Under the Radar

In 'Fight Like a Girl,' Ousted Recruit Commander Tells Her Own Story

In July 2015, while working as a reporter for Marine Corps Times, I received a hot tip from a colleague: The commander of the only battalion training female Marine recruits at boot camp had just been fired from her post.

I dropped what I was doing and picked up the phone.

Over the next day or two, the astounding details of the story began to unfold: Lt. Col. Kate Germano, commander of 4th Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, had been relieved due to lack of trust and confidence by Recruit Training Regiment Commander Col. Daniel Haas, despite dramatic improvements to recruit range qualification scores that were made during her tenure.

I requested the scores from Parris Island. Sure enough, rifle qualification rates for the battalion shot up from 79 percent to 91 percent under Germano.

It surfaced that there was an investigation into Germano's leadership style and command climate that provided the groundwork for her firing. I requested that, too, from the Marine Corps -- and got it so quickly it made my head spin.

Typically, when I make a Freedom of Information Act request for a command investigation, it takes weeks or months for officials to complete the process of locating the documents, redacting them, and sending them back.

In this case, I got a call from the office of the commandant of the Marine Corps, recommending I ask for expedited processing. It was unusual that the office of then-commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford would reach out to me at all regarding the firing of a lieutenant colonel at Parris Island, and stranger still when I received the documents less than 24 hours later.

I heard a rumor that someone was ordered to turn it over to me as fast as humanly possible -- even if they had to stay up all night redacting privileged information from the 300 pages of documents.

I can only speculate why Germano's ouster received such high-level handling. What I do know is this: It came amid a heated debate about the future of women in the armed forces and whether they deserved a role in combat, and Germano was then, and has been since, an outspoken advocate for equality and integration who isn't afraid to break things to get her point across.

Never before or since have I received a command investigation so quickly. When Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon, commander of Parris Island's Third Recruit Training Battalion, was relieved of his post the following year amid a hazing scandal, documents of any kind related to his firing took months to surface.

In "Fight Like a Girl," Germano's account, co-written with journalist Kelly Kennedy, of her year at Parris Island, each page is filled with details that highlight the challenges she faced as a commander of female recruits amid the macho culture of the Marine Corps.

Male officers told her she should smile more, she alleges; some, like Kissoon, appeared to make a point of not acknowledging her when they completed the same hikes during recruit training. Among some leaders at Parris Island, she writes, Fourth Recruit Training Battalion, home to all female recruits, was snidely referred to as "The Fourth Dimension."

The unit itself had serious problems, too, she writes. Because female drill instructors would become pregnant and never be replaced on the drill field, she found the unit was severely understaffed, with soaring stress levels that contributed to abuse of recruits and junior drill instructors.

And, in her telling, 4th Recruit Training Battalion had achieved contentment with mediocrity.

Female recruits arrived at the unit unable to meet the minimum fitness standard, and were informed early on that they weren't expected to excel in hikes or on the rifle range.

Germano recounts employing a bit of reverse psychological warfare: Showing the recruits video of women shooting expert, hanging range targets in the barracks for a visual reminder and encouraging shooting practice in free time.

While range qualification rates were rising, Germano was making other changes. After the Crucible hike, the last grueling ritual before a recruit becomes a Marine, she noticed that the women stood in front of a row of chairs, offered in case they felt faint, while the men stood unaided. She quickly did away with those chairs, a visual indicator of the way male and female trainees were treated differently.

She also advocated for integrated hikes for the male and female training battalions, and had some success in implementing them, despite pushback from leadership.

As she was doing all this, what kind of leader was she? The investigation and command-climate survey documents and her own account wildly diverge.

The documents that I received so quickly painted Germano as an abusive leader who would single out subordinates for humiliation, dress Marines down with sarcasm and bully those who challenged her.

In her book, Germano acknowledges that she was guilty of rolling her eyes on occasion, but casts herself as a generally understanding leader who was undermined and sabotaged by higher-ups and her executive officer at the battalion.

Regardless of which account you believe, you have to wrestle with the question she poses more than once: If she had been a man, would her leadership style have been questioned in the same way?

In the nearly three years since Germano's firing, the Marine Corps has fallen increasingly in line with the changes for which she advocated.

Though men and women still train separately at boot camp, events are more integrated. Women are now serving in previously closed infantry specialties. Last September, a female officer graduated the grueling infantry officers course for the first time in history. And Marine Combat Training, the first stop after boot camp for non-infantry Marines, just opened its West Coast location in San Diego to women for the first time.

In "Fight Like a Girl," Germano seeks to both vindicate herself and prove her premise that women can excel alongside men if given the chance to do so. In some ways, though, the changes that have happened in her wake provide their own form of vindication.

"Fight Like a Girl" hits shelves April 3.

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

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