- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2016

Marine Corps headquarters has sent out a Communications Playbook that says top brass in Washington, not local public affairs officers, will control press statements about women in combat.

The edict was issued in the aftermath of strong disagreements with civilian leaders on gender integration.

The Corps normally gives wide latitude for spokespeople worldwide to discuss all sorts of Marine issues — but not in this case.

Under “[public affairs] posture,” the playbook says: “Proper PA coordination both up to the Office of United States Marine Corps Communication (OUSMCC) and down to lower division and Recruiting District PAO’s will be due prior to any media engagement or release,” according to a copy obtained by The Washington Times.

All commands, says the 68-page playbook, “will coordinate closely with OUSMCC to synchronize communication efforts to fulfill integration measures and communication goals.”

The playbook lists 36 Corps issues such as weapons development and aircraft accidents, but gender integration is the only topic for which Washington headquarters must approve all messaging.

“All effort must be made to push Public Affairs Guidance to the lowest level of PAO’s. PAO’s should not exclusively focus on ‘firsts’ but also the ‘process’ of making a Fleet trained Marine. This approach facilitates supporting local media interest to a national-policy issue through the perspectives of our Marines,” the playbook says.

A Marine Corps spokesman in Washington said the centralized control of information is not a result of differences with civilian leaders, such as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus. Capt. Philip Kulczewski said it is because the whole process is “very new.”

“We decentralize,” Capt. Kulczewski said. “We allow our lower-level commands to talk about stuff. But because this was very new and we didn’t have any female Marines in infantry units, it was still at the headquarters. It was still at a planning level. We just wanted to be very factual until the women get out to those units, and then those Marines can start talking about it.”

After the Obama administration in 2013 lifted the ban on women in direct ground combat — infantry, armor, special operations — the Corps began an extensive series of studies. The research included comparing a mixed-sex combat unit with an all-male unit.

After the studies, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the current Joint Chiefs chairman who was Marine Corps commandant at the time, asked to keep the infantry all male. Mr. Carter and Mr. Mabus disagreed with him.

Mr. Mabus openly derided the studies and ordered the Corps to also integrate boot camp, where Marine drill sergeants turn civilians into disciplined, hardened Marines.

Today, Capt. Kulczewski says the Corps integration path is in “the right place.”
The School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, is set to receive women, some of whom are in boot camp now, before year’s end.

Another Marine experiment was to put seasoned female Marines through the School of Infantry. Nearly 200 succeeded, but only three chose a lateral move to an official infantry career — what the military calls one’s military occupational specialty. The rest opted to stay in their supply jobs.

Capt. Kulczewski said that low number is not indicative of women’s interest in joining the infantry. Some had been in the Marines for an extended time, and such a significant career change did not make sense for them.

“It’s a difficult lateral move from supply to infantry,” he said. “Many of them would love to do this. But a majority of them were too old to do it.”

The Corps is retaining sex segregation at its three-month entry-level training, or boot camp. But men and women eventually start achieving objectives together, such as a hike and final “crucible” training.

Recruit graduates either ship to military combat training, if they are to be in support roles, or to the School of Infantry as the first stop for direct land combat. Those two centers at Camp Geiger, a satellite of the larger Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, are sex-integrated.

The Communications Playbook anticipates questions about the Corps being the only one of the four military branches that continues segregated training.

The playbook response: “The Marine Corps routinely reviews its training and will conduct a holistic examination of the impact of the new policy, to include our entry-level basic training programs. We have participated in a number of studies and reviews in the past, and it has been previously determined that our current model for basic training provided the environment for instilling the high levels of confidence, team-building, physical fitness, and esprit de corps necessary for our recruits to be successful in earning the title Marine.”

Said Capt. Kulczewski: “It’s still segregated, but it’s done with a purpose. A lot of the females who come in are not as physically fit as the men. It kind of gives them a chance to come in together and build themselves up without any outside pressure.”

A female drill sergeant provides a “gender-specific role model,” he said, as part of “the magic of becoming a Marine.”

Navy Capt. Patrick McNally, Mr. Mabus’ spokesman, said, “Secretary Mabus observed the training at Parris Island last March and was satisfied with the Marine Corps plan to continue to increase integrated activities as they move toward full integration of recruit training.”

The Corps’ studies resulted in another key change. The old policy allowed a failing Marine to go through the School of Infantry as many times as it takes. Now, if a Marine flunks twice, he or she can be moved to a new military occupational specialty.

“They can be recycled to a job that more suits them,” said Capt. Kulczewski. “That didn’t happen before. If I failed the School of Infantry, I recycled and I did it again. I recycled and I did it again. I recycled and I did it again.”

Now, “If you are not physically there in two tries, then you’re going to get assigned a different job that is more suitable to [your] qualities. … We want to set up Marines for success,” he said.

Women account for about 7 percent — or 13,000 — of the Corps’ 186,000-strong active force. Mr. Mabus has urged the Corps to bring in more women, and headquarters talks of a 10 percent goal.

“What we do very well here is make Marines,” Capt. Kulczewski said. “I think the very difference between Marines and Army is that in-squad bay living. The attention to detail of doing something very simple, like making your bed the right way … it kind of slowly builds you up. The little things, because how will I be able to trust you with a rifle and live rounds if I can’t trust you to make your bed the proper way that I taught you?”

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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