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Opening Combat Jobs to Women Will Mean Lower Standards: Marine General

First Lt. Isis Culver, right, talks to Capt. Megan Selbach-Allen during Exercise Desert Scimitar at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. in April.(JENNIFER HLAD/STARS AND STRIPES)
First Lt. Isis Culver, right, talks to Capt. Megan Selbach-Allen during Exercise Desert Scimitar at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. in April.(JENNIFER HLAD/STARS AND STRIPES)

Marine Gen. John Kelly broke ranks with Pentagon brass Friday on the issue of whether ground combat jobs should be open to female troops, saying the "agenda-driven" move was likely to result in lowered military standards.

Kelly, the commander of U.S. Southern Command and a veteran of three tours in Iraq, is set to retire later this month. In a farewell briefing at the Pentagon, the four-star general made clear the Marine Corps' option was to follow to order to integrate its ranks, but suggested the move was politically expedient and not based on military best practices.

"I believe given the mission of the U.S. armed forces to fight the nation's wars, I believe that every decision we make, whether it's a personnel decision or an acquisition of a new airplane or widget, I believe every decision has to go through only one filter. And that is, does it make us more lethal on the battlefield?" he said. "If the answer to that is 'yes,' then do it. If the answer to that is 'no,' clearly don't do it. If the answer to that is, 'hmm, shouldn't hurt,' I would suggest that we shouldn't do it, because it might hurt. So that's my opinion."

Kelly said he believed there would be "great pressure" to lower military physical standards in coming years to allow female infantry troops to advance professionally.

"The question will be asked, 'well, we've let women into these other roles, why are they staying in these other roles? Why aren't they advancing as infantrypersons? Why aren't they becoming more senior?'" he said. "The answer, I think, will be that if we don't change standards it will be very difficult to have any real numbers coming in the [Marine] infantry, or the Rangers, or the SEALs, but that's their business."

Kelly also cited an injury report the Marine Corps commissioned from the University of Pittsburgh that found a higher percentage of female troops got injured while participating in the Marines' experimental integrated ground combat task force, "some of them hurt forever.

"I think it will be the pressure for not the generals that are here now, but the generals that become, to lower standards because that's the only way I think that people, the agenda-driven people here in the land want it to work," he said.

Kelly's comments underscore the tension between Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and other Pentagon leaders and a contingent of Marine Corps leadership that opposes opening all jobs to women.

The Marine Corps was the only service to ask for exceptions to a Defense Department-wide integration mandate, citing their task force experiment, which found that units containing women were slower, less lethal, and more prone to injury than all-male units.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has criticized that study, saying cultural opposition to integration helped to "presuppose" the outcome of the research.

But following Carter's decision that all jobs would open to women early this year, the Marines' commandant, Gen. Robert Neller, released a statement saying it was "time to move out" in compliance with the order.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com.

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