Monday, November 26, 2012

"The bottom line is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads don’t get any lighter, regardless of gender or capability."

The Marine Corps is researching the integration of women into the infantry military occupational specialty (MOS), currently available only to men. In order to study this issue, the Infantry Officer Course was opened to females in September. Two of eighty eligible female Marines volunteered. While the course was open to them, the actual MOS was not. Even if they completed the grueling 13 week course, they would return to their previous billets and not become infantry officers. Some might say that’s not much incentive to volunteer, but any problems over not being granted the MOS are moot. Neither female Marine finished the course, one dropping out the first day (with 26 other men who also dropped). Medical issues are cited as a reason for the second drop.

The Corps plans to continue the study of including women in the infantry through having them participate in IOC over the next year. The Corps would like to have at least 90 women volunteer, but so far there are no takers for the next course beginning in January. This won’t come as a surprise to Capt. Katie Petronio who recently irritated proponents of women in the infantry when she spoke outagainst opening the MOS to females. Capt. Petronio drew on her experience as a combat engineer on two separate deployments to the middle east. Her description of the deployments is physically strenuous as she served in much the same manner as any male infantry officer – carrying full combat gear during extended periods and being the highest ranking Marine in charge during various dangerous operations.

Capt. Petronio experienced physical ailments, just as did her fellow male Marines, but she found that her injuries came on more quickly, were more severe, and lingered longer. This was despite her being in excellent physical condition (she scored a 292 out of 300 on her physical fitness test, could squat 200 pounds, and bench 145 pounds, at 5’3”). Capt. Petronio supports opening most combat related MOS to women, except for infantry. She cites the lack of historical data on female attrition and medical ailments on women who have executed sustained combat operations. While she is certain there may be a few women who would be physically capable of enduring significant combat operations, she is concerned about longevity of those women to remain in the MOS without suffering career ending medical problems.

One reason for opening combat specialties to women has been the argument of lack of opportunity for professional advancement – as combat deployments tend to build a resume, the less chance a woman has at gaining that experience, the less ability she has to advance in the Corps. Capt. Petronio’s argument is that women face greater physical and medical issues in an infantry position that will preclude them from advancing anyway. With that being the case, what is the benefit to the individual or to the Corps? She asks, “Who is driving this agenda?” Since we are not seeing female Marines clamoring their way to get to IOC, this is a valid question.  

Lowering the physical standards at IOC to accommodate female students might be a solution that allows females to compete, but it seems more appropriate that the requirements of the job should be tied to the demands of the job, not the abilities of the applicant. The Marine Corps is currently conducting fitness testing and the differences between the resultsfor men and women to determine if any of the standards should be changed. The “tests include lifting a 72-pound machine gun above their heads while wearing a 71-pound rucksack, marching 12 miles in less than five hours carrying a 71-pound rucksack and evacuating a mock casualty weighing about 200 pounds.”

Capt. Petronio’s view on changing standards:  There have been many working groups and formal discussions recently addressing what changes would be necessary to the current IOC period of instruction in order to accommodate both genders without producing an underdeveloped or incapable infantry officer. Not once was the word “lower” used, but let’s be honest, “modifying” a standard so that less physically or mentally capable individuals (male or female) can complete a task is called “lowering the standard”! The bottom line is that the enemy doesn’t discriminate, rounds will not slow down, and combat loads don’t get any lighter, regardless of gender or capability. Read the rest of Capt. Petronio’s article here.

What are the odds that after a year of studying the issue, General Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, comes back to Congress and says, "Nope, can't do it"

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