By: Peter Sessum
When this first hit the news last year I wanted to wait to see how it played out. The Marines have best tried to find out how to incorporate women into combat arms jobs. The lack of success by female volunteers has encouraged some who are against the idea of female grunts to be asshole, but make no mistake, women in the Infantry is inevitable. It is not just a matter of if but a matter of when.
The Marines have a reputation of being a bunch of knuckle draggers but the more I look at the command decisions from the highest levels the more I think that reputation might be a misinterpretation. They might have a deceptively simple solution to the complex problem of women in the Infantry. Let them earn their way in. The Marines have done this before, when it was not about gender but about race.
The Marine Corps was an all white organization until 1942. When Negros were allowed to join, they were restricted to jobs in the rear. Even though they were combat trained, they were not sent to the front lines in the Pacific theater.
There is a story during the island campaign of black Marines being stuck on the beach stacking ammunition. They wanted to get into the fight and do their part but were not allowed. After carrying enough wounded white men off the battlefield you run out of reasons for dark skinned Marines not to get their chance to get killed. So they picked up their rifles and joined the fight. As they were coming down the hill with their white counterparts, men walking up would make fun of them. The white Marines that fought side by side with the black Marines stepped up to say the men had earned their place on the field of battle.
If you look beneath the surface, it seems that the Marines are applying that same system for females. Women are being allowed to join Infantry training. If they meet the standard, they will graduate. Like Negro Marines in the ‘40s, women will not be placed in Infantry units but placed on other jobs.
This sounds limiting, but the Corps has established gender neutral standards for all USMC jobs. Honestly, they might need to wait a while before there are enough to place in field units. To give her the greatest chance at success, I wouldn’t assign a single female into an Infantry battalion. But I would send in 10. There is a historical precedent that will factor in. Life always sucks for the trailblazer. It is easier for the second and is smooth sailing for the 50th, but life sucks for the first. The first female enlisted should also be assigned to a unit with a female Infantry officer in that same unit.
Since last year, 10 women have volunteered for the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) and none have passed. In the latest IOC the four female volunteers failed to pass the initial physical endurance test. Along with those women, 12 men failed as well. These men had to know what they were getting into and were most likely in the shape of their lives. The fact that they did not pass the entrance exam should illustrate that the standards are high. If it was any other service I would think it was just 12 fat bodies that didn’t make it, but the Corps? They would have only selected men in good physical shape.
Currently, the Marines are taking the first class of enlisted women through Infantry training. Out of the 114 women that graduated bootcamp, only 42 passed the physical requirements to attend the Infantry Training Battalion (ITB). Of those, only 19 volunteered to go to ITB and as of last week only 15 remained.
I am cautiously optimistic about those numbers and hope that a female makes it through the course. The biggest problem women in the Infantry will face is getting the right women to volunteer. All you have to do is watch the Olympics and see women in peak physical condition. IOC is considered one of the toughest military school and from what I hear ITB is no joke either. Women can do it, just not your average women. That is not a sexist remark because your average man can’t pass Infantry training.
One thing that no one seems to be considering is that some women don’t want to be Infantry. Not every guy wants to be a grunt. Quite frankly, it sucks. There are far better jobs out there. So the pool we are pulling from is limited to women that are interested in becoming Infantry.
The solution is still there. Make a gender neutral standard so that no one can say a woman passed the course because it was made easy for her. After enough women pass ITB and are placed in a non-combat arms unit they will continue to train at the Infantry standard people will notice. I have faith that at some point they will be given the opportunity to work with male grunts in a training environment. When they kick ass they will get the recognition they deserve and like black Marines in WWII, they will have earned their slot.
I believe that within a decade, there will be a female in an Infantry unit. Within 15 years people will talk about the time when they were allowed to serve as grunts and history will look at us as close-minded misogynists. Women will one day serve in all aspects of the military but as a gender they have to go through the process but it will happen. And it will start with the Marines because they have done it before.