- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Marine Corps commandant has laid out a campaign to impose “cultural change” in macho ground combat units to make sure warriors display no resistance to accepting and mentoring women.

The “Marine Corps Force Integration Campaign Plan,” approved by Gen. Robert B. Neller, sparks a revolution in training and education as the 182,000-strong expeditionary force prepares for the Obama administration’s April 1 deadline to start the process of putting women in infantry, armor and artillery units.

It contains a new curriculum of sensitivity training.

“The purpose of gender integration education is to support leadership efforts to facilitate the cultural change necessary to ensure the integration of female Marines into ground combat arms MOSs [military occupational specialties] and units is successful,” the document states. “In most cases, the introduction of new players to a team disrupts unit cohesion.”

The commandant’s new curriculum will include courses titled “Unconscious Bias,” “Interpersonal Communication” and “How to Lead a Guided Discussion.”

The “Unconscious Bias” class “[p]rovides an understanding of the concept of cognitive bias, awareness of one’s own cognitive bias via a performance-based exam, and cognitive bias mitigation techniques.”

Gen. Neller’s game plan contains some sobering predictions. It warns that physical standards mean only a small percentage of women will succeed, and there could be an increase in medical retirements due to injuries.

The scenario sees about 200 women entering direct ground combat units annually, making up about 2 percent of all land combatants.

Though committed to equal physical demands, the plan says such standards will be reviewed if too many injuries occur and there are negative “career impacts.”

“Female propensity for newly opened MOSs will not be evenly distributed,” the plan says.

Of the nation’s two large land forces, the Marines more than Army soldiers have expressed objections to breaking the sex line when it comes to close-in ground attacks on the enemy. The Corps alone asked to keep those units closed but was overridden by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who wanted a uniform policy militarywide.

The Corps’ battle plan repeatedly says it is committed to keeping the same physical standards for woman as for men.

“Recruiting, retaining, and advancing talented female Marines in physically demanding fields will require careful consideration,” the paper says. “Physical performance is not only a baseline entry-level requirement for ground combat arms MOSs [military occupational specialty] but also a differentiating factor in promotions. As such, per SECDEF guiding principles, equal opportunity may not always equate to equal participation by men and women, and adherence to a merit-based system must continue to be paramount.”

This means the Corps is determined to stick to equal standards for running, lifting, climbing and marching. But it is a policy that may run into political headwinds if women advocates charge that female Marines are being judged unfairly.

‘Merit-based’ standards

Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, says the Corps risks being forced to eventually lower its time-honored standards.

“If the Marines try to maintain a merit-based system, it will not withstand political pressures to meet equal opportunity goals and gender diversity metrics and quotas,” Ms. Donnelly said.

Retired Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who was Joint Chiefs chairman in 2013 when the Obama administration lifted the ban on women in direct land combat, said at the time that if women could not meet a particular standard, the services must have a good reason why it should not be lowered.

That edict presumably will be tested in the coming years as the Army, Marine Corps and special operations units judge cadres of female candidates in strenuous physical demands and harsh environments.

Previously, about 200 enlisted Marine women completed basic infantry training as part of various integration experiments. They will be able to apply to move laterally into combat units this summer. No female Marine officer was able to complete the grueling Infantry Officer Course.

The Corps is assigning female officers in support roles to combat units to mentor the enlisted women.

The Corps’ submitted campaign plan repeatedly says standards are paramount.

“Adherence to a merit-based system must continue to be paramount,” it says. “Leaders must not use special preferences or undue pressure to increase numbers at the expense of merit. Integration provides equal opportunity for men and women who can perform the tasks required; it does not guarantee women will fill these roles in any specific number or at any set rate.”

Still, the Corps’ plan hints that Ms. Donnelly’s prediction of outside pressure may come true.

“Physical standards must be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient to mitigate high injury rates resulting in negative individual, operational, and career impacts,” the plan states.

It adds: “Injuries that have career impacts may result in disproportionate medical separations and retirements.”

Gen. Neller’s document warns commanders to be on the lookout for “indications of decreased combat readiness and/or effectiveness.”

The warning signs: an increase in “light duty,” “limited duty” and “medical separation rates,” and lower readiness rates for sex-integrated units.

The Corps did extensive experimentation in the field and found that mixed-sex combat units were less effective than all-male ones. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus openly dismissed the studies.

“The integration of women may require a cultural shift in previously all-male career fields,” the Neller plan says. “We are prepared to meet this challenge. The military assimilates change by relying upon the enduring values of the profession of arms.”

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