Commandant to Marines: 'It's Time to Move Out' on Women in Combat

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. Cliff Owen/AP
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller. Cliff Owen/AP

The top officer of the Marine Corps sent an unequivocal message to troops: It's time to get behind the mandate to integrate women into combat units.

Gen. Robert Neller released a sternly worded video late Friday, a day after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced that all military jobs -- including infantry and special forces positions -- would be open to female troops by the start of next year.

The Marine Corps was the only service to request that some fields remain closed to women, citing a yearlong co-ed infantry experiment that found gender-mixed units underperformed all-male ones.

Despite that, Neller made clear that the Marines were going to lose no time in conforming to the new mandate.

"My job as your commandant is to provide trained and ready Marines as teams or units where they can fight and win in any clime and place. Yesterday we received the Secretary of Defense's decision, and will immediately begin full integration of our forces," he said. "We have a decision; it's time to move out."

CMC @GenRobertNeller on integration "We will maintain our standards & maximize the talent and skills of all Marines" https://t.co/aJ61eXvLTk

— U.S. Marines (@USMC) December 4, 2015

Neller added that the Marines were well informed by their combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan and by extensive research into the question of gender integration, including the infantry experiment and a series of other studies.

"As we move forward we will maintain our standards and maximize the talent and skills of all Marines, male and female, to strengthen our corps and increase our combat effectiveness," he said.

The Marine Corps could be the most challenging proving ground for the integration mandate. Most of the 220,000 jobs that are now opening are in the Army or the Marine Corps.

In addition, a large percentage of the overwhelmingly male force has indicated it doesn't favor allowing women to assume ground combat roles. A Center for Naval Analyses survey from 2012 found that 17 percent of male respondents would not have joined the Marine Corps if women had been allowed to volunteer for combat arms jobs at the time.

But the Marines also have a history of falling in lockstep behind controversial policies once a decision is made. For example, some 40 percent of Marines opposed the repeal of the "don't ask don't tell" ban on gay troops serving openly, but the Corps acted quickly once the repeal was finalized in 2011.

Then-commandant Gen. James Amos released a video statement announcing the Marines would "step out smartly" in support of the policy change with "dignity and respect."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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