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10 Things to Know about the Marines' Plan to Open Combat Jobs to Women

Female Marine infantry students hike during patrol week near Camp Geiger, N.C., in October 2013. (TYLER L. MAIN/U.S. MARINE CORPS)
Female Marine infantry students hike during patrol week near Camp Geiger, N.C., in October 2013. (TYLER L. MAIN/U.S. MARINE CORPS)

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has yet to sign off on the Marine Corps' plan to integrate women into previously closed infantry jobs.

But a draft version of the plan, first published this month by the Christian Science Monitor, sheds light on the Corps' thinking and priorities as it prepares for the historic move.

A defense official confirmed the plan published was a draft version provided to members of the Senate and differed only slightly from the final version sent to Carter.

Here's what everyone should know about the Marines' gender-integration strategy:

1. The Corps expects low numbers of female grunts.

The strategy assumes that about 200 female Marines will enter ground combat arms jobs every year, making up less than 2 percent of Marine personnel in those jobs. The Corps derives this assumption from surveys by the Center for Naval Analyses and the Pentagon's Joint Advertising Market Research and Studies program.

With a service that is just 7 percent female, it's not surprising the Marines are projecting low initial numbers of infantrywomen. That may change in coming years, though; Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller recently told Congress he's interested in increasing the Corps' female population.

2. Some jobs may see more female applicants than others.

Another assumption from the Corps' integration plan is that female Marines "propensity" for newly opened military occupational specialties will not be evenly distributed. If this does prove to be true, it may be due in part to self-selection and in part to more challenging physical standards for certain jobs.

While some newly opened jobs, such as light armored vehicle crewman or artilleryman, require periods of intense physical effort, Neller has said the most challenging infantry jobs -- and those with the highest injury rates among female volunteers who attempted them -- were positions demanding long marches under heavy loads, like machine gunner or rifleman.

3. The plan has five overlapping phases.

The Corps' strategy for integration begins with "Phase 1: Setting the conditions" and ends with "Phase 5: Sustainment." In a service in which a significant part of the population has opposed the idea of women in ground combat jobs, the plan calls for a somewhat staggered rollout of full gender integration.

Phase 1, which began in 2012 when the Marines began experimentation and study to examine the possibility of integration, will end "when ground combat arms units become socialized and acculturated to serving with female Marines," the plan states, though it's not clear how that progress will be measured. Other phases include recruiting of female enlisted applicants and officers for infantry positions; entry-level training for those recruited; assignment of female Marines to ground combat jobs; and sustainment, which includes implementing long-term physical standards for infantry jobs, monitoring progress, "affording opportunities for viable career paths," and making adjustments as needed to the existing implementation plan.

4. The Marines want female leaders in place first.

In a series of task assignments, the plan directs the commanders of the Corps' major force commander to "ensure female Marine leadership is in place prior to the introduction of junior enlisted female Marines into combat arms units." The plan does not explain whether these leaders will be senior enlisted Marines or officers, or if they will all be required to complete infantry training before they can make lateral moves to ground combat units.

The Marine Corps has yet to see a female officer complete its grueling infantry officer course, though a few of the 29 women who have attempted it have come close. The Corps will likely look to the 240 female volunteers who have already completed enlisted infantry training prior to combat jobs opening to fill some of these new leadership roles.

5. Filling newly opened jobs infantry jobs could take time.

It has been a month since the Marine Corps officially announced that ground combat jobs were open to female troops who had completed relevant infantry training, but none of the initial 240 women to earn a ground combat Marine occupational specialty have requested a lateral move to the newly opened jobs, Marine spokesman Capt. Philip Kulczewski said Wednesday.

"At this point, no Marine volunteers have requested a LAT move to ground combat jobs," he said in a statement. "However, it is unfair to judge this population alone for propensity ... We have created a 25-year longitudinal study to assess all aspects and possible impacts throughout Implementation, to include propensity."

That first lateral move request could arrive shortly, however; Marine Cpl. Remedios Cruz has said she hopes to be one of the first women assigned to an infantry unit.

6. MARSOC will get female trainers.

The Marines' integration plan calls for the Corps' elite special operations command to add two female trainers to its assessment and selection program and nine-month individual training course. These female Marines will be staff-noncommissioned officers or officers, the plan stipulates, though it doesn't specify whether they will be required to complete infantry training ahead of their assignment. MARSOC's commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, told Military.com the command has already gotten its first female applicants and is actively soliciting other qualified female Marines across the Corps.

7. Some Marine Corps facilities may need a remodel.

In the Marines' draft plan, several force commanders are instructed to make sure that existing Marine Corps facilities that used to house all-male units are altered as necessary to accommodate women. In addition, the plan directs the commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, to make sure the Marines' educational buildings are capable of accommodating female staff and students at levels up to 15 percent of the total population. It's not clear where the 15 percent figure comes from, though. And the plan doesn't specify what special accommodations need to be made for women, apart from ensuring there are enough gender-specific restrooms available.

8. New gear may be on the way for all Marines.

Marine Corps Systems Command will be ordered to buy new tactical clothing, gear and equipment that reduces weight while increasing protection, fit, and mobility, according to the Marines' draft integration plan.

This gear will be developed in accordance with a Marine Corps study released in July 2015 examining ways that better equipment could help to reduce the strain of load-bearing and reduce injuries. The study found that not only female Marines, but all smaller-statured troops could benefit from some gear design improvements, including ergonomic packs and remodeled trigger systems for tank machine guns.

9. The commandant will personally monitor certain trends.

The Marines' plan calls for the commandant to receive direct information about five specific concerns as new jobs open to women:

  • Indications of decreased combat readiness or effectiveness;
  • Increased risk to Marines including incidents of sexual assault or hazing
  • Indications of a lack of career viability for female Marines
  • Indications of command climates or culture that is unreceptive to female Marines
  • Indications that morale or cohesion is being degraded in integrated units.

In a recent interview, Neller told Military.com that he expected to revisit integration plans if any of those issues surfaced.

"We'll report it through the chain of command. In my testimony [before the Senate Armed Services Committee Feb. 2] I asked Congress to make us come back," he said. "Because we don't know what we don't know. And I'm not presupposing the outcome."

The Corps may be limited, however, in what it can do to change course if issues do arise. In a January memo to Neller, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus warned the commandant against delaying integration because of social concerns.

"I expect you will ensure that a worthwhile goal does not unreasonably delay or prevent the execution of a policy imperative," he wrote.

10. Some doubt the sincerity of the Marines' integration efforts.

The Marine Corps was the only service branch to request exceptions to Carter's integration mandate. And while Neller has since stated that he expects Marines to "move out" in support of full integration, his statements during the Feb. 2 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the topic caused some to question his commitment to its success.

"Our hope is we'll be successful [with gender integration], but hope is not a course of action on the battlefield," Neller said during the hearing.

Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano, the former commander of the Corps' only battalion that trains female recruits and an advocate for gender integration, said during a forum on the issue that she found the commandant's statement concerning.

"We need to be very cautious about the perception we are giving off, because that sets the tone for everything," she said. "... Doubts result in pre-supposed negative outcomes."

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

 

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