March 2013: Editorial

The title of this editorial is a misnomer. As I write this, one of the hot-button issues in the Corps is the lifting of the DoD ban on women in combat, and that the Services have until January 2016 to seek exemption on any billets that they believe should remain closed. Various news outlets opined that this would potentially open up over 230,000 jobs to women. As of this writing, the military Chiefs have until 15 May to report back to the Secretary of Defense with their plans for implementation.

To say that this issue has lit up the press and the Corps is an understatement.

Most commentators and many servicemembers have the wrong issue. The issue is not women in combat—that issue was resolved without any pronouncement over the last 10 years. Women have been, are, and will be in combat. I would not try to tell the families of the over 150 servicewomen killed in action since 11 September 2001 that their wives, sisters, or daughters were not in combat. In the same vein, I would never presume to tell the over 800 women who wear a Purple Heart that they were not in combat.

In the first sentence of this editorial, I stated that its title is a misnomer. The issue and the title should be: Women in Combat Arms MOSs. We seem to be unable to break through with the media, and continue to address the wrong issue.

The assignment of women to the combat arms is the real issue. Why are we even considering doing this? Because the civilians who control the military have told us we must. I believe most Marines do not think that such assignments will improve the combat efficiency or effectiveness of the Corps, and many, in fact, believe it will have a deleterious effect. I do not have room here to review all the facets of the issue, among which are perceptions of equal opportunity, the demonstrable differences between genders in mean physical ability, and unit cohesion. There are many points on both sides.

On page 8, Billy Birdzell raises an interesting point in “Are All Marines Really Equal?” Mr. Birdzell notes that if women want equality, than we should have one physical fitness test (PFT)—and he is not talking about a gender-normed PFT or combat ltness test where a woman Marine can do 8 pull-ups and score 100 points. Can you imagine the cutting scores of enlisted women Marines if they were held to the male standard? How about the woman officer who is held to that standard? If she scored 100 points on the current women’s PFT, she would not score first class on the men’s grading scale. What are the chances of a Marine of any gender with a second-class PFT being command screened and slated?

It is time to firmly state that this attempt to open “jobs,” as the press calls it, is misguided, will not level the playing field for women in the Corps, and will not improve our combat capability. Let’s be honest. We need patriotic women to serve in the Corps. We cannot field the Corps we require without them. Women must have equal opportunity for advancement and achievement. The only question is where they can best be assigned to fulfill those goals and add to our warfighting ability. Combat arms assignments will retard, not advance, those goals.

My personal beliefs resemble those eloquently spoken in 1991 by then-Commandant Robert H. Barrow during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. To see Gen Barrow’s words, visit

John Keenan