Can Women be Infantry Marines?

May 29, 2014

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When the Secretary of Defense rescinded the ground combat exclusion policy he gave the Services three years to fully integrate women into all combat specialties and he directed the Services and SOCOM to develop scientifically-verifiable, gender-neutral, occupationally-driven mental and physical standards. He told the Services and SOCOM that any requests for exceptions to the new policy must be “narrowly tailored, and based on a rigorous analysis of factual data regarding the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for the position.”  Each of the organizations has taken a different approach toward integrating women.

The Marines have stated that their occupational standards are already valid and gender neutral.  They believe that the existing standards have served them well and if women can simply prove themselves against existing standards than that should be the measure of whether or not women will be allowed into combat specialties.  As a test, the Marines have allowed entry level women to attend both the infantry officer and enlisted courses.  So far more than 55 enlisted women have qualified to be infantry Marines while no women officers have qualified.

An Op-Ed in the Washington Post by Second Lieutenant Sage Santangelo, (“Fourteen women have tried, and failed, the Marines’ Infantry Officer Course. Here’s why”) helped explain why no women officers have qualified. Of the 14 women who have attempted the course 13 of them were eliminated on the first day during the Combat Endurance Test.  The only woman who passed the Combat Endurance Test on her first attempt was subsequently eliminated due to a stress fracture later in the course.  According to Lieutenant Santangelo, none of the women was allowed a second attempt even though many of the same men who failed with her were allowed to return to make a second or even a third attempt.

This highlights a disparity between the two courses and raises questions about occupational standards.  First, all enlisted Marines, men and women are allowed to remediate and retake portions of their course until they qualify.  Second, if existing infantry standards are valid as occupational standards, why are the physical standards different for officers and enlisted infantry Marines?  Why don’t enlisted infantrymen, and now women, have to pass the Combat Endurance Test if it is a valid measure of occupational suitability?

Officers and enlisted infantrymen perform the same physical tasks in their units and during combat operations.  The discriminator between officer and enlisted has always been education, not physical differences. No other schools, including elite schools like Ranger School or Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL school, require different physical qualification standards for officers and enlisted.  Furthermore, the Marines don’t have different Physical Fitness Test or Combat Fitness Test scores for officers and enlisted.    Finally, after Marine officers successfully pass the Combat Endurance Test they never have to pass it again.  Unlike other occupational qualification tests that must be revalidated every year, like weapons qualification, the Combat Endurance Test is never required again during an officer’s career.   The answer is that the Combat Endurance Test serves as an initiation rite and not a test of occupational qualification.

Do initiation rites have a place in our military?  There will be those who argue that they absolutely have a place in developing the esprit de corps that is vital to the Marine Corps and those arguments have merit.  Certainly the Marines have built their reputation on being tough, trained professionals whose motto Semper Fidelis (always faithful) embodies their total dedication to this country and to the Corps. But does an initiation rite that effectively filters out half the American population (all women) do the Marine Corps justice?

I am not suggesting that the Combat Endurance Test be eliminated from the Marine Infantry Officer course or that it isn’t a good initiation rite that helps identify those Marine officers who are totally committed to being infantry officers.   But I am suggesting that it not be called an “occupational standard.” Let’s call it what it is–a challenging initiation into an elite group that prides itself on being tough, resilient and loyal to the foundational beliefs of this country. And, let’s acknowledge that this initiation is central to the identity of the Corps, an identity that has been at the heart of its long and distinguished service to the country.

What I do suggest is that the Combat Endurance Test be returned to the place it held in past years when, according to Marine infantry officers who graduated in the past,  there was no “washing out” or failing on the basis of a day 1 test. Previously, if you didn’t meet the time limits that day, you simply remediated on a weekend later in the course, but you continued in the instruction along with everyone else. There is no shame in building endurance over time. In fact, long and hard training is something that both reflects, as well as builds the character that is core to the Corps. Many challenging programs, including the Army’s Ranger School, allow multiple attempts to meet various phases of the course and this should be the case for the Marine infantry officer course.  Repeating a challenge makes Marines stronger and better and proves that they have the mental and physical strength to “never quit.”

Women Marines know that their inclusion in combat units, as officers, or as enlisted, will threaten, at a basic level, the Corps’ definition of itself.  But they also know that the Corps is a shining example of the foundational principles upon which this country rests, namely that we are all judged and valued on individual merit and not as groups.  Women Marines don’t want standards to be lowered or changed.  They just want a fighting chance to become Marine infantry officers.


Ellen Haring is a colonel in the United States Army Reserve and a senior fellow at Women in International Security.  The views expressed here are her own.

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52 thoughts on “Can Women be Infantry Marines?

  1. This post perpetuates the misunderstanding sarted in Ms. Sanangelo’s article about repeating IOC. Marines who are to be assigned to the infantry are generally allowed to remediate if they do not complete the course. Marines who are attending the infantry course, but are destined for other occupational fields (men and women) have not been allowed to remediate in the past because it unneccessarily delays the training required for their specialty. Since the women who have attempted thus far have not been destined for the infantry they all fell into the latter category. The descriminator is not sex, rather it is practical career path issues.
    Also, there is more to the difference between officer and enlisted than education, at least in the Marine Corps anyway if not in the Army reserves.

    1. Rick,
      Women don’t really fit neatly into the paradigm you have suggested. Their admission into Infantry training was intended to be a test case for whether or not women can complete the requirements of the program. So yes, sex is the discriminator here, and as such, women candidates should be treated just like the guys who will eventually become Infantry officers even if for now they aren’t allowed in. Also, could you clarify for readers the differences that you think exist in physical requirements for officers and enlisted? In my experience, on active duty as a West Point graduate and subsequently in the Army reserves,I just haven’t seen how this has been a factor in job performance/competence.

      1. See FORMER0331’s second to last paragraph, I think that sums up the difference I refer too well enough. Officers are there to LEAD, and for a young infantry officer physical fitness is a large part of that. Nothing you learn in college prepares you to lead a platoon of Marines.

      2. Ellen,
        Retired Navy pilot here and father of a Marine Officer candidate in ROTC. You’ve done a nice job of throwing a bone to the Marine ethos but you have framed the issue in the context of “The Administration has directed the DoD to eliminate the right for the Services to deny any combat position to women, and the Marines still have barriers up.” Regardless of how I feel about that politically driven decision, the real issue is that of needed combat capability and the requirements to get there.
        I read an article several years ago from a Navy LCDR. She touched on the issue of gender and combat billets, but made an observation from her Buttercup experience (Navy’s ship damage control live action simulator). She noted that she could not lift, push, pull, or maintain the same endurance as her male counterparts during a simulated ship-saving, water coming in experience. She concluded that in that scenario, she could not help save her shipmates as well as her male counterparts.
        What does this mean? It’s a part of preparing for combat that cannot be underemphasized or changed by edict. It is not the only aspect, as I believe that shooting, making decisions under pressure, organization skills, etc., are at the individual level and not generalized by gender. We can note the statistical average strength and endurance differences between genders, but the physical tests provide the floor of a combat capability in each soldier/sailor/airman/marine that is driven by experience and written in blood from the past.
        We haven’t even gotten to the potentially crippling scenario of watching females being tortured, etc., in front of their male colleagues. I’m sure that it is equally disturbing with the roles reversed, but there is MILLENNIA of human nature to contend with there. Men defend their women over the centuries, and that is a lot of history to set aside. You may consider it irrelevant to your point; men do not. I’m not saying it is right, just that it is what it is: human nature.

      3. Another fact that was left out – men can repeat IOC if they are dropped due to injury. Failing the CET is grounds for being reclassed to another MOS. This is the way it should be if this isn’t the case 100% of the time. If an officer is too mentally and/or physically weak to take a 2 or 3 day hazefest, then he shouldn’t be leading Infantry Marines. My life got far more difficult when I became a team leader and machine gun section leader. This only gets harder.

        One fact check for the author – SEALS and guys in Ranger school are held to higher standards if they are officers. Officers are expected to take all the misery with a smile to motivate their men. True, you don’t wear rank in Ranger School, but the instructors know who is what rank. Officers in BUD/S only get 1 shot at it, while enlisted can try until they hit the age limit.

  2. Col Haring-
    As an infantry Marine with more than 20 years of service, I would like to note a few things about your article:
    -Your choice of words that the Combat Endurance Test eliminates half the American population is misleading. Women make up about 6.8% of the total Marine Corps- 4.3% of the officer corps, and 5.1% of the enlisted ranks. Therefore it is not possible for the test to eliminate half the American population as nowhere near that number join the Marines. (Data from USMC History Division)
    – I have NEVER seen a Marine Infantry Officer fail physically. This is one of the reasons that a Marine Officer that desires to serve in the Infantry must pass the Combat Endurance Test.
    -Also, although there have been ladies that have passed infantry training at the School of Infantry, NONE of those ladies are in the infantry or have the infantry MOS.
    I have no problems with a lady wanting to be an infantry Marine, AS LONG AS SHE MEETS THE STANDARD. I will not allow the standard to be lowered in the name of “equality.” You either meet the standard, or you don’t. THAT is equality!
    Jack Sigman

  3. I can assure you that SOI (the enlisted infantry course) is the EASIEST part of a Marine Grunt’s career. When Marines get to the Fleet is where the real challenges (hazing, deployment workups, deployments themselves) begin. Until they started sending females to SOI, I wasn’t even sure it was possible to fail. They don’t need to lower the standards for officers as you suggest, they need to INCREASE the standards for enlisted, especially since now we are in a drawdown.

    When I was a machine gun section leader, I’d get SOI boots that couldn’t keep up on humps because the SOI humps are too easy. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t help the PC agenda of pushing women into the grunts.

    As for officers, physical fitness is all they have when they are boot platoon commanders. They don’t know anything, and no one takes them seriously as it is. If they can’t at least run the platoon into the ground in PT, then their position is pointless.

    Sage Santangelo failed several leadership principles when she wrote that article. She is an officer; she should have prepared herself during her off time at TBS for the CET. Failure in initiative. She also blamed the Marine Corps for not training her for it – failure to take responsibility for herself. She also went to the media and, indirectly, the Gen Amos on this. Failure to respect the chain of command. I would not want her leading me on a patrol in OEF.

  4. In an era when marriage can be redefined into absurdity and gender is reduced to whim I have no doubt that ‘Progressives’ can do equal violence to the well understood terms Marine and infantryman. We all know that you can use a screwdriver as a hammer in a pinch, but foolish is the carpenter who would do so intentionally. All would question his competence for his inability to discriminate among differences to determine advantage and efficiencies. No sane customer would demand that he use his tools equally-rather they would prefer them to be used appropriately to produce a better product. Gotta wonder about the powers of observation of those who claim that there are not significant differences between men and women that far better optimze men as warriors.

    1. It seems that the majority of those who have posted in response to this piece make clear that the author is operating from the flawed premise that there need not be a difference in the physical abilities between officer and enlisted.

      As a non-infantryman who has served in combat, as an officer in the ground combat element, I would agree with this criticism. It was imperative that I maintain the physical stamina to juggle a myriad of tasks, outside the scope of the Marines in my charge, in a fluid, chaotic, and violent environment.

      Frankly, I think a rather objective look around both the operating forces and supporting establishment today would reveal the presence of far too many Marines, officer and enlisted, male and female, infantryman and non-infantryman alike, who are failing to maintain the image of that of a quick thinking, fast acting, physically aggressive and mentally agile individual, ready to move out at a moment’s notice, in defense of the Republic and American interests.

      But this is a problem that will plague this generation of Marine leaders. As we return from Afghanistan and confront our budgetary realities, and the need to develop new and refine old capabilities, we will ask ourselves some difficult questions; many of those questions will likely revolve around thorny personnel issues, from compensation policies, to the integration of women in the ground combat element whenever possible, as the policy, and arguably, the law now require.
      We have a responsibility to confront these challenges from a vantage point that optimizes readiness and ensures a premium on strategic, operational, and tactical mobility, lethality and a healthy dose of capacity.

      However, there is no place in the conversation for polemics that challenge settled debates and seek to again marginalize any service member and deprive him or her of their dignity because of personal prejudices and alleged deeply held “religious convictions”.

      I raise this point in response to the reply on the thread above where Art Corbett posits, “In an era when marriage can be redefined into absurdity and gender is reduced to whim I have no doubt that ‘Progressives’ can do equal violence to the well understood terms Marine and infantryman.” I must ask, what in the world does marriage have to do with gathering data to inform a potential decision on the integration of women into the infantry? This is the worst kind of prejudice, veiled under the cloak of an existential threat to the viability of the Marine Corps infantry as an effective warfighting community. The two are not even remotely connected and the clear implication that homosexual marriage is an “absurdity” betrays an obsession with deeply held, though just as deeply antiquated, viewpoints that contribute nothing to the discussion of the future of our force.

      1. OSH

        In the cases of both homosexual marriage and women infantrymen the proponents redefine the terms to repurpose the instituion. The repurposing is the unstated by but more consequential result of the redefinition. Much like your use of the term ‘dignity.’ To put a positive spin on it, I have every confidence that women infantrymen will be as potent as a homosexual marriage.

  5. The enlisted and officer standards for selection to BUD/S are significantly different. Officer selection is intensely competitive and high scores on the screening test are required of any officer accessing to the community.

  6. Additionally, I am not sure when it came into being that passing minimum standards was a reasonable measure of an officer. Officers lead. Exceeding the standard is expected. Attaining a high level of proficiency at basic skills, including physical fitness, is the objective and should be the norm.

  7. The Marine Corps already invests a significant amount of time and money into training its officers. No other branch has anything like The Basic School, where all 2nd LTs go through six months of training to be provisional rifle platoon commanders. IOC is another 3 months and is more expensive on a per student basis (Palm Fex alone costs over $1 million to run each year).

    After factoring in lag time between TBS and IOC it could be over a year before a 2nd LT steps in front of a platoon. The Marine Corps has 10% of the Army’s budget. There is simply not enough time and money to try and coddle young officers through IOC.

    In addition to this, there is plenty of build up at TBS to train properly for the CET. Hikes at TBS start at 3 miles and gradually increase to 15 miles. The E-Course and O-Course are run multiple times thought the POI. Everyone knows what it takes to be an infantry officer, its not a secret. Those that want to make it through IOC do the PT on their own to ensure they’ll make it through the course.

  8. Ms. Haring,
    That you ask why there is a difference in training between Marine Corps Officers and Enlisted Marines shows you were never a Marine. If you were, you would realize that Marine Officers, especially Marine Corps Infantry Officers lead from the front. That means your professional training testing has to be harder and the physical nature of your training has to be relentless.
    One of the primary reasons that female Marine Officers were not given an opportunity to retake the course is that since they were not going to become Infantry Officers and attempting to complete the course again could cause delays in reporting to their Primary MOS school. Since many of the females did not make it past the 1st day, that was not really as issue. The issue is when was the next Infantry Officers Course scheduled to start (probably 3-6 weeks later) and what kind of delay would the women face and what do you do with them in the meantime and now a delay could impact their MOS school
    If female Officers of Marines want to be infantry officers and can pass the course then so be it. However, if they just like their male counterparts cannot pass, then they get the MOS’ that the Marine Corps selects for them, period. When I went to the Basic School (the 6 month long officers training course held just prior to your MOS producing school), it was noted that if an Officer failed to make the cut for their school, regardless of the school, aviation, infantry artillery, whatever, the ability of that officer to now have their desired selection regarding their “new” MOS was severely limited and based solely on the needs of the Corps.
    By the way, why does it matter that the Marine Corps require that Infantry Officers pass the Combat Endurance Test. It is gender neutral in that it has been used for many years and continues to be required of all Marine Corps Infantry Officers.

  9. It is a wonder to me that the out-pouring of energy invested in getting the Marine Corps to get women into the infantry is taken seriously. It is also a wonder to me that no one is pointing out that interest groups advocating this will not have to deal with any of the repercussions of this course of action.
    As far as IOC and the reason these female officers are failing to pass the CET, it is because they cannot physically and mentally meet the standard of the test. The test is a benchmark that all candidate Lieutenants that are selected to attend the course should be able to take and pass. I would even argue that it is not a measure of physicality, but a measure of will and endurance. Not every Lieutenant is a 300 PFT candidate, (I know I wasn’t), but what I did know is that I knew I could do it and I wanted it.
    Col. Haring asserts that the test has no merit beyond an “initiation”. Beyond the fact that that opinion is totally baseless, I will tell you that the CET is only the first day of 80 some-odd days in which each will be more difficult in stress and physical challenge than the previous one. So, saying that female volunteers should be allowed to take the test until they “build endurance” is only a failed policy waiting to happen.
    I also was an enlisted infantry Marine that attended and passed SOI. Comparing the enlisted courses with the officer infantry courses is apples and oranges (which I could definitely say about this ENTIRE argument). There are reasons why the training and the passing of SOI is less physically and mentally straining and that the standards for enlisted troops are significantly lower. In a nutshell, we cant all be rockstars. Or a better way to put it is that we cant all be officers. Enlisted Marines are given specific job skills in order to function as a part of a team. That job initially does not require the Marine to do anything other than operate a weapons system in conjunction with his team’s leadership. Officers are also given a skill set, but also are expected from day one to instruct and direct those individually skilled Marines to become a team in order to accomplish the mission. TO LEAD. In combat, that requires more energy, more endurance, more will and a greater knowledge base to ensure higher’s direction is fulfilled by directing whatever unit (team) into uncertain circumstances–AND WINNING. After doing this in Iraq and Afghanistan, I can tell you that the difference in demand on an officer is incomprehensible to most enlisted Marines.
    SOI gives the enlisted Marines a skill that they take to the fleet as part of an infantry unit where they then learn how to be successful in a lifestyle that includes not only the skill, but increased endurance demands and additional skills to build into the team, platoon, company and battalion construct. A lot of those are not successful and sometimes even resentful after a few years of this lifestyle. I would also say that most infantry Marines suffer differing injury during their first enlistment and the turn over is high.
    The point is that in the efforts of those, like Col. Haring, to push this issue, they are ignoring the facts Marine Infantry is not an all-inclusive summer camp where females will flourish because they can. The Marine Infantry has rightfully gained its reputation as THE most feared fighting force the world has ever known because we have standards and a life style that are exclusive. The jobs we are asked to do require it. They demand it. Change this at the country’s peril.

  10. Using the military as a laboratory for PC social science is monumentally stupid. I’ve been deployed to war zones eight times and women close by always caused “trouble”, lots of trouble. There’s too many support roles for them to be on the point of the spear.

  11. Thanks for proving everyone who said we shouldn’t even entertain women in combat arms because if the standards prove to be too difficult, they will try and weaken the standards. The Corps should never apologize for having standards or for expecting officers to well exceed any minimum.

    Also, one minor note– you state that there is no difference between officer and enlisted on their PFT and CFT scores. However, how those scores are interpreted is very different. A 250 for an enlisted Marine can be seen as ok. But that is one lazy officer. Also, there is a difference in standards between men and women. I haven’t looked through your other posts yet, but I am assuming in there somewhere you are calling for women to achieve 20 pull-ups and an 18-minute 3-mile run time since different standards are pointless.

  12. ALCON:
    I am pleased this post for our new blog, Charlie Mike, has generated a robust discussion in the comments section.

    WOTR welcomes a vigorous exchange of clashing points of view.

    However, we DO NOT welcome ad hominem attacks against the author. If you disagree, focus your fire on the argument, not the person making it. I have had to TRASH and EDIT many comments that have unfortunately violated this standard.


    Ryan Evans

    1. Ryan,

      I’d argue that the person does matter here. You have a Col in the Army reserves passing judgement on a Marine Corps infantry school. The cultures surrounding the Army reserves and the USMC are very different. It is clear in the statements where the author cannot comprehend why officers and enlisted have different standards that the individual writing the article is missing something important. Remember that ad hominem statements are not always logical fallacies.

  13. Colonel Haring has been singing this song for quite a while – now, although she says the USMC issue is about the Combat Endurance Test which, she says, she doesn’t want eliminated. Really?

    I have no doubt that there are women who could pass all the tests and could be successful infantry soldiers, but is that what America really wants? I suggested once that any woman who desires to be in combat should be compelled to watch “Band of Brothers” “Pacific” and at least the first 20 minutes of “Saving Private Ryan.” That is what combat is all about. To be fair, I think all men who wish to be in the infantry should watch those films as well.

    Being in the infantry has NOTHING to do with fairness or being politically correct. Being in the infantry is all about KILLING people, period. Is that what Colonel Haring feels should be an equal opportunity?

  14. The comment that “Officers and enlisted infantrymen perform the same physical tasks in their units and during combat operations. The discriminator between officer and enlisted has always been education, not physical differences” shows the author’s ignorance on how Marine Corps infantry works. A Marine Officer cannot fail in his duties or the mission will fail and/or more Marines will die. That officer has to be able to maintain leadership of his unit under the worst conditions possible by having the mental fortitude to continue on and think clearly, and to not just be physically be able to keep up with his Marines, but able to assist them physically as well.

  15. Ryan,
    I question why you even published this op-ed about the USMC by an author who, while she wears a uniform, it is not a Marine uniform. She has no grounding in the heritage or ethos of the Corps and therefore cannot form an informed opinion on the matter at hand. She has an opinion, but it holds no weight. It is just another argument from another person without a valid frame of reference.

    1. TUS,
      I am a great admirer of the Marine Corps and worked closely with Marines in Afghanistan. Like it or not, however, Marines aren’t the only ones able to engage in useful discussion about the Marine Corps. COL Haring submitted the article to us and I decided to go forward with it. We don’t make these judgments based on whether we agree with a point of view or not. And for better or worse, this discussion is larger than the Marine Corps. WOTR is a hub for a variety of opinions. Even just looking at the robust engagement here in the comments section, this was a worthwhile piece to publish. We are publishing another post next week by a Marine officer that has a different perspective. I hope to see you in the comments section there as well and in future Charlie Mike pieces.


    2. Tus,
      A number of my Marine friends contributed to this article. In fact, much of the data came from Marines who don’t feel comfortable writing on this topic because of the personal attacks that a dissenting view seems to garner from within their own ranks. I repeatedly adjusted the content of the article to include their perspectives so your assumption that the material presented here in no way reflects views held by Marines is just not the case. They may not be your views but I assure you they include the views of many other Marines.

      1. Were these Marines by chance Infantry officers or SNCOs with first hand experience in direct combat operations? More specifically, guys who humped over a hundred pounds of gear including the all important ammo for not only their own weapons but the organic crew served weapons that become ravenous during a firefight? Guys who had to deal with real live movement to contact, patrolling and building clearing operations?

        I watched many an infantryman struggle with their full loads as they humped across the Iraqi desert in 100+ degree heat in 2003-2005. It wasn’t no picnic stroll, it was life and death for these guys on a daily basis. I had the sad privilege of carrying a many these guys out of the combat zones who were not going home to mommy and daddy alive (I’m a helicopter bubba by trade).

        I think we tend to forget the mission of the United States Military is to fight and win the nations wars all the while trying to preserve the most important assets the US Military is given, the sons and daughters of this great country. Everything else is secondary to this. The US Military by its nature and special culture does get to DISCRIMINATE on how it hires and employes its people. Think differently? Then explain how the US Government can pass laws stating that employers WILL NOT discriminate against people based on their gender, religion, sexual preference, race, disability etc. but then that very SAME government proceeds to discriminate against some of those very same populations. The military does discriminate against age, disability and yes even gender (for good reason) because combat is the ULTIMATE equalizer and the people being sent in to fight better be at the peak of their physical and mental game or else you are sending people to be slaughtered (maybe that’s why so many people used professional sports as an example). Is that what the fathers and mothers of America really want?

        I think the biggest reason this stuff is easy for most to talk about from the sideline is because they have never been their and done that. Until the United States finds itself fighting for its very survival like the Soviets did in 1941-1943, the US can be afforded the luxury to pick and choose who it sends forward into combat.

        Reminds me of the young female 2ndLt I went through TBS with; she wanted to be a tanker because after all “all you had to do was ride around in that big armored tank and not worry about any type of physical demands”. I guess she really hadn’t read much about armored warfare during WWII so I gave her a pass on that one.

      2. I was a SF soldier and can tell you that women will only hurt our capabilities. Learn how to leave things alone that aren’t broken. They WILL change the standards when women fail like they already have. There is no place for second best gender in war. This is just a way for the government to tell girls being a soldier is good. Then they will have double the population for a draft and the 99% of women who don’t want to fight a war will be sent to slaughter.

  16. Many people have already addressed what I have written to some degree (‘Marine Infantry Officer’ echoes a lot this with relevant insight being enlisted and officer), but I’ll finish my thoughts anyway. I agree that male and female candidates should be treated equally in IOC with regard to remediation. Whether females in IOC have not been given a chance to re-do the Combat Endurance Test, while their male counterparts have, I have no idea. (After reading some comments I see that there may be an explanation for this, but nothing I know about personally.)

    But, to something I can comment on, I do find issue with the way you present your argument about physically tests and standards in general. (I have not been to IOC, nor was I an officer — my experience was solely enlisted — so that’s clear.) First of all, being an Infantry Officer is supposed to be a important title in the Marine Corps. Achieving certain titles is supposed to mean something about that individual, both physically and mentally. This is the case for numerous schools/courses in the military, obviously to include SOF unit training/indocs. By the time Marine Officers get to IOC they have already been through OCS — or an equivalent — and six months of TBS. IOC is not supposed to be officer boot camp. As far as I understand, when you show up, you are expected to be prepared to perform to a certain standard. And that standard is not unknown to the candidates by any means. I will address this point again later, but officers — more so than enlisted personnel — are expected to be prepared, always. If a standard exists, it is not important so much to prove that those physical/mental tasks will directly carry over to a mission you receive in the fleet, but that you understand the requirements and you can prepare and train yourself to meet them accordingly.

    This gets at my second point: officers are different from enlisted, and to suggest otherwise is ridiculous. If you have a problem with their being a Combat Endurance Test at IOC, why do you not have a problem with officers attending OCS and TBS as opposed to training with recruits at Parris Island/San Diego? Their is a different expectation for officers throughout the military. One being, as I already said, is their need to be prepared, but more importantly they need to be able to lead Marines and make decisions that affect everyone in their command. And, having been enlisted and taken orders from officers, I know that it is important for your men/women to trust your judgment, respect you, and see you as a example of how to act personally and professionally. Thus, officers should be better off if they can perform to standard that is above the average standard that their enlisted personnel can meet (anyone can, of course, argue with this, but officers that care about their men probably care about the impression they make on their men). Additionally, I strongly disagree that the difference between officer and enlisted is strictly “education.” I think (and, again, I’m no officer, but I am giving them credit I think they are due) it is far more mental and character-driven. And, in this specific case of addressing physical standards, I don’t think you can separate mental from physical; have the commitment and drive to prepare for physical challenges is the basis for physical growth.

    Thirdly, the Marines Corps is not the Army or any other branch. You say that “all enlisted Marines, men and women are allowed to remediate and retake portions of their course until they qualify.” Are you talking about in boot camp/School of Infantry/or what? Because that is not the case with every school/course in the Marine Corps. You should look into more selective enlisted Marine schools to see that passing is not a matter of re-doing the process until you succeed. It is your own opinion that “Repeating a challenge makes Marines stronger and better and proves that they have the mental and physical strength to ‘never quit.'” I would argue that preparation is paramount, and success is never guaranteed. But, also, that parts of Marine Corps, like parts of the SOF community, seek individuals that don’t need the existence of standards to maintain a certain level of physical performance.

    This gets to your point about the Combat Endurance Test never being administered again during an officer’s career. I’ll answer this in one example: specialized units in the Marine Corps (and probably most of SOF community) shake their heads at the standards the everyone in the branch must achieve. Not because those standards are stupid or faulty, but because they’re unnecessary to them; it’s a waste of time to perform PFTs and go to the rifle range when you damned well know you are in peak physical shape and maintain tactical proficiency on your own, without the guidance of standards, BN/Co/Plt-level PT, etc. Standards are important, but specialized communities don’t have to demand them. Their personnel know what is expected of them, and if one person is behind, s/he has the discipline and respect for the unit to train harder to get where they need to be. Individuals that want to be part of something special, do so in part because they will be joined by like-minded/bodied individuals.

    I realize that IOC is not a SOF indoc, but IOC is supposed to difficult and selective. Yes, give females the same chance, but I can’t agree that something difficult is simply an initiation rite with no relevance as an “occupational standard.” If you think a fitness test should perfectly test an officer for needed capabilities while deployed in combat (which would be impossible to test for; and combat is always more difficult than any training) than do you think that written tests and classroom instruction can solely mentally prepare a Marine officer to lead a rifle/recon/sniper platoon in combat? My point is that no test can guarantee that an individual has the perfect skills/attributes to be/lead in combat, but they can test preparation, character, and commitment.

    I think women should be given a chance at IOC, but I don’t think you’re argument against the fitness standards for officers demonstrates an sound understanding of what is required of Marine Infantry Officers in combat.

  17. I am a graduate of Parris Island and the Infantry Training School, which dates me if anyone remembers back that far (1974). I am also a graduate of Brown Field OCS, The Basic School and the Infantry Officer’s Course (1982). Back then, IOC was only 4 weeks. I pity those guys now. The point I would make is everyone makes a joke of how little new lieutenants know when they get to their platoons. But one thing the grunt Marines know — that lieutenant is a PT stud. And that is the basis of their respect for him as a person and as a leader. The standards the Marines have now are fine. It isn’t broke and it doesn’t need fixing.


  18. Women in hand-to-hand combat? Let’s see. We have complete and worldwide sex segregation in sports. There are male basketball teams, and female basketball teams. Male 100 meter dash, and female 100 meter dash. Etc. etc. etc. Why? Because men are stronger and faster than women. Until you can believe that female boxers should go toe-to-toe with male boxers, don’t even try to suggest that females should engage in hand-to-hand fights to the death.

  19. Facts are stubborn things.
    It is a fact that men are stronger than women.
    It is a fact that men are more aggressive than women.
    It is a fact that men have greater endurance than women.

    It is a fact that the few women who equal men in the above categories
    do not constitute sufficient numbers to fill the ranks useful numbers.

    It is a fact that the compromises necessary to include women in all the combat roles end up being significantly more expensive for no increase in

    Until the day when not enough men are willing to fill combat roles there is no need or utility to compromising the effectiveness of the military by
    forcing the inclusion of less capable women.

    The military is not society at large, it is not a democracy.
    The job of the military is in the final analysis to kill other people.
    Any sugarcoating or whitewashing of the basic fact is nothing more than
    self deception.

    Men are better at killing than women.
    The job of the military is to kill.
    Anything that complicates that job is reducing the military’s effectiveness.

  20. The thesis? The standard is too hard…change it.

    Precisely WHY I am rock steady against allowing people who have never been in the Infantry to dictate standards that it should follow.

    This should resonate ever so faintly with even the POGiest of POGs, that a brand new butterbar knows NOTHING. Therefore, that young PL better at least be able to smoke a good portion of his platoon and at the very least keep up with the PT studs. In the Infantry, physical endurance and mental toughness is everything. Unlike FOB-centric career fields, Infantry and other Combat Arms lead from the front. That is reality. You can’t “manage” people into hostile fire to close with and kill another human being who is hell bent on your destruction, if only to merely survive your approach. Besides, any present or future enemy doesn’t give a damn about someone breaking the glass ceiling…he wants you dead and himself alive, and any advantage is welcome.

  21. I agree. you have men and women in professional sport who are at the peak of their physical. You have contact sport football, boxing etc and non contact sport running, swimming, jumping etc and no where do you see men and women competing against each other. Combat is the ultimate contact and endurance competition it is kill or be killed, rifle, bayonet, hand to hand whatever it takes to kill or be killed. Who are these people saying combat is less than contact and even non contact sport? Why is this being forced on the military when professional and non-professional sport already know that men and women are equal but different !

  22. I never post on the internet, but this time, I must make an exception. Let me start by saying that the author seems to have no understanding of how a Marine infantry unit operates, or the ethos that drives it. The premise of her argument is horribly flawed because Marine infantry officers ARE the standard of leadership in their community and across the Corps. OF COURSE they have to be better, stronger, and faster than the Marines they lead. Marines’ lives and the very success of our Corps in battle is truly in question in this debate.
    When I was a lieutenant, a Colonel who fought in Vietnam came to lecture us. I remember his words very clearly. He said, “Lieutenants, you have ONE job as an infantry officer, both in and out of combat. And that job is to INSPIRE your men.” Now, I’ve been a Marine for long over 20 years—so I understand inspiration. Been through just about every harassment package the Corps has to offer, as an enlisted Marine and as an officer. I’ve served as an infantry officer–platoon commander x3, company XO, and company commander at the school of infantry–before going back to school and moving into a support MOS. I trained and deployed in infantry units without women and attended schools and worked in units with women. I’ve deployed to combat with women in support roles and trained in the field with them in austere environments where they were being evaluated. I can tell you from my experience, that women have an important role to play in our Marine Corps in many jobs and they do outstanding work—intelligence, law, logistics, transportation, aviation—the list of professional jobs they can succeed in is impressive and it goes on and on.
    I can also tell you that they are categorically not cut out to be infantrymen, let alone infantry lieutenants. First, they just aren’t built for it. I’ve carried their packs and rifles enough during training to know that there is a difference. Many of the commenters have brought this fact up. We men put up with it in training because we knew that they were our sisters– good Marines and people who cared and would do a great job in the roles the MC had for them. But let’s get this straight–putting women in Marine infantry platoons will degrade the performance of those storied units and reduce their lethality and effectiveness—it will sap their spirit, cause their training to be ineffective and make the Marine Corps an “also ran” organization. The world’s respect and fear of Marine Infantry will be similarly reduced by this experiment.

    Second, they cannot do it well enough to LEAD an infantry unit. If you thought the Facebook pictures of female Marines in support roles were bad, just wait until they live the life of an infantryman–the daily failures will be documented as a laughing stock the world over, and they will be something our female Marines do not deserve.
    Is this in any way fair to our female Marines? Why isn’t it enough that they be physically fit and as tough as they can be to perform their non-infantry roles? Is it because of some fleeting fancy of women’s rights or “fairness?” Imagine what it must be like for those new female lieutenants who are now being told “if you REALLY want to be outstanding, now it’s not enough to lead and be better than your peers; now you have to take on the likes of your male counterparts–who are, on the whole, just flat biologically stronger than you by virtue of their sex.” Daunting–and it will be a disaster. They will trail behind on conditioning hikes, lose every martial arts ground fight, and generally have to ask their male counterparts to “carry their weight” on a daily basis. And, should they have to ever actually (God forbid) fight men in combat with their hands, they will be killed and will cause the flanks of their units to be turned–causing the deaths of their male counterparts and the loss of battles. I don’t think I’m being over-dramatic to envision this outcome.

    So it’s not just the females who will pay for this stylish idea. Even in a peacetime training environment, their presence will have the effect of causing the entire unit to be physically weaker. As unit PT and hikes will slow to accommodate females, the infantry standard will undoubtedly erode. Sexual relationships will develop among these Marines, including all the drama, jealousies, assaults, discipline and legal cases, and every other nonsense that will ensue, given the average immature age of the infantryman—19 years old.
    And who is responsible for the standard of discipline and training in those platoons? The PLATOON COMMANDER. That’s why this idea that infantry officers should be trained to the same standards as enlisted Marines is ludicrous, and doubly ludicrous that the author thinks that it would be fine to put a woman in charge of one of those platoons who is just “good enough” to meet enlisted standards. It shows me that she has no earthly idea how an infantry unit runs.

    As I learned as a lieutenant, that platoon MUST be INSPIRED by their commander. The “sharpening of the sword,” or training of that platoon, falls to him! In each platoon, ALL of the training is conducted by hard-as-nails infantry lieutenants, assisted by their platoon sergeants. He is everything to that platoon. This role demands that the officers in those units be physically superior, so that they can lead every evolution without faltering–EVER–because the unshaken belief in that officer’s abilities is what makes both success and survival in combat possible. On top of their duties as physical trainer, father, and coach, they must have the stamina and aggressiveness to plan and lead grueling field exercises that show that they can do it all—be courageous in the face of ANY challenge, live without sleep or comfort of any kind, be technically and tactically capable in the art of company-level infantry operations, use fire support when exhausted without causing catastrophe, carry massive amounts of gear and ammunition, and, at bottom, be the INSPIRATION for their men to aspire to and follow, so that unit can WIN and achieve greatness even WHEN THEY BELIEVE THEY CANNOT. This kind of inspiration can only be had through the personal example of sheer mental and physical toughness in the unit leader, a LIEUTENANT, a man whom they believe in. I am sorry, but that kind of leadership CANNOT come from meeting the minimum standard and should never be compromised for a perverse definition of equality.

  23. I am thrilled to see the high value at which many of the above commenters hold inspiring their enlisted marines. Please look out for my article on WOTR this week which addresses some of the logical issues with the above article’s argument.

  24. The Colonel’s comment, “Officers and enlisted infantrymen perform the same physical tasks in their units and during combat operations” reminded me of what Bob Thaves said about Fred Astaire, “Sure he was great, but don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything he did backwards…and in high heels!”
    Anyone in charge, from the fire team through the company, is Ginger Rogers to their subordinates Fred Astaire. They too are humping, running, taking cover, shooting and looking out for the Marine to their left and right. But while all of this is going on, they are also planning, coordinating their subordinates movement, employing supporting fires and air, weighing actions against rules-of-engagement, remaining mindful of commander’s intent, tracking casualties and medevacs and on and on and on, all mental activities that are, in the long run, far more exhausting than the physical activities. And that’s why extreme fitness is a requirement for leadership at the battalion level and below, not to impress the troops.
    There have been countless studies of fatigue and decision making and they all bear similar results; a decision maker’s fatigue can kill and unless you can provide decision makers with rest and respite the only way to counter is superior fitness.
    As in many things, Max Uriarte over at nails it, even though he’s talking about peacetime.

  25. “The discriminator between officer and enlisted has always been education, not physical differences.”

    There are a myriad of other discriminating factors, besides education. Furthermore, a significant portion of our enlisted Marines have college degrees. Additionally, as an officer, you are held to a higher standard. In everything. Including physical fitness. Just because the PFT/CFT does not discriminate between officer and enlisted, does not mean there isn’t a different acceptable standard. If an Infantry officer scores below a 275ish it raises eye brows. However, no one would think twice if an enlisted Marine scores a 250. Moreover, while in Sangin, the bloodiest battle for the Corps in Afghanistan, it was my job to set the tempo. It was my responsibility to lead my Marines from the front. I had to have more endurance. I had to have more stamina. When my Marines felt like they couldn’t continue…it was up to me to inspire them, lead them, and assure them we can continue to push and fight.
    The CET is much more than an initial haze-ex. It provides a litmus test to determine if the Marine has what it takes to accomplish the follow-on tasks throughout the course. While you harken on the physical aspects of the CET, I can assure you it is much more of a mental exercise.

    “First, all enlisted Marines, men and women are allowed to remediate and retake portions of their course until they qualify. “

    This statement is categorically false. At Infantry Training Battalion, Marines receive three attempts to meet the standard. If they fail to meet the standard, they are dropped from training and often reclassified.

  26. The problem that I have with the many articles that have been written that address the inequalities at IOC are that they are written by people who have never been there. While I can respect Col. Haring’s opinions, she has never served in a Marine infantry unit and never been to IOC. 2ndLt. Santangelo was a step better, having attempted the CET, but there were issues I took with her article as well. Both of these articles seem to equate passing the CET with success at IOC which is just categorically false. As a graduate of the school, I can tell you that many officers who passed the CET on a first or second try, then washed out subsequently and were assigned to another MOS.

    I generally agree that women should be afforded the second opportunity that men are afforded to pass the CET. But understand too, what this entails. IOC classes convene every three to four months. Lieutenants in the pipeline for IOC now attend a Pre-IOC while they wait to begin their training. This means that the current females attempting IOC have had time to train and prepare themselves for IOC, if they have not begun to do so already during TBS. Which brings me to my biggest issue with Lt. Santangelo’s article. Lt. Santangelo frequently mentioned that she had never been afforded the opportunity to condition herself physically for IOC because there was no emphasis on her to be successful there. She has no one to blame but herself. Those of us who entered TBS (and in many cases entered OCS) with the intent to be infantry officers, began preparing ourselves well before MOS selection. The end of the work day at TBS often meant for us strapping on our flaks and packs and going on a ruck run. Pre-IOC serves to reinforce the preparation that has (and should have been) going on already.

    Col. Haring speaks about how the CET is not an occupational requirement, that enlisted infantry Marines do not need to complete it to become 03s, that officers never need do it again, and that it serves as more of an initiation. The CET does not initiate you into the Marine Infantry. Far from it. It merely serves to punch your ticket to continue on at IOC in the hopes of becoming fully initiated.

    What I think many of the Marines here understand, and several have spoken to and alluded to, is that true role of the Marine infantry officer, and really all Marine officers. The 0311 rifleman (or 0331 machine gunner or 0341 mortarman) leave SOI trained in that specialty. Trained to be a rifleman that executes the orders of his superiors. Infantry officers are decision makers first and trigger pullers second. Marine infantry officers need to be mentally strong almost more so than they need to be physically strong. I will refer to an article by CJ Chivers who shadowed Lieutenants on a CET and I quote Maj. Scott Cuomo, director of IOC:

    He pointed at a lieutenant ahead, his uniform blackened by sweat and dirt, headed uphill. He appeared to have entered a slow-motion mental zone. He was weaving on shaky legs, but progressing.

    “There could come a time when the Marines in a platoon will look at that man, and say, ‘I don’t know where he came from, and I don’t know what he knows, but we are in a big mess and he is going to do the right thing right now and make this right,’ ” the major said. “That man needs to be up to that task.”

    That is the job of a Marine infantry officer: to decide, communicate, and act even in the fog of war.

  27. It is troubling that a graduate of West Point who has risen to rank of Colonel in the Army Reserve is unable – or more likely, unwilling – to articulate the distinction between occupational demands placed upon Officers vs. the enlisted personnel they lead. Is it enough that a platoon commander should be just a rifleman? No. The entirety of the occupational standards expected of any of the 39 riflemen in a Marine infantry platoon is a drop in the bucket of the prerequisites demanded of the 2nd Lieutenant who leads them.

    This 2nd Lieutenant must not simply complete the hike, participate on the patrol, or employ his rifle in battle; rather, he is charged to decide, act, and communicate in the most time/space/resource competitive environment imaginable on behalf of the platoon in his command. He must be mentally, morally, and physically strong enough to outpace his enemy’s decision-making process and ruthlessly exploit this comparative advantage. In the Darwinian environment of combat, the cost of opportunities lost due to a leader who was unable to formulate and execute a decision is not measured on profit – loss reports, but rather in blood spilled. Physical ability is an absolutely critical element in one’s ability to make and carry out such decisions.

    The most troubling aspect of this debate is not quibbling over the details of the research methods employed by the Army or Marine Corps (there is legitimate cause to reevaluate our force design to inject lessons-learned from the last 13 years of combat operations), nor is it even our occupational standards themselves (these should be constantly evaluated to ensure that they align with operational requirements—just don’t be surprised if they become more difficult). What troubles me is the underlying philosophy that the military should undertake these efforts to increase job/promotion opportunities for a particular demographic. If we are truly moral leaders, our clarion call in this policy analysis must be this and this alone: will this policy make America’s combat formations more effective?

  28. During an interview with NPR this January, COL Haring said, “Nobody ever asked for special considerations or reduced standards, just let us compete at the standards as they exist.” Now it sounds like she is proposing that the standard change. Which is it?

  29. This article has information that is not even remotely right. The standards for officers and enlisted men have been different. Even though they take the same test they have different unwritten standards. In order for a person to get into enlisted basic training he or she has to pass the IST which has low standards. For the Marines it is a 1.5 mile run in 13:30 35 situps in 2 minutes and 2 pullups. To get into OCS PLC or NROTC Marine option you have to have a first class pft score but it is usually a 285 and up. In order to get a commission as an officer you must have a 1st class pft score whereas enlisted personal just have to pass the test. Those sound like different standards to me.

  30. You couldn’t be more incorrect. An infantry officer is supposed to be able to lead by example in every situation. Meaning he has to out-perform almost everyone in almost every aspect of being an infantryman. If you….you…go join the the Corps 03xx, come back and express your denal left, anople with common sense might listen to your Obama approved message. Thanks.

  31. There is ample evidence throughout history that women can be as effective combat soldiers as males.But for me having been a vietnam combat veteran the question is not so much can women be effective as combat soldiers as it is should women be in combat? In my opinion the answer is no! Why? Because of two basic reasons. 1. In order to kill one must demonize,and vilify the enemy inorder to hate the enemy in order to kill the enemy. Love your enemy is a good christian principle but it will not work on the battle field.

    when a woman comes home after killing men on the battle field she is going to be exspected to form loving relationships with the gender she just demonized, and vilified

    and killed. Her subconcious brain has been programed to kill the male gender. Why do you suspose nearly 100% of violent crimes are committed by men aganist men? it is because of the almost constant warfare they have been sujected to by America’s unrelenting wars which have programed their subconciouses to kill men. Do you think women will be any differently effected? Already violent crimes are increaseing by females.

    2. Inorder to kill women are going to have surpress their most noble nurturing instinct.

    3. Men are going to have surpress their most noble instinct of paternalism which protects women and children. Thus women in combat will require the surpression of two of the most noble of human instincts.

    Its ironic that when savages went to war men fought other men. Now that we are all allegedly civilized women and men are squaring off aganist each other. Now how many of us thinks that’s an inprovement?

  32. as an army veteran who spent my time with the infantry as a medic, i have seen first hand just what can happen when someone who isn’t fully prepared for the task at hand is suddenly, as should be expected in combat, thrown into a situation. pure chaos. absolutely the course would be challenging. more so than you ever imagined, but i see it as your first real test if you want to lead troops into battle. you have a clearly defined objective, and in my opinion the inability to fully grasp the gravity of what you’re trying to accomplish and more than adequately prepare yourself for the unknown with over preparation and training show’s exactly why you shouldn’t be leading people under heavy fire. bad pl’s can do some serious damage. not everyone is cut out for everything they dream of doing. if you’re too busy to eek out a few more hours of training, maybe infantry officer isn’t the hand you were dealt. if you can’t find the time to want it a little more than the person next to you, there’s no shame in that. i wasn’t a ranger or sf. elite units are what they are for a reason. it’s not for the special tab, or bragging rights, it’s a way of life.

  33. All I have to say I cant wait to join, and I’m working my butt off to get there. Praying they’ll open up infantry to us, want to kick terrorist butt. i ❤️

  34. It’s Simple

    Pros of letting females into infantry-
    -N/A, males and females are equal according to whoever is in favor of this crap

    Cons of letting Females into infantry
    -Females can get pregnant and hurt unit readiness/ waste advance infantry schooling seats and waste unit money spent on education
    -Love triangles that destroy unit cohesion and trust
    -Sexual Harassment, because if there are no females to harass, then nobody is is gonna claim harassment to the chain of command
    -Fraternization and special treatment caused by human nature, can crush moral and destroy professionalism in the workplace
    -[I decided to use swear words in this line so the WOTR editors redacted it. Silly me]

    We can’t fail if we don’t give ourselves an opportunity to fail. All of the above are Gaps to be exploited by our enemy. Lets Not give them any weakness to exploit.