Women will be allowed in infantry, Navy secretary reiterates

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Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.  U.S. Navy file photo
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. U.S. Navy file photo

Women will be allowed in infantry, Navy secretary reiterates

by: Gretel C. Kovach | .
The San Diego Union-Tribune | .
published: September 17, 2015

(Tribune News Service) — The Marine Corps infantry, Navy SEALs, and all other combat jobs in the Navy Department will open to women by the end of this year, and no exemptions to the new gender-neutral employment policy in the Defense Department will be granted despite results of a Marine Corps study on women in combat, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus reiterated during a speech Monday in Cleveland.

Mabus expanded on his earlier remarks criticizing the lengthy Marine Corps experiment that compared all-male combat units with ones that included women. The Marines released a four-page summary of results last week indicating that all-male units performed significantly better on 69 percent of tactical tasks, and female troops were injured at more than twice the rate as men.

“This study served a very good purpose. It’s come up with the standards, standards that have something to do with the job. Once you’ve done that I just see no reason to say ‘because the average person, woman, cannot meet these, we’re not giving anybody a chance,’” Mabus said.

“We’re not looking for average. There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things: training and leadership.”

Here is a complete transcript of Mabus’ and question-and-answer session at a forum by the City Club of Cleveland, which was attended by Naval Academy alumni and parents as well as high school ROTC students.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus:

I will say a word about the Marines, and women in combat arms. It’s coming up on Leon Panetta when he was Secretary of Defense, reversed the presumption and said everything is open. Every occupational specialty in the military is open unless you request an exemption, and if you request an exemption both the chairman (of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and the Secretary of Defense have to sign off on it. Nobody is asking for an exemption in Navy. My senior military aide here, Bob Smith, is a SEAL. The SEALs aren’t asking for an exemption. Our notion is set standards, make sure those standards have something to do with the job, and then if you meet it, you meet it.

The Marines did a very long study, about six months, looking at women in things like infantry, armor, artillery. And at the end, they came out — and I’ve read the study pretty carefully a couple times — in a different place than I do, because they talk about averages, and the average woman is slower, the average woman can’t carry as much, the average woman isn’t quite as quick on some jobs or some tasks. The other way to look at it is, we’re not looking for average. There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things — training and leadership.

And so I’ve been pretty clear, and I’ve been pretty clear about this for a while — I’m not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines. It’s not going to make them any less fighting effective. In fact I think they will be a stronger force, because a more diverse force is a stronger force. And it will not make them any less lethal. And those are the two things you have to protect in the Marine Corps.”

In response to a question from the audience by a man asking Mabus to expand on his comments about the Marine Corps study, Mabus said:

“In the Marine study, number one, I knew about the study of course, but I don’t reach down and say do this kind of study, do that kind of study. That came up from the Marine operating forces, the Marine staff. But the way it was structured was they asked for female volunteers to go do the closed occupations now. Infantry, artillery, armor, AAV drivers — amphibious assault drivers. And the standards for women getting into those were very minimal standards — basically volunteer, and you had to do a certain number of pull-ups and a run, but it was pretty standard. Then they went through the thing with assigning women with Marines who were already in the infantry, already in the artillery, already in armor. And they did the results. And some of the results — on average women dropped out more. On average women couldn’t carry as much or were injured more from carrying. On average, teams of women were slower. Not much, but a little bit. But these were all on average. There were women who met every test in this.

So one of my concerns about it was, we didn’t do a very good job of screening people before the volunteering. One of the things that came out of this was there were no standards, zero, for most of these jobs. You just assumed that if somebody went through boot camp, a man went through boot camp, that they could do it. A lot of men can’t. And so the one great thing that came out of this is all of a sudden there’s standards. So male or female, you’re not going to get to be in the infantry, you’re not going to get to be in armor, or whatever, unless you meet these standards up-front. That is a tremendously good thing that came out of the study. Once you’re past that and that these standards have something to do with the job at hand, they’re not just arbitrary — you know, you’ve got to be able to do 100 pull-ups to be in the infantry, which has very little to do with the infantry — then you got to quit looking at averages. Then you got to start looking at the individuals. Women got injured a lot, or more than men, on duty. Men got injured four times as much as women off duty! (Laughter from audience.) So we’ve got these knuckleheads who are out there: ‘Here, hold my beer and watch this.’ (Laughter from audience.) So do we keep men from being in the infantry because they get hurt so much, off duty? I don’t think so.

And so, you know I think this study served a very good purpose. It’s come up with the standards, standards that have something to do with the job. Once you’ve done that I just see no reason to say ‘because the average person, woman, cannot meet these, we’re not giving anybody a chance.’”

©2015 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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