Marine Drill Instructors’ 'Unacceptable' Comments About Women Must Stop, General Says

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A senior drill instructor inspects his platoon's alignment during Final Drill aboard Marine Recruit Depot San Diego on Oct. 1, 2012. (Liz Cisneros/U.S. Marine Corps)
A senior drill instructor inspects his platoon's alignment during Final Drill aboard Marine Recruit Depot San Diego on Oct. 1, 2012. (Liz Cisneros/U.S. Marine Corps)

MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Virginia -- Recruits are heavily influenced by their drill instructors, and top leaders want to be sure new Marines aren't leaving boot camp with negative views of women.

Maj. Gen. William Mullen, head of Training and Education Command, said he asked the commanding general of the Marine Corps' West Coast all-male recruit training depot to look at the way drill instructors are speaking to their recruits about women.

"We are concerned with some of the things that male drill instructors are saying to their male platoons about females," he said during an interview here this week.

The words drill instructors use have an "enormous" effect on recruits, Mullen added.

Related: Marine Corps Training Chief Says He's Open to Ending Gender-Segregated Boot Camp

"And that echoes throughout their time in the Marine Corps," he said.

Though Mullen stressed that there are no specific complaints about what drill instructors are saying about women at either recruit depot, he wants to be sure the problem hasn't cropped back up.

"Because that's unacceptable," he said.

The way drill instructors influence how new Marines view women was one of the takeaways from a task force assembled to assess gender issues in the Marine Corps, the general said. The task force was created in the wake of a massive 2017 social media scandal that left hundreds of male Marines investigated for allegedly sharing nude photos of their female colleagues online without their permission.

The scandal uncovered deep-rooted problems with the way some men in the Corps view and treat female Marines -- and that kind of attitude forms as early as boot camp, Mullen said.

Kate Germano, a retired Marine officer who was relieved from her post leading the all-female 4th Recruit Training Battalion, said in a 2016 op-ed that derogatory remarks about women were common at boot camp.

"My drill instructors and recruits repeatedly heard male drill instructors and senior enlisted depot staff insulting women, calling our battalion the '4th Dimension,'" Germano wrote in a piece for Task & Purpose. "It was all too common for male drill instructors to tell the slower male recruits that they ran like 'girls.'"

Recruits often form bonds with their drill instructors, and view them as some of their first role models in the Marine Corps. That level of influence makes it necessary for leaders to pay attention to what's happening at entry-level training, Mullen said.

"Sometimes, asking the question and kind of nosing around [is all it takes for] people to be reminded, 'Oh yeah, that's right -- I can't do that,'" he said.

More male and female recruits are training together at boot camp as part of a test model the Marine Corps recently began. Mullen told Military.com the Marine Corps plans to continue that effort.

The TECOM chief is also interested in an independent academic study of gender-integrated boot camp. If the Marine Corps has it wrong when it comes to separating recruits by gender -- at least at the start of training -- he said he's willing to make changes.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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