Earlier this week we talked about recent changes to the U.S. Marines’ Infantry Officer Course (IOC) which must be passed by all prospective officers who would lead troops into battle. That change eliminated the punishing Combat Endurance Test (CET) as a required, “must pass” requirement to complete the course. While the Marines deny it, there was speculation that the move was designed to make it easier for female officers to pass. (Only one has managed to graduate the full IOC since all combat positions were opened to women under the Obama administration.)

Now another change has been announced. This time it involves something which, while still very challenging for the average person who isn’t in excellent physical shape, seems far less “intense” than the CET. It’s a requirement for… hiking. (Free Beacon)

The U.S. Marine Corps has relaxed hiking standards for prospective officers seeking to graduate from the service’s punishing Infantry Officer Course amid disquieting attrition rates.

Marines will still be required to participate in nine hikes as part of the course, but the shift has reduced the number of evaluated hikes from six to three, the Marine Corps Times reported on Wednesday. Marines are required to pass all three evaluated hikes to graduate, whereas previously they had to pass five of the six evaluated hikes…

A former Marine Infantry Officer, who now serves as a congressional aide, said the modifications to IOC have raised flags among service members who feared the Corps would lower standards after the Obama administration opened all military combat roles to women in 2015.

The aide said the change to the hiking requirement is particularly alarming.

The Marines are still denying this is designed to make it easier for women to pass, though they are offering another suggestion on background. Some in the Defense Department have suggested that rising attrition rates among officers are leading to the lowering of requirements. This comes at the same time that the military is preparing to expand their recruiting requirements to build up our armed forces. Such an explanation doesn’t invalidate the idea that they would like more women to complete the training, but they may need more men as well.

The anonymous comments from some in the Corps about this change are telling. One of them said, “Hiking is such an integral part of leading your Marines, whether in training or some of the combat situations we’re in, and the idea of an officer not being able to stay with his men and, in fact, lead his men from the front on a hike is beyond the pale.”

I can’t personally speak to the toughness of the course. I was in the Navy and our training was far, far less grueling than anything the Marine officers go through. But still, nobody is saying that these requirements are easy. They’re not supposed to be easy. Hiking from position to position in a combat zone lugging a full battle load of up to 100 pounds of gear and still being ready to fight when you arrive is an almost superhuman feat in the eyes of most who live a life more geared toward Netflix and chill. Only a small fraction of those who try to answer the call can manage it. These are the Marines. They are the best of the best, and almost always the first to be sent to face the enemy “up close and personal” in any conflict.

If the standard up until now was to complete five of six evaluated “hikes” (which are far tougher than the hikes you probably go on), why would we lower this? Do we really want officers leading Marines into battle who won’t be able to keep up with their own troops when the order is given to advance? Whether it means admitting more women or even men who simply can’t cut it, neither seems a desirable outcome. If we’re increasing the budget for the military already, perhaps we should be offering better incentives to qualifying recruits to make this challenging career more rewarding. We need to be attracting more of the best, not a wider pool of lesser quality.

This is a disturbing trend and I hope we see it end soon. Preferably with a reverse of course.