Marine Corps seeks to keep combat jobs closed to women

This is going to be interesting to watch play out: Marines seek to keep combat jobs closed to women.

Essentially, the Marine Corps will be the lone service fighting this battle, and I say battle because I’ll bet this gets ugly before it’s over.

All other services, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, and U.S. Special Operations Command (including the SEALs), have decided women can fight on the frontlines, as long as they meet the standards. As many of you all saw, two women recently graduated Ranger School.

This will be an ugly fight for the Marine Corps. There are huge political implications, as Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has stated he opposes the argument from the Marines. He feels women should be allowed to compete for any Navy or Marine Corps combat jobs.

One member of Congress who served in the Marines has already called for Mabus’s resignation, because he’s refusing to accept the Marine Corps’s recommendation.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., said Mabus should resign because he “openly disrespected the Marine Corps as an institution, and he insulted the competency of Marines by disregarding their professional judgment, their combat experience and their quality of leadership.”

I personally don’t believe this is a fight the Marine Corps can win. The media and vast majority of the public has already made its mind up on this subject. Furthermore, women have shown immense bravery on the battlefield, in everything from helo’s to unarmed trucks that have been ambushed.

Additionally, as more and more technology reaches the front line, the physical aspects required by infantry Marines are going to become less and less important. (Crazy military technology… The end of good war stories?)

I was tempted to cop out and not state my opinion on this, but I know some commenter will probably ask, so I’ll just go ahead and say it. I’m what you would call a moderate on this issue.

Frankly, I think most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking about when they discuss this issue. They haven’t served, carried a pack 18 miles, or qualified with a rifle and iron sights at 500 meters. Nor have they been under fire and shared a fighting hole with someone.

But we all know in America, it doesn’t matter if you know what you’re talking about. It’s a democracy, and everyone has a voice and a vote. (And while too few vote, too many scream, but that’s another subject for another day.)

This is an issue where you can make a super strong argument for why the infantry should only be open to men. I’m not even going to bother to list all the reasons. (As a short guy, who was 5’6″ and 125 pounds after boot camp, I used to think the infantry should only be open to larger men, who were at least 5’8″ or 5’10” and like 170 or something in weight. Because size matters when you’re carrying a ton of gear on a long, forced march. Or trying to fireman carry a simulated wounded guy who weighs 220 with all his gear on. I struggled with these physical tasks and lived in the gym to get my weight up to 145 — and eventually 155 — to try to keep up.)

And yet when I’m honest, I did pretty well, despite being so small and undersized. (Served in the infantry, selected Marine of the Quarter for the entire 2nd Marine Division, picked as Honor Graduate of the Corporal’s Course in December 1998, promoted to sergeant within four years, etc.)

Even having survived four years in the infantry, I once made this argument to a fellow Marine about only larger men being allowed to serve in the infantry. By then, I was a sergeant and certainly had his respect. He was a big infantry Marine, and I expected him to agree with me.

But he didn’t. He named several Marines we both knew who were smaller than me and who were tougher than shit and meaner than hell. You would not want to mess with these guys. (I think it’s called Small Man’s Syndrome.)

And he went on to say, “And, bro, if we went by the height and weight standards that you’re suggesting, Audie Murphy would have never even have served.”

For those who don’t know, Audie Murphy was one of the most decorated soldiers in World War II. He was turned down by the Marine Corps for being too small, and eventually joined the Army, where he earned the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars, and three Purple Hearts.

Okay, I had to concede my friend had a point. Actually a really strong one.

So bottom line, do men have some physical advantages over women? Absolutely. And yet, if you ask, “Do I know some women who are physically capable of outperforming most men?,” the answer is yes.

When I was in, I knew a female MP at Camp Lejeune who benched 300. Few men can do that. I also have a female friend who runs marathons for fun and just joined the Marine Corps to become an officer.

And we all know Ronda Rousey and a huge list of female fighters who spend more time spilling blood each week than I want to even think about spilling in a year. I get beat up and bruised up too much to even think about that, and that’s just from my Isshin-Ryu karate classes.

So I’m certain my fellow warriors in the infantry will call me a sell out, but I’m afraid the writing is on the wall and the facts are pretty clear. The times, the technology, and the strong case made by so many women who have already served valiantly will ultimately defeat the Marine Corps on this decision. It may take years, but this is a battle that I’m afraid is already decided.

But even having said this, I do not believe the standards should be lowered. And by not lowering the standards, you’re ultimately only going to have a very small number of women actually serving in the infantry. (And those who do will probably quickly come to the realization that most male infantry Marines arrive at: this sucks beyond all description and I can’t wait to get out.)

But until that happens, you can expect a lot of hot-headed commentary from both sides. Now, please keep it kind in the comments, and tell me what you think. Thanks!

Keep the faith,

Stan R. Mitchell

About me: I write military action books similar to Vince Flynn, Stephen Hunter, and Tom Clancy. I’m also a prior USMC Sgt with Combat Action Ribbon, and a guy who spent 10+ years writing every day in the newspaper business — 9 of them with a newspaper that I started. Please consider subscribing for email alerts — I mostly post about American foreign policy, national security, and all things Marine Corps.


14 thoughts on “Marine Corps seeks to keep combat jobs closed to women

  1. Excellent thoughts, Stan. While there’s no doubt that I’d never qualify to the standards, it doesn’t make sense not to let the standards speak for themselves.


  2. Nobody who can do the job should be prevented from doing it for any reason .


  3. Stan,
    Concur that the battle is probably lost, but for all the wrong reasons.
    Only if the services eliminate the ‘gender normed’ PT evaluations can true equality start, and that is for just the regular members.

    Couple of examples.
    From day one, jump schools required you to be able to perform 8-10 pull-ups/chin-ups to graduate. The (valid) reason was that you have to have the physical ability to pull yourself up by the risers to release the catches if you get hung up on landing. The validity stands, but the requirement was eliminated because of the dismal passing rates of the females starting to attend jump school.

    One of my classmates at the WO Basic Course maxed out the PT test at the start of the course. NOT the BS ‘female’ standards, the male standards. She could run 6 minute miles all day long and used to do the ‘Bataan Memorial Death March’ marathon every year in the Heavy Division – meaning she carried a 35 pound buck, in boots and Utes – and ran the whole thing. Truth be told, she ran those marathons faster than I did the MCM is sneakers and running shorts.

    Could she have met the physical standards of the Army Ranger School? Hell yeah. Could she have handled the tactical side? I honestly don’t know, but probably.

    The accomplishments of the two women who graduated Ranger school earlier this year will be forever tainted by the fact that the CG couldn’t keep his politicking ass away when it counted. Both of the women were having trouble with the patrol portion and were close to being re-cycled.

    Instead of letting the cadre do their jobs, MG Miller went out the TA and personally started ‘walking’ (evaluating) the patrol exercises when the women were in charge. That is ALWAYS a function of the school staff, normally E-5 to O-3.

    Would they have made it if normal procedures were followed? Maybe. Probably. Hell, they were trained and prepped to the max and obviously motivated. And almost everyone gets a ‘no-go’ on some part of the course – or even recycled. It’s part of the frigging process and part of the gut-check to finding where your bottom is. Miller has to answer to himself for his decision, but I think he should have stayed mainside.

    However, none of the above amounts to a hill of beans, since it is all pretend/training/simulation.

    The real trouble starts when you have a combat patrol heading out to the boonies for a few days/weeks with 10-15 guys and a couple of women. I don’t think the decision makers for this whole concept have even begun to consider the challenges that basic function will bring.

    Maybe when women start coming home in body bags in numbers commensurate with their male counterparts the liberals/progressives will re-think their decision, but I doubt it.


  4. First off the claim many have made that “standards were lowered” is asinine. If standards were lowered why was the attrition rate from that class almost the same as every other one? It’s not like those two women were in their own class or were grouped with potential Rangers of lower physical fitness levels. You would think a class with “lower standards” would graduate more people. Second, claiming that the training cadre were coerced or asked to lower the standards for this class is frankly a slap in the face of anyone who’s ever went to RASP and graduated.

    As for the USMC holding back on women in combat roles, that’s a decision they’ll regret later. Not only because they’ll be facing a huge media backlash but also they’ll be limiting their numbers of capable warriors. Also the comparison many have made to Ronda Rousey is a bit misguided. Rousey has trained her entire life, went to two Olympic Games, and is currently a world champion. Not too many men or women grow up training in a combat sport.

    Women have been serving in combat roles in other countries armed forces for a long time (most notably in Norway) and earning the respect of their male counterparts.

    I’d be happy to have either of these Rangers watch my back any day.

    (Rant over)


  5. Pingback: Some good ideas for a U.S. strategy in Syria? | Marine Watch

  6. Well, it’s the New Corps after all, Stan,


  7. Stan,
    I think this story is a very long way from over. The latest “People Magazine” (not one of my favorites) already has a lot of the behind the scenes info.
    It suggests that not only were the standards “lowered”, they were removed entirely.

    I already knew that there was a bunch of special prep, but had no idea just how badly the scales were tipped.

    Really looking forward to hearing the ‘rest of the story’.



    • I think you’re right. I even read something somewhere else just the other day. I think the press is starting to smell a story, and I expect they’ll be all over that base as more starts to emerge.

      I just hate it for these two women. They didn’t ask for this.


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