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Lawmakers Question Why Marines Haven't Attracted More Women

Recruits of Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, repeat the oath of enlistment during an emblem ceremony Feb. 15, 2017, on Parris Island, S.C. (Marine Corps Photo/Cpl. Vanessa Austin)
Recruits of Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, repeat the oath of enlistment during an emblem ceremony Feb. 15, 2017, on Parris Island, S.C. (Marine Corps Photo/Cpl. Vanessa Austin)

Female lawmakers pressed U.S. Military personnel officials today to explain what they are doing to attract more women at a time when the pool of individuals eligible for service continues to shrink.

Members of the House Armed Service Committee's Personnel subcommittee expressed concern over the challenges that all the services face trying to attract and retain talented individuals from a small percentage of the population that meets the physical, mental and background requirements to join the military.

The Pentagon has taken steps to offer more opportunities to women, a group that has been prevented in the past from serving in direct-action combat units. In December 2015, then Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opened up all combat-arm jobs to women.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, the subcommittee's ranking member, said she wanted to know why the Marine Corps has fallen behind the other services in this area.

"It appears that the Marines have really lagged behind all the other services in terms of incorporating women, both in terms of training ... and just the general sense that women don't belong in the Marines," Speier said directing her comments at Marine Lt. Gen. Michael Rocco, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs.

"Could you address how you are going to be more embracing of women much like the other services have?"

Rocco said that the Marine Corps had just begun admitting women at Marine Combat Training-West, the first stop after boot camp for all non-infantry Marines on the West Coast. Previously all female Marines had to go to MCT-East, in North Carolina.

"If you are an administrative or non-infantry you will go to Marine Corps combat training to learn how to be a Marine first," he said. "So we have recently opened that up to females."

The Marine Corps has also "opened up all occupational fields" to females, Rocco said.

"It is voluntary to go into some of these ground-centric, load-bearing units, but we understand that we are making progress, albeit slow, but we are making progress," Rocco said.

"We have stood up the personnel studies office ... to go out and ensure that commanders are trained and units are trained on unconscious bias and some of the things that have perhaps prevented some of that in the past," he continued. "So we are taking proactive steps to ensure that women are accepted in every [military occupational specialty] and every level of the Marine Corps."

Speier then asked how many female generals are in the Marine Corps.

Rocco said there are three female generals out of the 82 general officers serving on active duty.

Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts, was also interested in the service's efforts to attract more females.

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services found that only 29 percent of young people ages 18 to 23 are eligible to serve in the military.

"Of that eligible population, more than half are women," Tsongas said. "However less than 20 percent of today's active duty force is comprised of women.

"So this study in my mind makes clear that in an era where the eligible recruiting population remains on the decline, it is more important now than ever that we recruit from the entire population and not overlook the opportunity that half of the eligible nation's talent pool would provide the services."

Tsongas then asked each service to explain what it was doing to recruit and retain more women.

Vice Admiral Robert P. Burke, chief of Naval Personnel, said that last year's graduating class of the U.S. Naval Academy was made up of 27 percent women, and "six of the top 10 graduates were women."

"It's an operational imperative for the Navy to increase our numbers of women, so we are frankly targeting them in our recruiting efforts and our messaging because that that is where the talent is," Burke said.

The Navy's new advertising campaign "prominently features women," Burke said, describing how the most recent add features "a female submariner earning her dolphins."

"We are really trying to highlight situations where women can see themselves in a career in the Navy," Burke said.

To Air Force Lt. Gen. Gina Grosso, deputy chief of staff for manpower, personnel and services, "it starts with the messaging."

"If you ask any person in the population who was their first protector and defender it, was her mother, and so we have to change the messaging that there is a place for women," Grosso said.

"I feel like it is my personal responsibility to go to events so women can see that you can progress and there is a place for you."

If women aren't interested in serving in the Air Force, they can serve as an Air Force civilian worker, Grosso said.

"I went to an event and I had a women tell me she didn't like sweating; I said '25 percent of our force are civilians. Would you like to come be a civilian?'" Grosso said.

Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Seamands, deputy chief of staff for the Army's G-1, said the Army has seen recent increases in women applying and being accepted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and in ROTC programs.

"I think part of that is as we did the gender-integration of all the specialties, the Army has enjoyed such success; we have a [female] infantry company commander in the 82nd Airborne Division," Seamands said, adding that two female soldiers recently graduated from Ranger School, bringing the total up to 12 graduates.

"We are very excited to what the females are doing in the Army, and I think there is no limit to what they can do in the future."

Rocco said that Marine Corps Recruiting Command has "gone places that we have not gone in the past. Mail-outs go to male and females."

The Marines have also opened up programs to have better access to athletic programs, programs both at the high-school and collegiate level "on the male and female side," Rocco said.

In addition, "our advertising campaign has focused not only diversity, but on females, and we have been more aggressive in displaying a diverse Marine Corps," Rocco said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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