Please excuse my addressing you directly, but I feel it is imperative to draw your attention to two significant fallacies in your recent open letter to the Secretary of Defense.
The first is your assertion that arguments for the full integration of women in the military fall into two categories; yours, and those that are “uninformed opinion… agenda and ideologically driven.”
Let us be honest; there are two sides to this debate, and both are driven by agendas and ideology. Neither side, one hopes, bases their arguments solely on uninformed opinion; both sides seek to leverage expert testimony, scientific research, public opinion, and all other relevant material which will benefit their side of this war of ideas, a struggle which is, as our foundational publication Warfighting describes it, “fundamentally an interactive social process”, the very essence of a Clausewitzian Zweikampf.
The second and more troubling fallacy is your statement that “the issue is putting women in a position where the majority will fail unless standards are lowered.”
The key word here is “standard”. What is this elusive standard of which you write? Like many Marines and others on your side of this debate, that so-called “standard” appears to be the current Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and in particular, the dead-hang pullup, which is not, in fact a standard measurement of upper body strength in either the U.S. military as a whole or for many of our Coalition partners, and has only the most tenuous historical basis in the Corps itself.
Not a single Marine who charged machinegun nests in Belleau Wood, raised the flag on Iwo Jima, or marched back from the "Frozen Chosin" passed the “standard” that you and your supporters deem critical to success in combat, since the original USMC "Physical Readiness Test" (PRT) wasn't instituted until 1956 (MCO 6100.3) and pullups weren't part of the routine - chin-ups (forward grip) were mandatory, and 3 was the "satisfactory" score for a man (as were 25 situps in 2 minutes, and a half-mile jog with no time limit). The other signature events of the original PRT included the "duck waddle", the "broad jump", and the 440 yard dash, 21 pushups (it seems Chesty was already getting his) and 15 squat-thrusts for good measure.
The PFT as we know it didn’t come into existence until 1972 – and the very same scientist that you have picked as your “expert witness” this time around, Dr. Davis, wrote in 1981 that the PFT:
Represents a fitness battery consisting of Items whose capability of predicting combat readiness has not been scientifically validated… Scoring the fitness battery is arbitrary, and does not take into account such factors as environment, loads carried or numerous other factors that will no doubt have a profound impact on combat capabilities and readiness. Once again, the relationship between combat performance and scores on the PFT has neither been investigated nor established on the basis of any empirical work.Between 1972 and 1996, tens of thousands of Marines used their minds and momentum to work “smarter and not harder”, kipping their way to high scores that rewarded rhythm versus brute strength to knock out the “standard”.
And today’s dead hang pullup? As an arbitrary measure of upper body strength, like a push-up, a bench press, or any other number of exercises, it’s a good measure of how well any person can perform that particular movement.
But I challenge anyone who prides themselves on doing 20 pullups during the PFT to join me in donning a minimal combat load consisting of a flak jacket with front, back, and side SAPI plates, an IFAK, a dump pouch, an M-4 with 6 loaded magazines, a Kevlar, and a full Camelbak and then jump on the bar, preferably in 100+ degree temperatures after we’ve run for at least 100 meters. I guarantee those impressively high numbers will vanish.
As for the “standards” for the Infantry Officers Course, again, one should be careful what we call a “standard”. Unlike the enlisted Infantry Course, which is designed to build Marines up into basic infantry personnel and from which over 50 female Marines have already graduated, the first goal of IOC is to break down any officer who lacks an extreme degree of willpower, physical strength, endurance, and determination. The Combat Endurance Test, that infamous introductory gauntlet for IOC should not be confused as anything but what it is – a selection mechanism to weed out approximately 25 percent of the officers who attempt it. This is not a standard infantry-training event; enlisted Marines do nothing comparable at the School of Infantry. It does not teach the officers anything they have not already learned in TBS – it is specifically designed to eliminate a significant percentage of the individuals who attempt it. Why? Because thirty percent of officers graduating from TBS will request an infantry MOS as their first choice. That’s approximately 510 officers, and the Corps only has a need for about 350 Second Lieutenants to serve as infantry platoon commanders. The Combat Endurance Test and other make-or-break aspects of the IOC curriculum are designed to winnow the number of candidates down to the Corps’ requirements. It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to pass the Combat Endurance Test to be a great infantry officer – the course has only existed for the last 35 years, meaning that none of the storied officers of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, or Vietnam ever had to pass that particular test. Yet, somehow, they managed to lead their Marines to victory in battle.
Standards change; physical standards, standards of dress, standards of behavior. We no longer powder our hair or carry swords at all times; we no longer challenge officers from other services to duels. We don’t physically abuse recruits, we don’t haze our fellow Marines. We don’t sing racially or sexually offensive cadences anymore, and thankfully, we no longer do “the duck waddle”. And yet, the Corps is stronger today than it has ever been.
So, Colonel Keenan, I will close this with a few of your own words – “the issue is not women in combat – they have performed magnificently, as well you know.”
They have, Sir, performed magnificently when and where it counted; killing the enemy, saving the lives of their fellow fighters, and giving their lives in the Long War. Let’s recognize that performance by opening the closed doors, breaking the glass ceilings, and acknowledging that potentially updating arbitrary and outdated standards is not the same as lowering them.
Major Edward H. Carpenter, USMC