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Marines ordered to make more room for women on the front lines

April 27, 2012|By Tony Perry
  • Female Marines from Camp Pendleton talk to Afghan villagers in part of the "female engagement team" program.
Female Marines from Camp Pendleton talk to Afghan villagers in part of the… (Adek Berry / AFP / Getty Images )

The Marine Corps, whose recruiting slogan long rested on the phrase “a few good men,” is moving to open more front-line billets, or jobs, for women.

Commandant Gen. James Amos this week ordered that certain jobs previously meant for men now be opened to women as well. In some cases, the change is meant as a test to help Amos make recommendations about a possible permanent shift.

Along with outlining the billets and ranks involved, Amos included a warning in his message that he will not tolerate any foot-dragging in the ranks.

“I expect all leaders to be fully committed to providing every Marine the opportunity to compete and excel while sustaining unit effectiveness, readiness and cohesion, and maintaining good order and discipline,” Amos said in his message to all Marines.

Amos’ order comes as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered all the services to no longer restrict women from certain jobs because those jobs are “co-located” with ground combat units. Women will continue to be prohibited from direct involvement in combat units and special operations units.

Panetta has called for all the services to report to him in six months about their efforts to pursue “gender-neutral physical standards”; how the experiment of assigning women to certain billets is working; and when more positions can be opened for women.

Among all the services, Panetta’s initiative is meant to open 14,325 job titles to women.

The Marine Corps, with its primary mission being direct ground combat, has 7% women in its ranks, the lowest of any service. The Army has 14%, Navy 16%, Air Force 19%, and Coast Guard 16%. The Marine Corps also maintains separate boot camps for men and women.

In order to study how well a permanent change might work, Amos ordered that up to 40 women at the rank of captain, lieutenant, gunnery sergeant, and staff sergeant be assigned to train and serve with artillery, tank, assault amphibian, combat engineer, combat assault and low-altitude air defense battalions.

Also, female Navy medical officers, chaplains and corpsmen may also be assigned to these battalions, Amos said.

A deputy commandant will direct and monitor all such assignments, and the Marine Corps Training and Education Command will do research to see how the women perform.

Starting this summer, women who graduate from the Basic Officer Course at Quantico, Va., will be allowed to volunteer for the Infantry Officer Course.

Women and men at the entry level will be tested on heavy machine gun lift, casualty evacuation, and march-under-load to provide “analytical data to inform my recommendations,” Amos said.

The march-under-load test will include having men and women each carry packs of up to 70 pounds on a 12-mile march over challenging terrain.

The initial change does not include entry-level enlisted, but Amos said that he expects that the Marine Corps “will take measured and responsible steps to provide our female enlisted Marines with future opportunities to train within the infantry training battalion.”

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tony.perry@latimes.com

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