- - Tuesday, September 15, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has announced his intent to disregard the best professional advice of the Marine Corps. It’s not on a minor issue, like buying helicopters. This is about “gender diversity” mandates that could cost lives in land combat missions involving national security.

In 2012, the Marines initiated scientific research on the physical and operational consequences of assigning women to combat arms units such as infantry, armor, artillery and Special Operations Forces. At the point of the bayonet, these units attack the enemy with deliberate offensive action.

Hundreds of male and female Marines volunteered for nine months of tests with the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force. During field exercises simulating ground combat, University of Pittsburgh experts used body-monitoring and other scientific methods to gather empirical data reflecting actual experience, not theory.

A recently released summary reported that all-male task force teams outperformed their mixed-gender counterparts in 69 percent (93 of 134) ground combat tasks. For Mr. Mabus, however, facts stop being facts when they aren’t politically correct.

Apparently, Mr. Mabus doesn’t care whether physical differences were more pronounced in “specialties that carried the assault load plus the additional weight of crew-served weapons and ammunition.” Individual combat arms soldiers often carry burdens exceeding 100 pounds on their backs.

None of this matters to “gender diversity” advocates whose priorities differ from the task force’s primary consideration: “combat effectiveness of Marine ground combat units.” As the report states, factors such as “speed and tempo, lethality, readiness, survivability, and cohesion [are] critical components to fighting and winning in direct ground combat.”

In this environment, “speed is a weapon.” It matters, therefore, that “All-male infantry crew-served weapons teams engaged targets quicker and registered more hits on target as compared to gender-integrated [counterparts.]”

These findings reinforce a report that the British Ministry of Defense produced last December. British gender-integration research pointed to “a reduced lethality rate [among women], in that combat marksmanship degrades as a result of fatigue when the combat load increases in proportion to body weight and strength.”

Because men have 10 times more androgenic hormones, which determine muscle size and power, not a single study has shown that training can overcome significant load-carriage and endurance gaps between men and women. Lives and missions depend on these factors.

The Marines’ second research consideration was the health and welfare of each individual. Debilitating injuries detract from career success as well as combat effectiveness. It matters, therefore, that during the task force assessment, women’s musculoskeletal injury rates were more than double those of men (40.5 percent and 18.8 percent, respectively).

These findings mirror Army Medical Command data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. In tests with artillery and armor units in 2013, and basic combat training since 2010, women’s injury rates averaged twice those of men.

The task force summary reports that in earlier tests at the Marine Corps’ Infantry Training Battalion for enlisted personnel, females were injured at more than six times the rate of their male counterparts. Do we really need to increase the number of female disabled veterans?

Only two women out of two-dozen completed task force infantry exercises. Comparable attrition during a war, plus predictable medical conditions and pregnancy, would leave fighting units short-handed, dangerously exposed to hostile fire, and less capable of taking the fight to the enemy.

Mr. Mabus can’t handle these truths. Failing to recognize irony in his insult, Mr. Mabus criticized male Marines for “presupposing” the outcome of the study. Perhaps the secretary did not get the memo from Marine Lance Cpl. Chris Augello.

According to Marine Corps Times, Cpl. Augello started out believing that women should get a shot at the infantry if they could meet existing standards. Months later, Cpl. Augello submitted to officials a 13-page memo explaining why he changed his mind.

In his light armored vehicle platoon, Cpl. Augello reported that discipline broke down, noncommissioned officers hesitated to hurt junior women’s feelings with corrections, and male-female emotional entanglements were distracting. Others reported resentment of perceived unequal treatment, which broke down unit cohesion.

While rescuing a 200-pound “casualty” out of a vehicle turret, Cpl. Augello injured his back compensating for smaller-framed, less-capable women. A four-woman team struggled but failed to move the heavy dummy. When Cpl. Augello was paired with a short male Marine smaller than some women, the man’s inherent muscle strength made a significant difference.

Cpl. Augelo concluded that the “female variable in this social experiment has wrought a fundamental change [that is] sadly for the worse, not the better.”

Two female soldiers who recently passed Ranger School deserve respect, but their success does not cancel voluminous Marine research from boot camp to the elite infantry officer course. Critics demand analysis of individual capabilities, but Marine Training and Education Command already conducted “proxy tests” during 2013. Twenty-eight percent of women, compared to 1 percent of men, could not lift a 95-pound artillery round and carry it 50 meters in two minutes.

Would Mr. Mabus order Navy SEALs to conduct HALO (high-altitude, low-opening) missions with parachutes known to fail 28 percent of the time? If not, Mr. Mabus and other policymakers should stop putting defense of a political position ahead of defense of our country.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.

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