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.