Small Wars Journal

Setting the Right Conditions for Gender Integration in the Armed Services

Mon, 09/21/2015 - 12:24pm

Setting the Right Conditions for Gender Integration in the Armed Services

Shelly Goode-Burgoyne

A major shift is underway across the U.S. Armed Forces. A month ago, two American Army officers, who happen to be women made history and altered the future for all American women when they graduated from our Army’s elite Ranger School. Yesterday, our Commander and Chief appointed the first openly gay Secretary of the Army, In 2010 the DOD policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing openly gay soldiers to serve without fear of harassment or dishonorable discharge, and the Air Force is seeking ways to enlist qualified trans-gendered Americans. In the last few days and in advance of the 2016 deadline to open all combat jobs to American women or seek an exception in front of Congress, the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force have announced that they plan on opening all combat jobs to qualified female service-members, to include the Infantry, Navy Seals, and all Special Forces jobs. Top Navy Admiral, Jon Greenert and Rear Admiral Brian Losey, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command believes that if women can pass the grueling six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve. Losey states:

"Why shouldn't anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason," Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times and its sister publication Defense News. "So we're on a track to say, 'Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'"

Nevertheless, and in spite of this progress, the United States Marine Corps, which is a component of the Department of the Navy and reports to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, has decided to disregard the Secretary’s directive for full gender integration. On Friday, the Marine Corps Commandant publicly stated that the Marine Corps is entitled to, and will ask for an exemption from the full integration policy directed by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2013. If granted by Congress, the Marine Corps would be allowed to continue to ban qualified female Marines from serving in many Marine Corps combat jobs, to include Infantry. The Marine Corps has cited their recent gender neutral standards study as evidence to keep their ban in place. This gender study which was released only in summary a few days ago has already been determined to be fundamentally flawed by the Secretary of the Navy, many active duty and reserve military officers, veterans, and several members of Congress. Secretary Mabus said this about the study:

"It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking 'this is not a good idea,' and 'women will never be able to do this. When you start out with that mindset, you're almost presupposing the outcome. The Marines could have selected female volunteers who were better suited to the task of marching under heavy loads, which accounted for many of the injuries that were observed. For the women that volunteered, probably there should have been a higher bar to cross to get into the experiment.”

As our Congress prepares to consider allowing the United States Marine Corps to remain the only profession in our nation which bans a qualified American from a certain job because that American is a woman they must vigorously debate and query this study which the Marine Corps is citing as evidence to ban women from Infantry. They should also question the future and legitimacy of the Marine Corps’ antiquated policy of segregated training.

What sparked this most recent debate?  A year-long Marine Corps study on gender integration was flawed on many levels: the subject selection, the deduced purpose for the study, and the cherry-picked results that were released.

The Marine Corps study is at best inconsistent and Congress has ordered the Marine Corps Commandant, General Joseph Dunford, to brief them on the gender study within the month. The study was never intended to act as a litmus test to determine if women can serve in the Marine Corps Infantry, but rather, it was commissioned to assist in determining the gender neutral standards for the Infantry (there currently exist no standards for the Infantry, save being male). It is important to note that the full gender study has not been released by the Marine Corps and ultimately the Secretary of the Navy has the last word on this issue as all branches of our professional military fall under their prospective civilian leadership. The Marine Corps was directed to assess how individual women would perform in combat situations. However, they chose to include mostly average female Marines, and the study states these average female Marines included in this study performed inferior to men in many areas to include marksmanship and carrying heavy loads. The Marine Corps report also says that these women were injured at slightly higher rates. This is a fundamentally unsound approach as “average” female Marines would not realistically be competing for jobs in the Infantry, only high performing female Marines would. No one is arguing that any woman can be a Marine infantrywoman, but rather, only a few exceptional women can. Needless to say, many military officers, veterans, and members of Congress take issue with the study’s claims.

Marine Major Edward Carpenter, a military professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and the author of Steven Pressfield's "The Warrior Ethos": One Marine Officer's Critique and Counterpoint, argues:

“The bottom line? Out of those 400 young men and women, the Marine Corps is currently willing to give 300 of them a pass straight to infantry, whether they are good shots or bad, whether they are strong or weak, fat or skinny, short or tall, fast or slow, simply because they are men. Similarly, it is willing to tell the other 100 that, regardless of how great they are with a gun, how fast they can run or how long they can exert themselves, that they cannot serve in the infantry, because the average female Marine scores lower in those areas.”

Rep (AZ). Martha McSally, a combat tested fighter pilot, and Army Colonel Ellen Haring have both raised concerns about the study.

Rep (AZ). McSally recently said this of the study:

"I echo some concerns by the secretary of the Navy related to, 'Do we take a bunch of combat trained men and a bunch of non-combat trained support women and put them together, and just wonder how they're going to do?’  You can study anything and get the results you might be looking for, or have some flawed assumptions in how you're setting it up. And so we want to make sure we understand where the study was and what the results are from it, and then what to conclude from it."

Army Colonel Ellen Haring maintains:

“The results of the Marine Corps’ research are not surprising. The service was told to assess how individual women do in combat situations, but the task force instead assessed groups with average female Marines — rather than high performers — in them.”

When you place average female Marines in an Infantry unit who have never served a day in an Infantry unit, they will naturally not initially perform at the same level as a man who has served in an Infantry unit for months or years. A better and more scientific approach would have been to select only the highest performing female Marines and see how they performed in a Marine Infantry unit. We expect a learning curve, and that is just what we have in this study, and not much more. But perhaps the real culprit is the Marine Corps’ policy of gender segregated initial training, which many argue has placed female Marines at a distinct disadvantage Army since 1918, the year the first American woman enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Many veterans and military officers have written at length about the Marine Corps’ archaic policy of segregated training and how this approach to training places female Marines at a clear disadvantage the minute they raise their hand to enlist. How can we expect an average female Marine to perform equally to male Marines when in her most fundamental initial training she is segregated from men and thus never competes with male Marines and works to reach only the highest female standard? We cannot and I think as we integrate the force we will continue to see the consequences of segregated training. USMC Major Kyleanne Hunter and USMC Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, (who was subsequently fired for her efforts to train female Marines to meet the male standard), discuss the lower standards that often result from segregated training at length in two recent articles in the New York Times: Lt. Col. Kate Germano on Marines and Women and The Cost of Lower Standards for Women in Marine Recruitment.

The two women who graduated from Army Ranger School did so because from day one they were required to run next to men, ruck-march with thirty five pounds next to men, load and fire heavy weapons next to men, swim next to men, eat and sleep next to men in the field, patrol with men… the list goes on and on. Because women and men in the all other services train together from day one most women in these services do not work to achieve only the female standard, they work to achieve the highest male standard possible. If the Marine Corps were to open its infantry to qualified women they will surely have to de-segregate their initial training of Marines, and this might just prove more of a culture shock to the Marine Corps than the idea of a female Infantry platoon leader.

So, is Congress to allow the Commandant of the Marine Corps to say on one hand that the Marines in his ranks are reflective of the American society from which they come (which he says regularly), while on the other hand say that the 51% of our population, that American society has deemed equal and deserving of every opportunity they are qualified for, are somehow banned from his infantry? American women already serving in our military and those who have served want this and are fighting for it, not politicians or so-called feminists who have never served. When Army Ranger School opened its doors to female Army soldiers, hundreds applied. When the Navy opened submarine duty to women, hundreds applied, when the United States Army opened its Infantry training to women on an experimental basis, hundreds of female soldiers applied, and when the Marine Corps opened its Infantry Officer Basic Course hundreds of female Marines applied. The American people see this issue simply on the basis of equality and democracy. Julien Mathonniere, a respected defense scholar illustrates this point clearly when he writes:

“Common people don’t reflect about the future of infantry. But they certainly do about the place of women in society. And the military would gain nothing by pitting their operational requirements against the wider demands of the public opinion; lest they be insincere about narrowing the civilian-military gap. People want their military to remain a true and fair emanation of the society they live in. It is not as if they were two separate entities.”

The military is not a brotherhood. It's not a sisterhood.  We are all comrades in arms. Let's hope the Marines can help set the conditions for future success for all who serve.

About the Author(s)

Shelly Goode-Burgoyne is a former Army officer, combat veteran, and Tillman Scholar. Ms. Goode-Burgoyne served two tours in Iraq as a transportation officer, leading combat re-supply convoys throughout the provinces of Iraq. She is active in the veteran community, volunteering and writing for many veteran centric organizations and publications. She is an advocate for full gender integration of all combat jobs within the U.S. military.


G Martin

Tue, 09/22/2015 - 9:04pm

She's an advocate- therefore not interested in anything that goes against what she is advocating. Either she refuses to believe anything could go wrong, or she doesn't care- because she is after something else (societal change perhaps) that justifies the means.

When someone advocates like she does- one can see both the inconsistencies and the emotion in the argument. The Marine Corps is all but called evil- the other services are good.

The most egregious example is when she says that the USMC experiment was never meant to be a litmus test- but then she implies that Ranger School was.

Arguments for full equality won't get anywhere with these advocates- equality is not what they are after. Most are after societal change- and many think that once women get in it won't be long before we're all equal in all ways and Starship Trooper shower scenes are the norm.

What remains the most important point in all of this- the effect on unit cohesion- is the thing no one is really talking about. There are HUGE practical, philosophical, and institutional (politically incorrect) obstacles to reporting on the effect of integration on unit cohesion- not the least of which is that to report problems is to run the risk of being labeled a bad leader and fired.

This issue has gotten political- so objectivity is out. The only thing that remains to be seen is whether or not there will be a backlash or - like most of our allies- this won't really result in much because very few will make it in.

Let's top this off by mandating that women register for "The Draft" as well. Enjoying equal benefits of complete gender-integration should include bearing equal responsibility (& availability) when bodies are needed to throw into a fight.


Tue, 09/22/2015 - 9:58am

The argument that apparently is being made is that because women in the military want to do it, they should be allowed to try. No mention is made of the impact on effectiveness, or the risks involved. The Secretary of the Navy thinks effectiveness will be improved. No disrespect to his two year career as a surface warfare officer, but he has no clue what he is talking about.

It's interesting that Ms. Goode-Burgoyne (and many others) that are advocating full gender integration don't want COMPLETE gender norms across the military. They reiterate that if the women can meet the standard, they should be allowed to serve, but what about the physical fitness standards?

Women and men have drastically different fitness standards when it comes to upper body strength and cardio endurance. I have not heard anyone argue those should be equalized.

I suppose if I'm leading supply convoys how many push ups I can do does not matter much, but in the infantry it does. The infantry at its' very core is about closing with the enemy and destroying them. Many mention that warfare today is done from long distance, but there are numerous instances in OIF and OEF where combat devolved into a hand to hand battle for survival, many instances where physical force was needed to subdue the enemy, many trips patrolling the high mountains of Afghanistan with ruck sacks that far exceeded the 35 pounds carried at Ranger school.

Sure there are probably some women on the planet who could pass infantry school, but the vast majority would not. History has show that the Army will bend the standards to meet either written or unwritten quotas.

When I was at Officer Candidate School many years ago, every candidate that repeatedly fell out of runs was recommended for dismissal by the company commander. The battalion commander dropped the men from the course, the women were given a pass. Mind you, completing these runs was not a written requirement for graduation, but it was the estimate of the cadre that those who fell out were weak and not fit to lead Soldiers. By the way, every woman in my platoon fell out of every cadre led run, and every single one of them graduated.

Until those advocating for full gender integration can provide convincing evidence that actual combat effectiveness will be improved, or at the very least not diminished, their arguments are quite hollow.