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Dear Colonel Ellen Haring: Lowering Marine Corps Officer Standards is a BAD Idea.

Posted on 18 October 2016

"Marine Corps standards for Infantry Officers are unrealistic."

This is what retired Army Officer Ellen Haring wrote last week. She's wrong. Several years ago, the Marine Corps spent $36 million studying the performance differences between all-male and mixed-gender infantry squads across a variety of battlefield tasks. Despite HQMC's protests that the study found all-male squads more proficient at 93% of tasks, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus gave the order to open combat jobs to women

First female Marines attend Marine Corps School of Infantry - photo by Cpl Chelsea Anderson, USMC, 27 September 2013
Headquarters Marine Corps responded, "Aye, sir," and executed. Since then, the Marines have even removed the word "man" from most job titles in order to help the integration along—Marines are nothing if not responsive to orders. When asked about the repeated failings of women attempting the Infantry Officer's Course, Mabus told Staff and Purpose

“This is not about quotas. This is about opening up opportunity and I can tell you emphatically, categorically, that I will never do anything as long as I’m in this job to lower the Marine combat effectiveness."

First female Marines attend school of infantryMarines gave a sigh of relief. The fear amongst former and current infantry Marines seems to be that if no woman makes the standard, the standard will be lowered. The Marine Corps' gender integration study findings were, in the interim, being used to change the standards for all-male units—because the men also fell short of the standard. This was amidst controversy that the study was designed to fail. Regardless of the veracity of the study, Colonel Ellen Haring, my question to you is this: What data are you basing your opinion on?

"Haring challenges a Pentagon contention that women are not able to carry a wounded 200-pound man off the battlefield. She said her husband and son, a weightlifter, both said that neither would be able to accomplish that feat."  — L.A. Times, 2012

The L.A. Times didn't mention whether both men had ever been Infantry Marines, but rest assured if they were, it would've been mentioned to reinforce the point. The redaction is enough for me to assume they never served. 

Colonel Haring, shame on you. Someone with your history of service (25 years) shouldn't be referring to civilian men for the standard—which 99% of them don't even attempt, let's not even discuss their ability to achieve. And the Marines especially shouldn't be referring to their standard—or even the standard of an Army Officer. Because the two organizations have distinctly different missions. 

The Marine Corps Infantry is the lead element. 

The Marine Corps considers itself an infantry-forward maritime fighting force. When you talk to an F-18 pilot in the Corps, he considers him or herself an extension of supporting the troops on the ground. They even get to spend time with the grunts as Forward Air Controller. 

The point is that the Marine Corps needs good leaders in its operating forces, period.


Female Marine takes a nap This organization is full of young men with lots of testosterone who wanted to handle weaponry for their country. It needs leaders who can step in and show them who's boss in the language that they understand—physicality. This is especially important for a young 2nd Lieutenant looking to prove themselves to a new command where the Cpls and Sgts have a couple deployments under their belt—and run a 6 minute mile. Leading physical training is one of the main ways of creating unit cohesion. Leading from the front, that is, not just going through exercises. 

There's one thing the LA Times got poignantly correct, and that's the lense with which Colonel Haring views the battlefield, as the story concluded: "Relaxing in her living room, Haring sighed."

Grasping at anecdotes to prove that Marine Corps standards should change is unrealistic. 

Colonel Haring states that her interaction with several Marine Corps officers proves her point that IOC training standards are unrealistic. But she doesn't offer the ratio of these officers vs those who don't think the standard is unrealistic, nor does she offer any real data, just random anecdotal conversations.

Is that anyway to run a command?

Digging deeper in the L.A. Times article, Haring admits that she was passed over command of a Female Engagement Team in favor of a male officer. She blamed this on sexism, of course, but that begs the question: how did those women make it onto the team? 

Lowering the Standards Insults Female Marines.

The female Marines who are on the ground right now, attempting IOC—they're the ones who you should defer judgement to. I guarantee you, as an outsider looking in, that you don't understand Marine Corps culture. 

And the culture is that any woman who passes the lower standard will always be selling herself short—wondering if she could've made it without your boost up. Every Marine she commands will be questioning whether she has what it takes. And she'll know it. 

Our advice?

Let the Marines handle our own. The Marines were the very first branch of the military to deploy women in large numbers. The Marines' Lioness Program, although not an official unit, was a battalion-sized movement (that's a brigade for you, Colonel Haring). 

This was in quick response to changing enemy tactics, techniques, and procedures. Iraqi insurgent groups quickly began to exploit American sensitivities to cultural norms and started using women as smugglers and suicide bombers in late 2005. 

Do you hear that, Colonel Haring? In response to the enemy situation, the Marines stood up the first female-only battalion of troops to send to the front lines. 

Give us a little credit. We already have hard corps women Marines and we don't need the perspective from your couch. Especially when you're trying to fix what ain't broken. 

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