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By Kris Osborn

Including infantry and other dangerous front-line roles – as part of a response to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s announcement that all roles in the U.S. military would now be open to women, Corps officials told Scout Warrior.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are all enthusiastically welcoming this announcement and getting ready to fully implement women who meet gender-neutral standards into all specialties in the U.S. military.

 “This means that as long as they qualify and meet the standards, women will now be able to contribute to our mission in ways they could not before. They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers, and everything else that previously was open only to men,” Carter told reporters at the Pentagon Dec. 3.

Prior to Carter’s announcement, all of the services were asked to submit a recommendation regarding how much women should be integrated into certain front-line combat positions. Unlike the other services, the Marine Corps recommended that certain units remain all male.

This recommendation, submitted by former Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, has been overturned by Sec. Carter’s decision.

Despite his services’ prior position, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller welcomed Carter’s announcement - saying it would better help the Corps fight and win.

“As Marines, our mission is success in combat. We received the Secretary’s decision and we will immediately begin full integration of our force. As we move forward we will maintain our standards and utilize the talent of all Marines, male and female to strengthen our Corps and increase effectiveness. We have a decision. It is time to move out,” Neller said in a specially released Marine Corps video.

The Corps’ prior recommendation that certain roles such as fire support and machine gunner remain all male was, at least in part, based upon an experiment which found that certain all-male units outperformed integrated male-female units.

The women who participated in the study were female Marine Corps volunteers who had gone through their respective Military Occupation Specialty, or MOS, schools in infantry, armor and artillery, Marine Corps officials said.

The exercise assessed all-male combat teams and male-female combat units in a series of simulated combat maneuvers at 29 Palms - a Corps facility in the Mojave Desert, Calif.  Study activities also took place along portions of the California coastline.

An all-male control group of Marines was compared against an integrated group that was seven-percent female and a higher-density control group that was made up of 14-percent women, Corps officials added.

The units were asked to perform a range of combat tasks, including what’s called a “movement to contact” where Marines move for 1-kilometers with full gear and then climb over an eight-foot wall before engaging in live-fire simulated combat, officials  said.

The study assessed Marines’ ability to shoot, hike, carry, maneuver and perform a wide range of infantry and combat skills over an extended period of time, all while staying in two-person tents in the desert.

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At one point, study participants had to demonstrate strength by moving a simulated casualty on the battlefield. The casualty was a 220-pound crash test dummy. The average weight of a Marine is 174-pounds plus a helmet, flak-jacket, boots and gear, Corps officials added.

Gender-Neutral Standards

However, although the women involved had completed their respective specialty schools, they had not completed a common set of gender-neutral standards – a benchmark reached by the two women who historically graduated from Army Ranger school.

Emphasizing the importance of creating gender-neutral qualification standards for military positions, Carter stressed that there will be “no exceptions” preventing women for serving in any role for which they are qualified.

Like many in the military, Carter is of the view that harnessing more female talents and abilities will serve the military mission quite well.

The Air Force and Navy had already opened up most roles in their respective services to women, and alongside Army Ranger school, this new directive will formally open up more armor, artillery and infantry roles in the Army to women.

“‘No exceptions’ was the recommendation of the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Air Force, and the Secretary of the Navy, as well as the Chief of Staff of the Army, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Chief of Naval Operations, and the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command,” Carter said.

Upon making his announcement, Carter talked through some of the history surrounding the issue leading up to his announcement.

“The Defense Department has increasingly done this in recent decades – in 1975, for example, opening up the military service academies to women, and in 1993, allowing women to fly fighter jets and serve on combat ships at sea,” Carter said.

During this same period, the Pentagon also issued a Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule which prohibited women from being assigned to units whose primary mission was ground combat, Carter added.

This rule has now been overturned with Carter’s announcement and all positions in the U.S. military will be open to women in 30 days.

In a special statement to Scout Warrior, Marine Corps officials reiterated the Commandant’s position and expressed enthusiasm for the full integration of women.

"The Marine Corps has received the Secretary's decision and will immediately commence the process of further implementing the policy change, to include sharing plans and lessons learned with the other services. We are well-informed by our combat experience, as well as our objective approach and data obtained from the past two years of study,” the statement said.

The Corps statement also said the integration of women will be done is such a way as to preserve the services’ standards of excellence.  

“As we move forward with full integration, we'll continue to maintain our standards, while leveraging every opportunity to optimize individual performance, talent and skills to maximize the war-fighting capabilities of our MAGTFs (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) in an increasingly complex operating environment.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure the men and women who earn the title "Marine" will be ready to fight and win,’” the statement continues.