A female Marine goes through an obstacle course, one of the tasks of the combat endurance test. (Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY)
By Jim Michaels, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON - In his first interview since the Pentagon opened ground combat jobs to women, the commandant of the Marine Corps said some occupations may ultimately remain closed if only a small number qualify.
The Marines will not lower physical standards for certain specialties, Gen. James Amos told USA TODAY. "We can't afford to lower standards," he said. "We can't make adjustments on what's required on the battlefield.
"That's not why America has a Marine Corps," he said.
The Marine Corps, like the Army, is reviewing the physical and other standards required for direct combat fields that had previously been closed to female service members.
The Pentagon last week ordered that the services provide the opportunity for women to enter all fields, including infantry, tanks, artillery and other combat arms.
The entire process could take years as the services develop and validate "gender neutral" standards. The secretary of Defense would have to approve any fields that remain closed to women.
"If the numbers are so small with regards to qualification, then there very may well be (job fields) that remain closed," Amos said. "Those will be few and far between."
Deploying only one or two female service members in a unit, for example, would make it difficult for the women to succeed. "You want to have assimilation ... so our females can mentor one another," Amos said.
Each of the previously closed fields will likely have its own set of requirements.
Some are easily quantifiable. For example, men and women wanting to serve on a tank crew would need to be able to lift a tank round, which weighs more than 40 pounds, and load it into the main gun. Other standards may be more difficult to quantify.
Amos said he is confident that the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course (IOC), a mentally and physically grueling 13-week course, is an accurate measure of what it takes to successfully lead a rifle platoon in combat.
"There's no intention on my part of changing anything within the IOC curriculum," Amos said. The course has drawn attention because last year the Marine Corps began admitting women on an experimental basis.
The first two women admitted did not complete the course. Two more volunteers are expected to begin the course next month.
The infantry school for enlisted Marines, however, is being looked at closely to determine whether the standards are a good measurement of the physical and mental requirements of a Marine infantryman.
Once the standards and requirements among all specialties are codified they could then be incorporated into screening tests and specialty schools. The Marine Corps has more than 30 fields that are currently closed to women.
"This is not writing standards now in an effort to exclude females," Amos said. "This is writing and developing standards that quite frankly should have been developed years ago and have not been."
Amos said the Marine Corps will ensure that the opportunities are opened up without adjusting requirements.
"We've got too much combat experience for me to even suggest lowering the standards," Amos said. "So I'm not going to do it."
The Pentagon order will mark a change for all the services, but particularly for the Marine Corps, a lean expeditionary force that is organized and built around the infantry. The Marine Corps has the smallest percentage of women in its ranks.
Amos said the elite service is serious about opening opportunities for women.
"This isn't a subtle way of saying, 'OK, we're going to have standards and so we're going to exclude our women.' It's actually just the opposite."
There is broad public support for allowing women into combat arms jobs, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press and The Washington Post. Of those surveyed, 66% supported allowing women into ground combat roles.