Congressman Demands Navy Secretary's Resignation over Women in Combat

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. AP Photo/File
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., a member of the House Armed Services Committee. AP Photo/File

A Republican congressman is demanding the resignation of the Navy’s secretary for his plans to open Marine Corps infantry positions to women despite a study that found that all-male units outperformed units with females on such tasks.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, in a letter asked Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to demand Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ resignation for disregarding the professional judgment of Marine leaders that women should not serve in certain direct-action combat jobs, the Associated Press reported.

Mabus recently announced he intends to open Marine infantry, Navy SEALs, and all other combat jobs in the Navy by the end of this year with no exemptions to the new gender-neutral employment policy in the Defense Department.

"Secretary Mabus is quickly proving that he's a political hack who cares more about doing the White House's bidding than the combat effectiveness of the Marine Corps," Hunter said in a statement.

"Mabus is not only insulting the Marine Corps as an institution, but he's essentially telling Marines that their experience and judgment doesn't matter," the congressman added.

Despite the announcement from Mabus, the Marine Corps is expected to ask that women not be allowed to compete for several front-line combat jobs, military officials said.

The tentative decision has ignited a debate over whether Mabus can veto any Marine Corps proposal to prohibit women from serving in certain infantry and reconnaissance positions. And it puts Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marine Corps commandant who takes over soon as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at odds with the other three military services, who are expected to open all of their combat jobs to women.

The debate has spilled out over social media as well. Many Military.com readers hold the opinion that politics is driving gender integration and that the services have no choice but to open up infantry and other close-combat jobs to women.

In January 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta mandated that the services must open all direct-action combat jobs must be opened up to women by 2016, or explain why they must stay closed.

No final decisions have been made or forwarded to Pentagon leaders, but officials say Defense Secretary Ash Carter is aware of the dispute and intends to review the Marine plan. The Marine Corps is part of the Navy, so Mabus is secretary of both services.

The Marine study found that all-male squads, teams and crews demonstrated higher performance levels on "69% of tasks evaluated (93 of 134)" as compared to gender-integrated squads, teams and crews, according to the executive summary of the study.

The Marine study found evidence of "higher injury rates for females when compared to males performing the same tactical tasks," according to the study.

The report acknowledged that "female Marines have performed superbly in the combat environments of Iraq and Afghanistan and are fully part of the fabric of a combat-hardened Marine Corps after the longest period of continuous combat operations in the Corps' history."

But the report also pointed to the 25-year-old report by a presidential commission on women in the armed forces that concluded: "Risking the lives of a military unit in combat to provide career opportunities or accommodate the personal desires or interests of an individual, or group of individuals, is more than bad military judgment. It is morally wrong."

The services have been slowly integrating women into previously male-only roles, including as Army artillery officers and sailors on Navy submarines. Adding to the debate was the groundbreaking graduation last month of two women in the Army's grueling Ranger course.

--The Associate Press contributed to this story.

--Matthew Cox can be reached at matthew.cox@military.com.

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