Mattis Defends His Vague Assessment Of Women In Infantry Roles

Bullet Points
U.S. Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis speaks during the National POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21, 2018.
DoD photo/Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

Barely a day after declaring during a visit to the Virginia Military Institute that "the jury is out” on the effectiveness of women in infantry roles in the Army and Marine Corps, Defense Secretary James Mattis begrudgingly sought to clarify his statement on the matter and walk back his perceived dismissal of female combat troops.


  • When informed on Wednesday that his statement had indicated a lack of support for women serving in infantry roles, Mattis told reporters that female VMI cadets had interpreted his statement in "just the opposite" manner. "That the door was open," he said. "We don't have enough females in the infantry to make some kind of quantitative assessment."

  • Mattis had previously stated on that the women currently serving in infantry roles across the Army and Marine Corps — 177 in total, according to DoD officials — are "too few .... right now" to convincingly measure of combat effectiveness. “This a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
  • Indeed, Mattis' comments reflect what he previously told T&P;'s Jeff Schogol during his trip to India earlier in September. “It’s probably too early to talk about progress because the numbers are so small,” he said at the time. “I think you need a larger cohort before you can evaluate something like that. Can’t make broad assessments based on very, very few numbers.”
  • So why the confusion? Blame the Pentagon press corps, Mattis said. After all, the female VMI cadets took his comments "just the opposite from how it was written about by the Pentagon press — by one number of Pentagon press."

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