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Pentagon mulling separate combat training for men, women

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The military is looking at ways to modify its training for women to help them qualify for direct ground combat roles in the infantry, tanks and special operations.

Senior officers revealed the new effort this week at a hearing of the House Armed Services subcommittee on personnel.

The armed services have pledged that their standards for ground combat and commando operations will be the same for men and women.

But now commanders are raising the possibility of a two-tiered training system.

The idea was presented by Rep. Niki Tsongas.

"To put in place a training regimen that is ill-suited to maximizing the success of women is not really the outcome any of us want to see," she said.

Army Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, deputy chief of staff for personnel, agreed.

"We are looking at that, and we're not looking at it just for the integration of women," Gen. Bromberg testified. "We're looking at it for the total soldier, because just as you have a 110-pound male who may lack some type of physiological capability or physical capability, he or she may both need to be trained differently. We're trying to expand our understanding of how we train."

Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead Jr., deputy Marine Corps commandant for manpower, put forward a pitch for gender-segregated boot camp. The Corps is the only service that has maintained gender-segregated initial training.

"I think an excellent example of what you're talking about is our gender-separated boot camp," Gen. Milstead testified. "We don't start teaching the [occupations] there. Our boot camp is about the transformation of individuals, men and women, from being a civilian to being a United States Marine. We have it separated for that reason, because we feel that this transformation, it goes on a separate track. It needs to be handled different.

"They need to be nurtured different. They just need different steps as they go. They end up in the same place, the United States Marines."

The Marine Corps has charged to the front of the women-in-combat issue by asking female officer volunteers to try to complete the officer combat qualification course at the base in Quantico, Va.

Women are expected to perform the same tasks as men. All six women who have entered the course have dropped out due to injury or failure to complete the course.

The Pentagon lifted the ban on women in direct combat roles in January. The services and U.S. Special Operations Command are studying combat standards to validate or change them before a decision is made to move women into those roles in January 2016.

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