- - Friday, April 4, 2014


If you ask questions but don’t get the answers you want, keep asking until you do.

This appears to be the strategy behind the “Marine Corps Force Integration Plan,” the latest phase in the administration’s ongoing campaign to find something — anything — that supports the theory that women can be interchangeable with men in combat units such as the infantry.

For more than two years, the Marine Corps and Army have been conducting research in support of the administration’s goal, “gender diversity metrics” — another name for quotas — in Marine and Army infantry, armor, artillery, Special Operations Forces and Navy SEALs.

In January 2012, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced incremental plans to repeal women’s exemptions from direct ground combat units by January 2016. Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos acquiesced by announcing multiphased research projects to lay the groundwork for women’s “success” in the combat arms. Two years later, what have we learned?

In January came the inconvenient news that Marine policymakers had overestimated the abilities of female boot-camp trainees in a new test of upper-body strength. Fifty-five percent of the women, compared to 1 percent of the men, were unable to perform three pull-ups in the physical-fitness test.

At the Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Va., since 2012, 14 spirited female Marines tried but did not succeed on that grueling course. About 40 enlisted women did make it through the less-demanding infantry course at Camp Geiger, N.C. That training includes gender-normed physical-fitness and combat-fitness tests to accommodate “physiological differences” between the sexes.

Gender-norming is acceptable in basic and entry-level training, but not in preparation for “tip of the spear” assignments. Policies that ignore land combat realities and well-documented physiological differences that will not change are not fair or “equal.”

Today’s infantrymen still carry heavy loads on their backs for miles before attacking the enemy with deliberate offensive action. No wonder the Department of Veterans Affairs is gearing up for more debilitating injuries among women forced into the combat arms.

The majority of military women do not want this. The Army’s official survey of 30,000 female troops found that only about 7.5 percent would consider taking such assignments if offered. More than 92.5 percent said they would not. Women’s opinions won’t matter, however. Orders to train and fight like men will not be voluntary.

During 2012 and 2013, the Marines continued “quantitative research” with hundreds of male and female Marines who performed “common tasks” and “proxy” tests to compare gender differences. Results could be useful for timely congressional oversight and independent review, but Pentagon officials have not disclosed relevant findings. How can research be “measured” or “responsible” without producing metrics?

Now the Marines have announced yet another project, the “Experimental Task Force,” which will activate in June for 12 to 15 months. According to Military Times, the controlled experiment, which will not deploy overseas, will involve 460 Marines, 25 percent of them women.

Gender-mixed infantry platoons will incorporate four squads: all-male, all-female, equally divided and mostly male. Academic observers will evaluate the performance and “sociological impact” of gender-mixed platoons in simulated combat — a politically loaded mission that sounds like a reality show.

Women, however, are unlikely to be voted off the island. Physical standards are not finalized, but “equal” treatment might mean no standards at all.

A senior 4th Infantry Division officer has observed that under 2013 “Exception to Policy” programs in previously all-male units, women have not been asked to perform individual qualifying tests, or to do heavy tasks beyond their physical strength.

The success-enhancing practice is considered “gender-neutral” because the men do not have to perform strength tests, either. Male-only designations have always made elaborate “gender-neutral” qualifying tests unnecessary, because most men can handle heavy tasks.

Semantic deceptions often are used to create illusions of equality. Women get higher scores for unequal performance, thereby redefining the phrase gender-neutral to mean “equal effort.” Sometimes officials drop the toughest challenges in order to “validate” co-ed training. It is also common to evaluate entire units, not individuals, so everyone can “succeed.”

These scenarios are likely in the Experimental Task Force, but what actually happens really won’t matter. This is all about media-friendly optics. The goal is to substitute perceptions for the missing objective evidence supporting the intent to order women into the combat arms.

Respect for the courage of our military women is higher than ever, but plans to “set women up for success” could do the opposite. Redefined standards that are lower than they were before will increase resentments that women do not deserve.

Physical violence is not a pro-women policy. A 2013 Defense Department study found that reports of sexual assault were twice as high among female veterans exposed to combat violence in war.

The Pentagon’s lack of transparency is reason enough for members of Congress to put on the brakes. Members need time to obtain answers about policies that more than nine out of 10 military women do not want.

Congress has the constitutional responsibility to make policies affecting women and men in the military, and for civilian women in issues involving Selective Service. To show true respect for women, Congress must take these issues seriously and quickly intervene.

Elaine Donnelly is president of the Center for Military Readiness.



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