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To Earn The Title: Women In The Marine Corps (5)

First Posted: Jan. 20, 2016, 3:23 p.m. CST
Last Updated: Jan. 23, 2016, 1:47 p.m. CST
Commandant Dunford's year long study on women in combat used male and female Marines in a composite battalion and looked at the combat effectiveness of all male units versus mixed gender units. The study put the units through 134 tasks designed to simulate combat and graded each unit on its effectiveness and efficiency in performing the tasks. One of the flaws of the study was that it did not take into account female Marines like Sgt. Sheena Adams who actually served in combat. She served as a squad leader for a Female Engagement Team with I Marine Expeditionary Force while in Afghanistan and became an instructor for future teams when she returned home. She was recognized as Marine of the Year by the Marine Corps and Woman of the Year by the USO.

Rangers lead the way. The Marine Corps study only cited a 1992 presidential commission on women in combat, but ignored more recent studies conducted by the US Army and our allies. According to the Army Times, in all, 19 women started Ranger School in April of this year. Capt. Griest, Lt. Haver and Maj. Jaster were the only ones to complete the course. Using the Marines’ math of 2+2=5, these three women shouldn’t have passed Ranger School because the law of averages prohibits it. Rep. Steve Russell, a retired lieutenant colonel and Ranger graduate, like his esteemed colleague Rep. Hunter, criticized the Ranger graduates and accused the storied school of lowering its standards to allow the women to graduate.
This time it was then Army Secretary John McHugh who was in the Republican cross hairs. Secretary McHugh defended the Army's decision to open Ranger School and outlined data that was published in the Army Times. The data showed female candidates performed just as well, and in some cases better than, their male peers. The Distinguished Honor Graduate for Ranger Class 8-15, which graduated Aug. 21, had an average score of 90/100 on peer evaluations, no spot reports or failed patrols. The Enlisted Honor Graduate had an average score of 83/100 on peer evaluations, no spot reports or failed patrols. In comparison to the honor graduate, the first two female graduates (Lt. Griest and Capt. Haver) scored an average of 83/100 and 77/100, respectively, on their peer evaluations and received more total spot reports — both positive and negative — than the average male student in the sample from their graduating class. Three male students who graduated in that same class scored an average of 71-75/100 on their peer evaluations, failed two to three patrols each, received no positive spot reports and received up to four major negative sport reports. No female students were dropped from the gender-integrated assessment for medical conditions.

The criticism online and in social media has been so persistent that Major General Scott Miller, commanding general of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, addressed the complaints during the Aug. 21 Ranger School graduation, calling out the "noisy and inaccurate" online critics. "Ladies and gentlemen, [Ranger Assessment Phase] week has not changed. Standards remain the same," Gen. Miller said. "The five-mile run is still five miles. The 12-mile march is still 12 miles."

The required weight of the students' rucksacks have stayed the same, "the mountains of Dahlonega are still here, the swamps remain intact," he said.

Cmd. Sgt. Major Curtis Arnold said both women are “tough soldiers” who proved their mettle beyond a doubt. He said a decade ago he would have doubted a woman could pass the rigorous course. Sgt. Maj. Arnold is the Command Sergeant Major for the Ranger School. Capt. Haver and Lt. Griest not only finished the course they started in April – they had to start from scratch, having failed two previous attempts. Out of 19 women who began the program, Haver and Griest were the first two to finish and graduate from the course.

“These two soldiers have absolutely earned the respect of every Ranger instructor,” Sgt. Maj. Arnold told reporters. “They do not quit and they do not complain.” The Army on Sept. 2 2015 announced that Ranger School is now open to all qualified soldiers regardless of gender. The first integrated class since that announcement kicked off on Nov.2. The five women who started that cycle did not pass muster, not because of gender averages, but because they failed to meet the standards. Why is the Rep. Russell not as outraged by the rise of Sexual Assault and Rape in the military? Or reforming the military justice system to address its short comings regarding rape and assault in the services? In response to Rep. Russell’s witch hunt, an informal cadre of female West Point graduates filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the Representative’s military records. In Stars and Stripes, the Huffington Post, and other media outlets, a spokesperson for the group, Sue Fulton, said that the representative “like too many older men, have biases about what women are capable of.” Ms. Fulton told the Huffington Post that if the representative want’s to challenge the accomplishments of the two Rangers, his own record should also be up for scrutiny. After all, 3 of the women’s fellow male Rangers did score and perform lower than the two female Rangers.

Then there is of course, Lt. Col. Germano’s experiment in Parris Island where she challenged gender biases and was able to elevate both male and female recruit performance and marksmanship scores. Marine Corps command officials cited the study’s findings that female Marines were “less lethal” because their marksmanship averages were lower than the men. Secretary Mabus cited such findings can be addressed with training and leadership, which is exactly what Lt. Col. Germano did. What the study also ignores is a world full of not just theoretical data, but actual practical data from more than 16 industrialized nations, most of whom are US allies, have already allowed women in combat roles. Some of them have been doing it for decades. A number of them, Denmark, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand have even deployed them in Iraq alongside segregated US Forces. The performance of these female soldiers were collected in a comprehensive study – the most comprehensive on the subject matter to date – that was published by the United Kingdom in 2009. Our British allies share our Victorian attitude towards women in combat.

And they are not just the Europeans. Kurdish women fight ISIS in all-women units in the oil-rich district of Kurdistan. UK’s Daily Mail reported on three women who travelled from Turkey to Sinjar in Iraq to form another all-female unit to combat ISIS. They boasted to the British media, MailOnline, that they killed up to 10 ISIS jihadis a day to stop the Yazidi genocide after the Peshmerga withdrew early in the crisis. Until the US airstrikes started in August they were the only defense in the area. One of its members said that ISIS feared them because they believed by being killed by a woman they would be denied the Jannah or heavenly reward in the afterlife.

With the US airstrikes, the Peshmerga returned and with the assistance of the all–female militia a corridor was opened and secured and the besieged Yazidis on Sinjar was able to be evacuated and relief supplies were able to make it through. Since the withdrawal of ISIS from the region, the women have trained mixed gender Sinjar Protection Units drawn from the local Yazidi populace. The women explained to MailOnline, “There is no difference between female and male fighters. The training is the same.”

Stephen Gould once posed the question, “What was wrong with Samuel Morton's skull measurements?” In “The Mismeasure of Man,” Gould argued that the craniological research by 19th century anatomist was skewed by Morton’s unconscious racial bias, and with this collection of skulls, he sought to measure the volume of a skull. He compared hundreds of skulls of American Indians with forty or fifty skulls of people of African descent and Caucasian peoples, he happily concluded what he had thought all along: that whites were more intelligent than the others because Caucasian skulls held more mustard seeds than the others. White folks had several more cubic centimeters than Indians, and Indians had, in turn, several more cubic centimeters on average than blacks.

The reason, Mr. Gould explained, that he remained so interested in the history of science is that it's easier to flay open the biases of the past because we've overcome them. I think, as Mr. Gould did, that as a species, we're largely unaware of how our own deep beliefs, which just seem either logical or necessary or proven to us, are just as immersed in bias. I believe that is very hard for us to understand, yet alone to accept. In regard to today’s debate on gender, the same theory applies. Men like Dunford, Hunter and LeHew are examples of men, who largely have never served with women in combat, are convinced that their “beliefs,” and they are just beliefs, are logical, necessary and proven.

Take that deep rooted bias, and mix it in with the gianormous egos of generals and politicians, and we are back in Morton’s lab jamming mustard seeds into skulls to justify our faulted beliefs. Don’t tell this Lance Corporal that there are no institutional and individual egos involved in this debate. It won’t wash with this Marine. Representative Hunter would rather call into question the integrity of his lauded Rangers and his beloved Army than accept the fact that 3 women were able to pass the same course he did two decades ago.

Secretary Mabus’ military service is never mentioned in media reports, but in all instances his critics are lauded as ‘combat veterans,’ ‘Iraq veterans,’ ‘war heroes’ and recipients of this medal and that medal. Timothy McViegh was a ‘war veteran,’ and Harvey Lee Oswald was a Marine, and Bowe Bergdahl served in Afghanistan, the shooter at Fort Hood, and the Marines and soldiers involved in Abu Gharib and the Haditha massacre were ‘war veterans’ as were the soldiers at Abu Gharib. It’s a slight of hand, and I am also guilty of it. But blinded by our biases, we forget that heroes are not the only thing that war produces.

Gen. Dunford “cherry-picked” the study’s finding, and like Morton’s Cranial Study, the General used it to support his biases and prejudices. The Marine Corps’ study also assumes that the Corps operates in a vacuum and that there is no other empirical data out there in the warfighting universe - like the Army’s own study with their Ranger school, The Boston University Study, or even Lt. Col. Kate Germano’s success in elevating recruit performance by crossing gender lines. The study’s officials and organizers, as well as Sgt. Maj. LeHew, never interviewed the hundreds of female Marines who had already served in combat like L/Cpl Liberty and Lt. Col. Germano. The Ranger study was actually more objective than the one that Gen. Dunford commissioned.

Yes, females on average lagged behind their male counterparts in strength and accuracy. But these averages ignore the individual accomplishments of women like Sgt. Hester and Specialist Brown, both Silver Star recipients, and the hundred or so women who have earned the Purple Heart and Combat Action Badges over the last decade and a half. Sgt. Maj. LaHew’s said that the secretary’s criticism was “unfair to the women who participated in this study.” The study’s slanted and selective findings negates and minimizes the individual acts of courage and strength that female Marines have already demonstrated in combat over the last decade. Like Sgt. Saalman and other female Marines who have distinguished themselves in actual combat and not a simulated exercise. None of that data was tabulated into the Marine Corps’ averages.

Further, Secretary Mabus was correct in asserting that all the issues raised in the study can be addressed by training and leadership. Are men born muscular and fit? If that is the case then why are there over 66 million obese adults in U.S. (30 million men and 36 million women)? Another 74 million are overweight (42 million men and 32 million women). Are men natural born sharpshooters or snipers? How did Carlos Hathcock become the famed sniper that he was in the Marine Corps? Did he walk off the street and just start dropping enemy targets like empty beer cans? He started his career and tour of duty in Vietnam as an MP. It was only later that he was selected to be a sniper. And he honed and perfected his skills under the mentorship of Captain Edward James Land. Was he a good shot because of biological factors like body fat measurements or was it good ol’ Marine Corps training?
The difference in body fat between male and female was negligible: there was a 4% increase in the average with women. I hope I don’t have to explain why that is. Again ‘average’ implies that there were individuals in both males and females who were above and below the mean. In survival conditions, when you are out in the bush for extended periods of time with no regular resupply, lean is not necessarily a good thing. Some body fat is useful as it serves as an emergency reserve that your body can burn in such instances. Nor is muscular always a good thing. Contrary to Hollywood movie wisdom, muscle bound Marines often sacrifice flexibility, agility and speed for bulk. Any grunt will tell you the muscle bound Marines are usually POGs (Persons Other than Grunt) and belong to rear echelon support units as they have regular access to work out facilities and gyms and have the time to work out. Grunts who operate out of forward operating bases and outposts do not have such luxuries.

The complaint about women being at a higher risk of sexual assault in mixed gender units is also fabricated as illustrated earlier. One of the findings of this Marine Corps study that did not make it in the summary released by the Corps is that sexual assault incidence rate in mixed gender units were no higher than in the Marines as a whole: and that rate is close to 10%. In the case of rape and sexual assault, the Marines, and not the Rangers, lead the way. A distant second was the Navy with a little over 1%. Keep in mind the Marines have the least amount of women, and the highest rate for sexual assault and penetrative sexual assault (rape). Ooh Rah.

Representatives Duncan and Russell argue integrating women into combat units could erode morale and lead to increased sexual tension that would undermine fighting capability. Yet another finding in the Marines’ study was that morale was no different either. This particular finding was omitted by the Marine Corps and was released by a women’s advocacy group after they had obtained the entire report.

You see, American gender classification is completely cultural, and it's based on the unfortunate and sad legacy of gender distinction based on a ridiculous premise of the superior sex. To think that the Marine Corps’ screwed up gender classification is biological is just plain wrong. It's based, flat-out, on the legacy of gender bias and bigoted misogyny. On a number of stories regarding military sexual trauma, the Marine Corps is always highlighted as the service that struggles the most with the issue of sexual assault in the ranks. The Marines are also the service with the lowest percentage of women in its ranks and leadership. It is the least integrated of the services as well. I submit that the reason for that is the culture that the Marines allow to flourish within the ranks about the value and worth of women in the Corps. One of the criticisms Lt. Col. Germano noted in the year she commanded the 4th Recruit Battalion was the pervasive attitude that women Marines cannot hit a target or shoot a weapon, despite the fact that women Marines have been firing weapons in boot camp for decades. It was one of the premises that the lieutenant colonel challenged. She worked with male range masters at the base to improve training and mentorship of the female recruits and, as a result, was successful in raising marksmanship rates in BOTH genders.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus immediately refused to accept General Dunford’s request for an exception in September and criticized the Marine Corps study’s ‘official’ findings. On December 3rd, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced at the Pentagon that the military would be opening all “remaining occupations and positions to women. There will be no exceptions.” The implementation will take place on January 1st 2016. Women will “be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat,” he said. They will also be able to compete for spots on elite Special Operations units, such as the Army’s Delta force and the Navy SEALs. Regarding General Dunford’s request for an exemption, Secretary Carter addressed that exemption request directly. “We are a joint force and I have decided to make a decision that applies to the entire force.”



This article was written by Joaquin Rafael Roces. Joaquin is a Marine Corps Veteran, is active in his faith community, and has served as a Eucharistic Minister and Religious Education Instructor for over 15 years. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and recently became involved in the parish’s Youth Ministry. He has a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder and has been in recovery for three years. In 2015 Joaquin was trained by the National Alliance for Mental Illness to be an In Our Own Voice Presenter. Joaquin travels throughout Northern Nevada working with NAMI to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes by describing the reality of living with mental illness and sharing his recovery story. Through the In Our Own Voice presentations, people with lived experience with mental illness share their powerful personal stories.

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