Navy and Marine Officials Discuss Integrating Women Into More Roles

A female Marine participates in Infantry training in 2013. US Marine Corps photo

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A female Marine participates in Infantry training in 2013. US Marine Corps photo
A female Marine participates in Infantry training in 2013. US Marine Corps photo

The Marine Corps is using a social science approach to introduce women into expanded roles in the service, a plans officer in the Corps’ force innovation office told a conference of military reporters and editors Friday in Washington, D.C.

“[Because] we are very interested in morale,” Lt. Col. Michael Samarov said, the idea is to prove to other members of a squad that “the new member can do the job as well or better than the others. I think that will settle the issue” of placing women in positions and with units that had been previously closed to them.

When Defense Secretary Leon Panetta first ended the ground-combat exclusion policy, there were generational differences in the Marine Corps over accepting women into such positions. That attitude has shifted because Marine Corps alumni and more senior Marines still serving see “the standard [of performance] is not changed. Why would you want a less-qualified candidate?”

After the Panetta announcement, the Defense Department told all the services and Special Operations Command to review the standards they set for each occupation and ensure that they were gender-neutral.

The Marine Corps showed all “here’s the no-kidding hard data [on how the candidates were performing]. It won them over.”

Samarov said when the Marine Corps initially studied the issue, “we were focused on the physical.” Over time that has changed to include other social indicators among applicants. “Maturity and smarts matter in combat.”

He added that the Marine Corps believes that 30 percent of the women already serving would be interested in applying for the positions, but the Corps recognizes, “we don’t have a lot of female Marines. It’s something that we are working on” in recruiting and commissioning.

Women make up 14 percent of those in all the services. Slightly less than 7 percent of the Marine Corps is female.

Cmdr. Renee Squier, head of the office of women’s policy for the chief of naval personnel, said the congressional reaction to the Navy’s for female enlisted and junior officers to serve on ballistic missile submarines has been very cooperative.

“The goal is to have 20 percent” of the crew female. The Navy’s report to Capitol Hill will be sent later this fall and the additional women could begin to be assigned by the end of the year.

Squier said the Navy is still studying how women could serve in the smaller attack submarines. “We are studying where it makes sense.”

She said members of Congress recognize the “deliberate, thoughtful approach” the service has taken in how it implements these changes. “We have 20 years of experience” in opening positions to women—starting with serving in surface combatants and operating combat aircraft. It starts by assigning senior officers first, then junior officers and senior noncommissioned officers, followed by junior enlisted.

The services and Special Operations Command have until the start of 2016 to open all positions and occupations to women or provide the rationale to the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for keeping a position closed.

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