What About Women in Military Combat Roles?

Marine Corps logoI might as well offer my opinion on a youtube video [click on this link to see video] about using women in combat, specifically female Marines. It is after all, a topic which I’m familiar.

The video isn’t new, nor the topic. It has to do with testing females in training for combat roles in the Marine Corps. The video touches on the requirements for the Marine Corps physical fitness test. The PFT changed in the early 1970’s from a 6 event requirement to only 3 parts. I was in boot camp when this change was made. Frankly, I was rather pleased, but I’m not sure it reflects the true requirements for combat readiness, and here’s why. The former tests were in areas that included running 3 miles in combat boots. The new 3 event test was altered so the recruit and all regular Marines ran in gym shoes. This of course made it easier; I think they had concerns about the boot rubbing the foot raw in places while on a run. We were used to running in boots while undergoing training. This was almost too easy after the changes were made. Clearly, in combat, you’re not going to be wearing gym shoes or shorts.

There were distinct scored parts of this test, the long jump, and the standing high jump, pull-ups, sit-ups, push-ups as well as a 3 mile timed run. The first 2/3 of boot camp, we wore combat boots, with pants, but only had to wear a T-shirt. The final test cut the requirements to pull-ups, sit-ups, and 3 mile run. All of this was done in gym shoes, t-shirts and shorts. Gone were push-ups, long jump, and standing high jump.  The minimums for young recruits were 3 pull-ups, 40 sit-ups in 2 minutes, and 3 miles in 27 minutes. The problem with just meeting those minimums, you weren’t going to pass the cumulative test score requirements.  I can’t recall my exact running times, but I know I wasn’t a speedster.

Mike USMC Hawaii on the beachOver 4 years my running times varied from as high as 24 minutes down to just a squeak past 18 minutes for 3 miles. Even still, 6 minutes per mile isn’t anything to brag about. 8 minutes for 3 miles,  gave you a perfect 100 point score for that portion of the test. A perfect score would be an accumulated total of 300 points. Sit-ups came easy for me, I could do the maximum requirement for a full 100 points, 80 sit-ups in two minutes. These were bent knee, touch the opposite knee with an elbow together to complete one count. Pull-ups required open hands, turned away from body & face. For each one to count, the chin must rise above the bar.

This new substitute requirement for women, using a timed flex arm hang isn’t a valid test in my opinion. I could easily do that, as well as most men in our platoon. Men frequently did it to show off, even though it wasn’t part of our test. The pull-ups requirement for a perfect 100 point score was 20 in 2 minutes. I usually did 10 or 11 but did score 18 as my maximum. I guess I could have worked at making the 20, but it never occurred to me that I should have. As a youth, we sometimes hold back, thinking somehow that’s cool. Silly now when I look back, because a perfect score looked good on your fit rep.

There’s another longer video presented by a woman claiming she was in the Marines and could do the minimum 3 pull-ups. She goes on to say, she thinks the flex arm hang is just as valuable and the 3 pull ups requirement doesn’t indicate you’re combat ready. This to me, is an empty argument. Even with the ability to do 20 pull-ups in gym clothes doesn’t mean you’re combat ready. What it does suggest, is  you have sufficient strength left when you’re tired, to scale an obstacle, such as a wall or rocky terrain. You will have all your gear, field clothes on, maybe you’re also wet and you’ve been running . If you’re only able to do 3 pull-ups in gym clothes, fully rested, that suggests you may not have what it takes under combat conditions.

When anyone tries to defend that 3 pull-ups is too much for a woman, or a flex arm hang is all a woman needs to be in a combat MOS, it won’t matter in a real world situation. There’s no fairness or adjusted equality test for real world conditions. All men were sent back to earlier phases of training if they couldn’t pass the Marine Corps PFT. They would work with any recruit willing to try to complete all phases of training, for up to 6 months. After that period, you would be discharged and not considered a Marine.

Mike as a recruit - San Diego CAAny male who became a Marine during my time, also had to take the PFT at least once every 6 months. If you didn’t pass it twice in a row, you were out. I wasn’t aware of the requirements for female Marines, but I was under the impression, even if they weren’t in assigned combat roles, they had to pass a PFT.

For me to read this current information, I have basically two observations. Any gender may suddenly be in a combat role, either through proximity to enemy activity, or actually have an infantry assignment (military occupational speciality). To that end, all should have to meet the same standards. In theory, a lighter more compact body should be able to pull their own weight in proportion, so there shouldn’t be any deviation from the standard requirement. It is after all, the military and any potential antagonist / fighter, doesn’t care if you’re male or female, they simply want to kill you.

Each person must be trained and dedicated to their job. This not only saves their own life, but also their fellow Marines who they might have to carry out of harms way.

There’s no equipment, pack, rifle, clothing or boots, made especially light and produced for a specific gender. I’ve witnessed some very athletic, strong women that can do the job and surely meet the physical requirements. Everyone should meet the physical requirements demanded of them to serve in the military. Recent events have shown a few women have passed the most rigorous Army requirements. I readily applaud their dedication and achievement.


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