Top General Wants 1 in 10 Marines to Be Women

Female Marine

The Marine Corps has long had the fewest female members of any of the military services, but Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said Tuesday he's working to change the demographics.

Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the integration of women into combat roles, Neller said he was exploring ways to bring more women into the service.

In the Marine Corps, fewer than eight percent of active-duty troops are women.

"I directed our recruiting to look at increasing the number of women in the Marine Corps to 10 percent," Neller said.

If successful, that initiative would bring the Marine Corps closer to the Navy, with 18 percent female troops in its active force, and the Army, 14 percent female.

It's a more modest goal, however, than the one set by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who said last year he wanted one in four new recruits in the Navy and Marine Corps to be female. Pressed for specifics, he said the recruiting figure was "a floor" and he would like to see an even higher number of female recruits.

It could be years, though, before the Marine Corps makes any progress toward the 1-in-10 goal.

A Marine Corps recruiting official, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely, said some numbers had been discussed for female accessions, but no decisions had yet been made. Other factors beyond recruiting will also affect the demographic makeup of the Corps, the official said, including long-term retention of female Marines and projected attrition over time.

"As you're growing the force, are you incentivizing female Marines to stick around," the official said. "It's not just, 'go recruit more females.'"

Currently, the official said, Marine recruiters do not have any goals or quotas regarding female accessions. While everything remains "pre-decisional," the official said senior Marine Corps brass were discussing their approach to the new goal now.

"It's not something that is a quick process," the official said. "These things take several fiscal years to execute." The Marine Corps is now waiting on final approval of its plan to open previously closed ground combat jobs to female troops. In that plan, first obtained by Christian Science Monitor and reviewed by Military.com, officials say they estimate 200 female Marines will successfully enter ground combat jobs every year, making up fewer than 2 percent of all Marines in those jobs.

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

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