Those of you who were following the efforts of then SECDEF Ash Carter to open up all combat roles to women during the Obama administration probably recall some of his comments at the time. In 2015, when the U.S. Marine Corps was told to integrate women into combat duty, Carter was very clear in stating that standards would not be lowered and the women would have to compete on even footing with the men. The New York Times covered his announcement at the time. (Emphasis added)
“There will be no exceptions,” Mr. Carter said at a news conference. He added, “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.”
The defense secretary sought to assuage those concerns on Thursday by saying that every service member would have to meet the standards of the jobs they wished to fill, and “there must be no quotas or perception thereof.”
Unfortunately, one of the requirements to become a Marine combat officer is to pass the Combat Endurance Test (CET). One Marine I know who lived through the experience simply described it as “hell.” Many of the details are not made available to the public at large, but the majority of men who attempt the feat fail. The number of women who passed the course can apparently be counted on one hand.
But now you won’t necessarily have to pass it. A few months ago the Marines quietly changed the requirement so that it was only one of a number of factors being considered for graduating the Infantry Officer Course (IOC). This from the Washington Free Beacon.
The U.S. Marine Corps will no longer require prospective officers to pass a punishing combat endurance test to graduate from the service’s Infantry Officer Course.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller quietly made the shift to standards in November, altering the test from a pass/fail requirement to just one of many exercises measured as part of overall IOC evaluation, the Marine Corps Times first reported on Thursday.
The course is considered among the military’s toughest training programs, with about a quarter of all students failing to complete it, according to the Washington Post. Most of the 30-plus women who have attempted IOC dropped on the first day during the combat endurance test.
Of course, the Marines are claiming that they absolutely didn’t make this change to help more women make it through IOC. They cite “multiple modifications” made to the course over the past four decades, each designed to adapt to changing requirements. But that answer rings a little hollow when you consider that only one woman has made it all the way through the full IOC since then.
The few details known about the training regimen are daunting. Applicants are tossed out on a forced march in the dark of night carrying 80 or 100 pounds of gear on their backs. They have to carry that gear and hold their rifles over their heads while treading water, scaling walls, completing an obstacle course and other tasks. They’re also “taken by surprise” in simulated enemy ambush situations and judged by how they “respond to pain” in realistic combat scenarios.
Obviously, the number of women who are capable of all that is vanishingly small in the general population. Heck, the number of men who can manage it is no doubt far below one percent. Why do you think we call them the few and the proud?
But the fact is, there were a few women completing the CET. In the first year of trials, three women made it through, though they didn’t finish the entire IOC. And wasn’t that always the expectation? We supposedly weren’t guaranteeing any particular number of women roles as combat officers in the Marine Corps. We were just giving them the opportunity to try and prove they have what it takes.
But now, some aspiring officers (presumably of both genders) who fail to complete the CET will still make it through and lead Marines into combat. You can say that you’re “not lowering the standards” until you’re blue in the face, but it sure looks that way from the outside.