On 9 January, Gen James F. Amos, along with all of the other Service chiefs, endorsed a letter that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent to the Secretary of Defense recommending that women be allowed to serve in the combat arms. In November 2012, Gen Amos also modified the female physical fitness test so that women now have to do pull-ups instead of the flexed-arm hang. However, male and female physical standards remain dramatically different.
Many Marines (and external observers) don’t realize how much the female Marine fitness tests are currently curved. For the Marine Corps physical fitness test (PFT), 100 percent for a man is 18 minutes or faster for a 3-mile run, 100 crunches in 2 minutes, and 20 dead hang pull-ups. One hundred percent for a woman is 21 minutes or faster for a 3-mile run, 100 crunches, and 8 pull-ups. A woman who scores 100 percent on the female test would get 222 points (74 percent) on the men’s test, which isn't even a first-class score. In order for an individual to be commissioned an officer in the Marine Corps, he must get a first-class PFT. Now that everyone will have to do pull-ups, a perfect PFT score for a woman is below the passing score for a man to be a Marine officer. Why is it okay for females to wear the uniform based on a standard which, for a man, declares him unfit for service? That’s not only unfair, it’s un-American. It’s also not equal.
For the Marine Corps combat fitness test (CFT), 100 percent for a man is 2 minutes and 45 seconds for the 880-yard movement-to-contact run; 91 thirty-pound ammo can lifts, and 2 minutes and 14 seconds for the maneuver-under-fire run; 100 percent for a woman is 3 minutes and 28 seconds for the 800-yard run; 60 thirty-pound ammo can lifts, and 3 minutes and 1 second for the maneuver-under-fire run. One hundred percent on the female test is 81 percent on the men’s test, which is also a second-class score. The minimum CFT score for a man to serve in the Marine Corps is 82 percent if graded on the women’s test. Only women who score in the top 18 percent are eligible to serve in the Marine Corps if they are held to the men’s standard.
On 29 January, Gen Amos said that some MOSs, like the infantry, may remain closed to women if only a few women are able to pass the training requirements. However, the inequities in the male and female fitness requirements impact every MOS. If every Marine is a Marine, and we are all “riflemen,” what does it say about our values if we allow women to serve in the same jobs as men (some of which have involved killing people and suffering casualties) when all Marines do not have to perform to the same standards? Why can a female pilot, logistician, or administrator do 60 percent fewer pull-ups and run 16 percent slower than a male and still get a perfect score? Why is 82 percent on the CFT for a woman equivalent to the bare-bones minimum for a man when they will be doing the exact same job? Is there any other job in America in which women are explicitly required to perform to a lower standard just because they are women? No. It’s against the law. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, also known as the “Equal Protection” Amendment, states:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [author’s emphasis]
Given the 14th Amendment and the inherent inequities in gender-based physical requirements, particularly when promotion, longevity in the Marine Corps, and billet assignment are determined by a number of factors, to include physical standards, is there another way? Why not come up with a single physical standard for all Marines, in accordance with the spirit of “equal rights” and “every Marine a rifleperson” to ensure that, regardless of gender, we have the best Marines possible to fight and win our Nation’s wars? One PFT. One CFT. One obstacle course with equal times. At the Basic Officer Course, one requirement on the endurance course. Equal standards at recruit training. Since the Commandant also said, “We can’t afford to lower standards, we can’t make adjustments to what’s required on the battlefield,” unless the Marine Corps will discharge every woman who is unable to perform to male physical standards, “every Marine” is not true.
There are female Marines and male Marines. From the day they meet a recruiter until the day they are discharged, male and female Marines are currently required to perform to different physical standards. If warfare has changed and “there are no more frontlines,” job-specific physical fitness tests do not make sense because our tradition that every Marine is a rifleman is now more important than ever. If we were to come up with job-specific PFTs, will a logistician assigned to an infantry battalion have to do a different PFT than someone with the same MOS assigned to a combat logistics group? Will a MEU have to administer different PFTs for all of the different occupational specialties contained within it? Furthermore, there are administrative considerations associated with comparing individuals for non-MOS assignments such as recruiting or the drill field; unless of course, the Corps does not want the best person for the job. Perhaps our Commandant is under pressure from civilian policymakers or lobbyist groups that want gender integration for reasons other than sheer performance, who also recognize that there are physical differences between men and women, and who are willing to give women special treatment (i.e., easier female fitness tests). If that is the case, I think we as a Corps have an integrity problem.
If Gen Amos can’t explain why women do not even have to meet the minimum physical requirements for male Marines, yet are allowed to serve in the same assignments, receive the same pay, and get the same promotion opportunities, our Corps will unravel from within. No trust equals no Corps. Commandant, sir, every Marine dating back to 1775 needs your leadership now. Perhaps more than ever.