July 2012: Editorial

As I mentioned in last month’s editorial, the debate that seems to have moved to the forefront in our Corps is assigning women to the infantry. The issue is not women in combat. That issue has long ago been rendered moot by the performance of women in active combat. Women Marines have performed heroically and meritoriously in active combat. So if women in combat is not the issue, what is the real issue?

Simply put, political perceptions and a clamor from some women in service who feel that not being in the combat arms has put an artificial ceiling on their ability to rise to Service chief or combatant or theater commander is the driving force behind this push to put women in the combat arms. Recently a bill, 
S. 3182/ H.R. 5792, was introduced that would “require a report on implementation of a termination of the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy for qualified female service members of the Armed Forces.”

What is qualified? In ALMAR 012/12 the Commandant stated that the Corps would make measured exceptions to policy to gather data on changes to assignment policies, including asking for women graduates of The Basic School (TBS) to volunteer for the Infantry Officer Course (IOC). The Commandant is merely doing what DoD and the Congress have directed him to do—“report.”

In this month’s edition we have an article that goes to the heart of the issue of women in infantry units. Capt Katie Petronio, in “Get Over It: We are not all created equal,” writes compellingly why the assignment of women to the infantry MOS will not accomplish the goals of those who feel exclusion is merely a “workplace” issue. She has credibility in that she spent a prolonged period of time with a line company in Afghanistan as a combat engineer officer.

Quite frequently you hear even infantry Marines say something to the effect that if women can meet the standard at IOC they should be able to be in the MOS. What standard? Today’s, or the one that will be put in place when women fail IOC at a substantially higher rate than men or do not get promoted at the same rate as men in the infantry MOS, not because of sexism but because of physical performance. Are there a few exceptional women athletes out there who perhaps could do well in the infantry environment? Yes, but it is bad policy to make the exception the rule.  I have no doubt that if this comes to pass, standards will be lowered or gender normed as certain physical fitness events at TBS are already.

We cannot field the Marine Corps we need without enlisting quality women who want to serve their country. The issue—the real issue—is providing them with the same opportunity for career progression as their male counterparts. This misguided policy push will not level the playing field for women and will not enhance our combat capability.

At TBS when the MOS assignment comes out and you find out that you are going to be a finance officer, you can be pretty certain that you will not be a general officer or Commandant. The woman officer today who is a logistician, communicator, pilot, or in numerous other MOSs can also be pretty sure she has the same fair shot, based on performance, as her male counterparts at general. When the Commandant testifies on Capitol Hill, in addition to reporting on the data collected, perhaps he can point to the wings on his chest and say, “I don’t know who the next aviator Commandant will be; she is probably flying in a squadron now.” We don’t need misguided policies and laws to provide equal opportunity for women Marines. We are there.

John Keenan