During a recent Washington, D.C., panel on combat integration, Lt. Col. Kate Germano said the Marine Corps should aim to raise its recruiting standards in order to develop a stronger, more physically qualified population of female Marines for infantry and other roles.
"When you have women underperform on the rifle range as recruits, have 20 percent of recruits not qualify, that says something," Germano said. "Then that becomes the norm; it becomes the expectation."
Germano commanded 4th Recruit Training Battalion, the only unit to train female recruits, until she was relieved from her post last June in connection with an investigation that found her hard-edged leadership style created a "hostile ... abusive" command environment. Germano maintains she was an effective leader, citing an increase in rifle qualification rates for her all-female battalion from 79 percent to 91 percent during the year she spent there.
Germano previously served as the commanding officer of Recruiting Station San Diego.
In an interview with Military.com, Germano said sending more physically fit female recruits to boot camp would also help break down perceived cultural barriers between male and female Marines and engender respect as new female infantrymen enter the fleet.
"When we have women who can barely pass the physical fitness component in training, we'll never have male Marines who respect females in training," she said.
Better-qualified female recruits, Germano suggested, may also be more likely to make it through boot camp and complete longer Marine Corps careers.
Data provided by Parris Island officials shows female recruits dropped out of boot camp at a rate of 13.3 percent over the last four years, more than double the 6.5 percent attrition rate for male recruits.
"Integrating recruit training and improving how we screen and qualify females to enlist is a force multiplier throughout the Marine Corps," Germano said. "If you improve the caliber of the average female recruit, you're going to make a difference across every [military occupational specialty] in the Marine Corps."
But despite publishing a detailed plan to introduce women to ground combat arms jobs, the Marine Corps is not changing up its recruiting strategy for women, an official with Marine Corps Recruiting Command said.
Steve Wittle, deputy assistant chief of staff, G3, at Marine Corps Recruiting Command, told Military.com the current plan involved informing the recruitable female population about the availability of infantry jobs and continuing recruiting relationships the Marine Corps already has with college and high school athletic organizations to seek out qualified female recruits.
Even there, the Marine Corps has its work cut out. In 2013, the Pentagon's market research department, Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies (JAMRS), found that only 61 percent of the recruitable female population knew that infantry jobs would be coming available to women, Wittle said. In 2014, the figure dropped to 51 percent.
For now, Wittle said, there are no plans to change how the Marine Corps targets and recruits female Marines.
"We'll continue doing exactly what we've been doing," he said.