month school at Quantico, where Marines are taught how to make command decisions while fatigued and under extreme duress.
The women who graduate from the course, however, will not become infantry officers; instead, they will move on to training programs in other occupations open to them, like intelligence, supply or administration.
The Marine Corps also plans to collect data from female and male volunteers who will be asked to do three physically demanding tasks: carry a heavy machine gun, evacuate a casualty and do a 20-kilometer march carrying about 70 pounds. Marine officers said the data would not necessarily be used to formulate a new kind of physical fitness test but to help senior commanders evaluate the relative strength thresholds of male and female Marines.
Amos also said he plans to ask all Marines to fill out an anonymous online survey on issues relating to women in the Marine Corps.
“I’m not one bit afraid of the results of this,” he said. “I’m very bullish on women.”
The corps’ plans were first reported by Marine Corps Times.
Although women are technically barred from combat roles, they have fought and died alongside men in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. forces could come under attack almost anywhere. More than 140 women have been killed in the two conflicts.
The Marine Corps is the most male-dominated of the armed services, with 13,800 women making up about 7 percent of its total force of 197,800. Some critics say that with its infantry-centric culture — “Every Marine a rifleman” is a mantra — the corps has been more resistant to gender integration than the other services.
Greg Jacob, a former Marine infantry officer who is policy director for Service Women’s Action Network, an advocacy group, said he was concerned that the corps might try to use data from the physical tests to prove that women are not strong enough to be infantrymen.
But he also praised some of the new measures, saying that putting women into more frontline jobs would help advance their careers.
“It puts women in a position where they are more likely to be in an expeditionary or combat role, which in the future will be looked at when it comes time for assignments and promotions,” he said.
(Photo: Female U.S. Marine recruits load their magazines earlier this month at the Recruit Training Depot at Parris Island, S.C. The Marines are taking steps toward integrating women into war-fighting units.
Stephen Morton / New York Times News Service)