Kate Germano is a 20-year veteran of the Marine Corps. She is a vocal advocate for an end to gender bias and lowered expectations for female performance and conduct. She is married with three cats and three chickens. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the United States government.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Elyse Ping Medvigy conducts a call-for-fire during an artillery shoot south of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, Aug. 22, 2014. Medvigy, a fire support officer assigned to the 4th Infantry Division's Company D, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, is the first female company fire support officer to serve in an infantry brigade combat team supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston (Photo by U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston)
Following Trump's inauguration, some supporters of ground combat integration assumed he would quickly move to reinstate a ban on women in jobs like the infantry. When this did not happen, advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief, and hundreds of qualified women charted a course in history by entering the newly opened occupational fields.
So earlier this week when the Wall Street Journal published an editorial against women in ground combat by conservative political commentator Heather Mac Donald, the inclination of many ground combat integration supporters was to dismiss it outright. But given Trump's proclivity to make knee jerk policy decisions in response to falling approval ratings and the court's tradition of deference to the military when it comes to policies affecting good order and discipline, it would be unwise to assume the 2016 lifting of the ban on women in ground combat is a done deal.
A year has passed since the Marines United social media scandal broke in the news, and despite the very real damage to Marine Corps’ reputation, few substantive changes have been made to reform the culture. As smart, fit young women consider their options for military service they will go where their talents are appreciated and valued. The Marine Corps is the only service that stands to lose. With the credibility of the service and its leaders at stake, there has never been a more pressing need for the organization to change.
The word Marine is synonymous with action. Initiative, or taking action in the absence of clear instructions, can mean the difference between mission success or failure. However, when drill instructors stray from doctrine and regulations and employ illegal methods in a misguided attempt to make their recruits tougher, they aren't exercising initiative — they are demonstrating cruelty, poor judgment, and questionable ethics.
A recent AP story portrayed the Marine Corps as drastically changing its recruiting strategy for women to focus on high school athletes. While this is a step in the right direction, it only represents half of the solution. For too long, the Marine Corps has turned a blind eye to female screening and preparation, resulting in extraordinarily high attrition at boot camp and the perception that female recruits are physiologically and mentally incapable of achieving more than the bare minimum. If the Marine Corps is truly committed to increasing the number of women in the service, it will need a more robust recruiting strategy centered on screening and accountability for the mental and physical preparation of these women, rather than just an increase in recruiter prospecting at female high school sports events.
When I was the commanding officer of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, I repeatedly raised concerns to my chain of command about the gender bias and sexism my female Marines, recruits, and I faced. The recently relieved commander of 3rd Battalion was well known for making derogatory comments about women, going so far as to call my recruits “distractions” on hikes and telling the regimental commander he saw “no value” in integrating training events. My drill instructors and recruits repeatedly heard male drill instructors and senior enlisted depot staff insulting women, calling our battalion the “4th Dimension.” It was all too common for male drill instructors to tell the slower male recruits that they ran like “girls” or were “pussies.” Worse, recruit graduation data demonstrated that female recruits had been allowed to underperform for decades compared to their male counterparts. As women, they were simply expected not to excel or be able to compete with their male peers.
The delta between men and women’s performance at recruit training is more than just an anomaly. Generations of female recruits and Marines have been expected to underperform because of gender bias, or the lowered expectations for a group because of sex. Despite ample data indicating change is necessary, the Marine Corps is determined to maintain existing recruiting practices and segregated recruit training for women. Such a stance only serves to reinforce the sexism and gender bias so prevalent in the Marine Corps today.