Are we fallen angels who didn't want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved? --Jack Kerouac

To Earn The Title: Women In The Marine Corps Part 3

First Posted: Dec. 28, 2015, 11:38 p.m. CST
Last Updated: Jan. 6, 2016, 5:57 p.m. CST
In 2014 three female officers passed a rigorous day-long test qualifying them to potentially lead US Marine infantrymen for the first time in history, the women had successfully completed the Combat Endurance Test, the first hurdle Marines must pass to become infantry officers – the quintessential front-line combat job. That accomplishment qualified them for the remainder of infantry officer training, the IOC.They were physically disqualified from the training for falling behind in hikes while carrying loads of 100 pounds or more. All three women have been asked to leave the course.

Rattling Sabers. As of September of this year, the commandant of the Marine Corps has recommended that women be excluded from competing for certain front-line combat jobs in the Marine Corps. Then Commandant General Joe Dunford filed his request for that exemption to his boss, the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in September of 2015, months before the 2016 deadline. The Marine Corps used as a basis for its request a year-long study it conducted with a mixed gender battalion strength task force designed to look at the combat effectiveness of mixed gender units side by side with all male units.

The Marine Corps was perhaps on the verge of being the only military service that has asked for an exemption to opening all positions to women. While the Marine Corps has not publicly stated that it will seek to keep ground combat positions closed to women, the scuttlebutt (unofficial channels) is that Marine Corps is seeking to oppose the 2013 mandate that all jobs in the military be open to women by the new year, according to the Washington Post.
The Marine Corps’ 4 page summary of the year-long study cited that female and mixed gender infantry units performed less effectively than all male units, citing higher injury rates among female Marines than their male counterparts and were less “lethal” in combat exercises, particularly in marksmanship, the bread and butter of the infantry. With the Commandant’s refusal to abide by the 2013 directive to fully integrate the armed services, the Corps distanced itself from the other military services that are expected to allow women to serve in battlefield posts.

Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford submitted his recommendation to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in September after the release of their year long study. Officials in the Marine Corps have been very tight lipped about the details of the study, and have only released a short summary. On the otherside, Navy Secretary Mabus, who oversees the Marine Corps as part of the Department of the Navy, has been very vocal and made it abundantly clear that he opposes the proposal from the Marines and recommended that women be allowed to compete for any Navy or Marine Corps combat jobs. This has led to a culture clash between the Marines and their parent organization, the Department of the Navy. Defense Secretary Ash Carter may have to mediate an internal clash between a military establishment that is prepared to open combat infantry jobs to women and a Marine Corps that is seeking an official policy exemption to keep those same jobs limited to men.

The media has implied that tension has been intensified when, at the end of September, Gen. Dunford was selected to become Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff(JCS), the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. military. However, the JCS has no operational command over the services or what is called the unified combatant commands. Responsibility for conducting military operations goes from the National Command Authority directly to the combatant commands and bypasses the JCS. With Gen. Dunford’s elevation to Chairman of the JCS, the new incoming Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller made some pointed comments regarding women in combat in late September. Following a public back and forth between the Marine Corps and the Secretary of the Navy, Gen. Neller stated in front of Marines in Quantico, Virginia, “This has nothing to do about women in combat,” Neller said, “I buried three women in Iraq in 2006 and they died alongside 311 men.” He added, “To me it’s personally insulting to talk about women in combat. Women have been in combat.”

Although Neller dismissed the notion that including women in combat was anything new, he made sure to point out that the debate was about women being directly assigned to positions in ground combat units such as Marine infantry and reconnaissance units. “Gen. Dunford, when he was still commandant, made his recommendation on this issue to the Secretary of the Navy,” Gen. Neller said, “and right now it is the policy of the Marine Corps that we’re not going to talk about what that recommendation was because we’re going to let the Secretary of Defense make his decision.” In closing, the new commandant stated “I’m not overly concerned about it,” said Neller, referring to Carter’s eventual decision. “We’ll get told what to do and we’ll execute the plan…it’s as simple as that.”

But as a former Marine and an infantry grunt, I know, as any Lance Corporal will tell you, nothing, absolutely nothing, in the Marine Corps is ever that “simple.” As mentioned earlier, a number of active and former Marines criticized Secretary Mabus’s opposition to the Marine Corps and at least one member of Congress has even equated it to treason. Congressional Representative Duncan Hunter, a former Marine himself, was rattling sabers on Capitol Hill – in a venomous letter, Rep. Hunter called for the Secretary of the Navy’s resignation. It would appear the representative has forgotten his chain of command. Organizationally and legally, the Secretary of the Navy is senior to the Commandant of the Marine Corps, and the Marine Corps is a subordinate department within the Navy. For the Marine Corps to refuse to abide by the decision of Secretary of Navy, the commandant of the Marine Corps would be defying a lawful order from a superior officer, and the current commandant, Gen. Neller, knows that.

Wooks. In the lexicon of the Marine Corps a “wook” is a female Marine. Despite the recruiting posters and public stance that “there are no female Marines, only Marines.” The reality in the Corps is that it is a highly segregated culture in which women are often vilified. Referring to women in the Marine Corps as “wooks” has a derogatory reference which likens women to wookies from “Star Wars,” and implies that females are large hairy creatures that smell and omit loud obnoxious noises when they speak.

On a number of social media pages, including Facebook, anonymous pages with names like “Just the tip, of the spear,” “POG Boot Fucks (PBF),” “F’n Wook,” or “Senior Lance Corporal,” continue to propagate chauvenistic stereotypes that all women in the military are sluts, and that they only achieve rank through performing sexual acts. These pages also serve as a forum for so-called jokes about rape, race, and homophobia. These unofficial Marine Facebook pages have been accused of denigrating female service members and propagate a culture of violence against women.

Both the Marine Corps and the media sites, primarily Facebook, have worked to ban these sites for violating user terms, but as NPR noted in a recent story, each time these pages are removed from Facebook, they return within days with nearly as many members as before. For example, Just the tip, of the spear or JTTOTS was last shut down on September 28. The same month the Marine Corps filed its exception. Two days later, it was back and already had 19,081 likes. JTTOTS says it has been banned 21 times. Next in line is PBF, which is now on its 20th iteration, F'N Wook is on its 14th, and Senior Lance Corporal is on its ninth. As early as May 2013, Rep. Jackie Speier, of California, sent an open letter concerning the group F'N Wook to the commandant of the Marine Corps, the secretary of defense and the Pentagon's principal deputy inspector general. Rep. Speier accused the groups of contributing to a culture of sexual violence. “The 'humor' expressed on this page and similar pages ... contribute to a culture that permits and seems to encourage sexual assault and abuse,” Rep. Speier said in the letter. I certainly don’t imply that the Marine Corps’ filing of the exception was based on a Facebook site, but rather to illustrate the pervasive attitude that exists in the Marine Corps culture. Whether it is sites like PBF or allowing male commanders discretionary powers as gate-keepers in reporting and prosecuting sexual assault, all these elements put together paints a very disturbing and dark picture of the culture that is contrary to the myth propagated by recruiting posters and commercials.

Jason Lutcavage, a page administrator for PBF said his page and those like it are not forums for abuse and serve as a public space for infantry Marines to be themselves. "PBF was founded in late 2012 as a way for us to share our depraved humor with one another, make fun of POGs and just rib on one another in general," said Lutcavage, an infantry Marine and Afghanistan veteran who served from 2007-2011. According to Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Eric Flanagan, the Marine Corps has logged over three-dozen instances of it working with social media sites to get pages removed. In an official letter, the Marine Corps has “strongly discouraged” its Marines who participate in these sites. According to Capt. Flanagan, Marines who are identified can face official charges including a reduction in rank or loss of pay. The real question is how many are actually caught and punished. All the sites mentioned continue in their latest iteration. As of January 2016 F'N WOOK is still on Facebook. Another blog site called "Enemy in the Wire" called readers to report the site for failing to promote "good order and discipline." PBF is now touted as PBF 3.0 with posts as recent as December 2015. JTTOTS has 24,649 likes as of Jan 6th 2016. NPR notes that these sites “exist at a time when the Marine Corps is considering integrating female Marines into the infantry.”

One of the authors of "Enemy in The Wire," who is only identified on the site as Joan, is an Army veteran. Her site is dedicated to raising awareness about Military Sexual Trauma (AKA Rape). She called for readers to report F'N WOOK for charges under UCMJ. Conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline is an offence against military law in many countries. It has existed in military law since before the 17th century and is an important offence which functions as a catch-all to criminalise offences against military order which are not specified elsewhere in the code.In the US Armed Forces the offence is covered by article 134 (the "general article") of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). This section states that "all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces" shall be tried by court martial and punished at the discretion of that court. The general article also covers offences which bring discredit upon the armed forces and "crimes and offenses not capital". Examples of conduct listed in the Manual for Courts-Martial include adultery, bribery, fraternization, gambling, straggling, and indecent language. Joan site an example in her site. SGT Gary Stein, who founded the Facebook page "Armed Forces Tea Party," was administratively discharged for failing to promote good order and discipline and to remove that FB page. Joan states that speaking politically seems to be against the Marine Corps' policy, but promoting mysogyny and sexual violence is okay fine by them!"

Captain Anu Bhagwati, a Marine Corps officer and veteran, and later became the Executive Director of the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), commented on her service as “the most extreme and enticing version” of an alternate reality that she could muster. She had enlisted in 1999 and served five years as a Marine officer, and through her tour she volunteered for the toughest assignments and schools that she could find, and faced hostility and harassment at every unit she served in. She served as a Company Commander in charge of 450 Marines, and volunteered to serve at the School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune, NC. She trained new Marines in combat training and commanded infantry troops. It was a billet few non-infantry officers attempted, and she was the only woman in that position. Without much sense of self-protection, she chose to confront bigotry and tried to protect women, people of color, religious minorities and gays and lesbians from discriminatory treatment. Because of her actions she learned the hard way that doing the right thing was never going to make her life easy. She was often alone, and at times, went through hell. Bhagwati holds no regrets though, her actions often put her career at risk, but endeared her to the Marines she led and supervised — men and women she believed valued moral leadership. Her organization SWAN is working with the ACLU in suing the Defense Department over the controversial ban on women in combat units. At Camp Lejeune Capt. Bhagwati once witnessed several Marines complain of sexual harassment by the executive officer. The complaints were ignored and no action was taken.

Consider the statistics: 14,098 women currently serve in the US military. They account for 14.6% of its collective strength. There are 1,853,690 female veterans. The Marine Corps has 13,677 female Marines. Of all of the Armed Services, it has the lowest percentage of females. As Bhagwati commented, they only account for 6.8% of the Corps’ total strength. All three of the other services have their percentages in the double digits. Despite the fact that the Corps has the lowest percentage of female service members, it has the highest incident rate of Military Sexual Trauma of all the service branches. In 2012, there were 453 reported incidences. In 2013, there were 876, and in 2014, there were 855 reports. Almost 10% of the females in the Marine Corps experience sexual trauma. The next highest incident rate is the Navy with 1.4%. The Marine Corps had the highest level of so-called penetrative sexual assault, or rape, with an estimated 4.3 percent of women and 0.63 percent of men experiencing such crimes, according to a 2014 report.

Since the Defense Department has issued the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Response policy in 2004, there have been five Marine Corps Commandants who have led the Corps since the days of the Tailhook and Aberdeen scandals. Five commandants have tackled the issue of sexual violence in the Marines. Yet, the numbers continue to soar far above the other services. Between 2012 and 2014, the numbers of incidences have decreased, but according to a 2014 Rand report, the Marine Corps still leads in Sexual Assault. Col. Scott Jensen, branch head for the Corps' sexual assault prevention and response program, told reporters that the service was working with Rand to analyze the data, "We have identified that from our own trend analysis prior to the reports and prior to the Rand report as a concern," Col. Jensen conceded. "...Our indications are that Marines trust their commanders. As we start looking at the issues and asking questions of survivors is becomes apparent that perhaps that trust may be lacking in some of the skills and knowledge that they need."
In 2014, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, Kathrine Keleher became intimately familiar with the unofficial Marine Facebook site JTTOTS. Photos of Keleher have been published to the JTTOTS page three times. The ensuing comments were overtly sexual and some threatened sexual violence, Keleher told NPR. "They posted pictures of me and they were commenting about wanting to rape me, or saying I looked like a man, or things of that nature," said Keleher, who served as a combat correspondent during her five years in the Marines.
A report was published in the New York Times magazine in March 2007 which surveyed women soldiers' experience in the Iraq War showing significant incidence of post traumatic stress syndrome resulting from the combination of combat stress and sexual assault. 15% of female veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan who have visited a Veterans Affairs (VA) facility have screened positive for military sexual trauma. As of 2014, there have been some improvement, but the Marines’ incidence rate is still far above its sister services who have at least twice the number of female servicemembers.

At a panel discussion held by the Women in International Security, a group that advocates for the advancement of women in leadership roles and professional development, Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano said, "What we're talking about is the culture of the Marine Corps." Lt. Col. Germano is the former commander of the all-female recruit battalion at Parris Island in South Carolina. A legal officer by training, Lt. Col. Germano took command of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion in 2014. At the post, she was responsible for leading nearly 100 Marines and overseeing three drill instructor teams, responsible for 22 boot camp series graduations per year. In her 18 years as a Marine officer, she held a number of high-profile positions, including a year as Marine aide to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in 2011. She previously served as commander of Recruiting Station San Diego, screening potential recruits from 2007-2010.

She said the Marines' deep reverence for their own history makes it hard for leadership to accept the cultural change. “I think it's a misguided connection to our history, our legacy, our lineage and our heroes of the past that sort of makes it more difficult for the Marine Corps to come along,” Lt. Col. Germano said.

This “misguided” culture that has mixed facts with myth is at the heart of the Marine Corps’ resistance to full integration. According to the Marine Corps Times, Lt Col Germano was dismayed upon arriving at Parris Island and found that the all-female recruit battalion was kept separate from its male counterparts for events such as the Crucible hike, the famed concluding rite of passage of boot camp. The unit, she found, struggled to retain adequate enlisted and officer staff because of its all-female composition, resulting in shortened rest periods between boot camp series and overworked Marines. She also discovered that the standards for female recruit performance in objective skills such as shooting were historically lower than for male recruits.

"What she did when she came is she changed the mentality of the Marines in the battalion and the recruits to not expect a historically lower performance than the male recruits at the battalion," said a female Marine officer stationed at the depot, one of three who spoke with Marine Corps Times on a condition of anonymity, for fear of professional retribution. "Almost all the categories performed better during her tenure, just by challenging the training protocol of performing separately."

Parris Island officials confirmed that range qualification scores improved dramatically within the all-female 4th Recruit Training Battalion during Lt Col Germano's tenure. From 2014-2015, average first-time rifle qualification rates for the depot's three male battalions improved from 93 percent to 96 percent, said Col. Jeff Fultz, chief of staff for Parris Island and the Eastern Recruiting Region. During the same timeframe, rifle qualification rates for the female battalion soared from 79 percent to 91 percent.



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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