“Clearly, the jury is out” on whether having women serve in Marine Corps and Army infantry units makes the U.S. military more combat effective, Defense Secretary James Mattis said on Tuesday.
- Mattis sounded decidedly unenthusiastic during a visit to the Virginia Military Institute when a cadet asked him about integrating women into combat arms jobs. He said the services are looking into whether it is “a strength or a weakness” to have women serving in units that engage in close combat.
- “The military has got to have officers who look at this with a great deal of objectivity and at the same time remember our natural inclination to have this open to all,” Mattis said. “But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.”
- “I can’t give you a good answer right now,” he added. “I’m open to it. I’ll be working with the chief of staff of the Army and the others to sort it out.”
- So far, too few women have joined infantry units to determine their effectiveness in combat, Mattis said, repeating what he told Task & Purpose on his trip to India earlier this month.
- “This a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” Mattis said. “We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies that are charging into this, but they are too few – right now, it’s not even dozens. It’s that few.” About 150 female soldiers and 27 female Marines are currently serving in infantry military occupational specialties, officials told Task & Purpose on Tuesday.
- Mattis also stressed that infantry units are “the most primitive, I would say evil environment” in the military because they consist of young Marines and soldiers who are cocky, rambunctious, and “necessarily macho.”
- “I was never under any illusions about what level of respect my Marines would have for me if I couldn’t run with the fastest of them and look like it didn’t bother me; if I couldn’t do as many pull-ups as the strongest of them,” Mattis said. “It was the unfairness of the infantry.”