Setting the Right Conditions for Gender Integration in the Armed Services

This post originally appeared in Small Wars Journal on September 21, 2015

By: Shelly Goode-Burgoyne

A major shift is underway across the U.S. Armed Forces. A month ago, two American Army officers, who happen to be women made history and altered the future for all American women when they graduated from our Army’s elite Ranger School. Yesterday, our Commander and Chief appointed the first openly gay Secretary of the Army, In 2010 the DOD policy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was repealed, allowing openly gay soldiers to serve without fear of harassment or dishonorable discharge, and the Air Force is seeking ways to enlist qualified trans-gendered Americans. In the last few days and in advance of the 2016 deadline to open all combat jobs to American women or seek an exception in front of Congress, the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force have announced that they plan on opening all combat jobs to qualified female service-members, to include the Infantry, Navy Seals, and all Special Forces jobs. Top Navy Admiral, Jon Greenert and Rear Admiral Brian Losey, the head of Naval Special Warfare Command believes that if women can pass the grueling six-month Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training, they should be allowed to serve. Losey states:

“Why shouldn’t anybody who can meet these [standards] be accepted? And the answer is, there is no reason,” Greenert said Tuesday in an exclusive interview with Navy Times and its sister publication Defense News. “So we’re on a track to say, ‘Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender non-specific standards, then you can become a SEAL.'”

Nevertheless, and in spite of this progress, the United States Marine Corps, which is a component of the Department of the Navy and reports to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, has decided to disregard the Secretary’s directive for full gender integration. On Friday, the Marine Corps Commandant publicly stated that the Marine Corps is entitled to, and will ask for an exemption from the full integration policy directed by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in 2013. If granted by Congress, the Marine Corps would be allowed to continue to ban qualified female Marines from serving in many Marine Corps combat jobs, to include Infantry. The Marine Corps has cited their recent gender neutral standards study as evidence to keep their ban in place. This gender study which was released only in summary a few days ago has already been determined to be fundamentally flawed by the Secretary of the Navy, many active duty and reserve military officers, veterans, and several members of Congress. Secretary Mabus said this about the study:

“It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking ‘this is not a good idea,’ and ‘women will never be able to do this. When you start out with that mindset, you’re almost presupposing the outcome. The Marines could have selected female volunteers who were better suited to the task of marching under heavy loads, which accounted for many of the injuries that were observed. For the women that volunteered, probably there should have been a higher bar to cross to get into the experiment.”

As our Congress prepares to consider allowing the United States Marine Corps to remain the only profession in our nation which bans a qualified American from a certain job because that American is a woman they must vigorously debate and query this study which the Marine Corps is citing as evidence to ban women from Infantry. They should also question the future and legitimacy of the Marine Corps’ antiquated policy of segregated training.

What sparked this most recent debate?  A year-long Marine Corps study on gender integration was flawed on many levels: the subject selection, the deduced purpose for the study, and the cherry-picked results that were released.

The Marine Corps study is at best inconsistent and Congress has ordered the Marine Corps Commandant, General Joseph Dunford, to brief them on the gender study within the month. The study was never intended to act as a litmus test to determine if women can serve in the Marine Corps Infantry, but rather, it was commissioned to assist in determining the gender neutral standards for the Infantry (there currently exist no standards for the Infantry, save being male). It is important to note that the full gender study has not been released by the Marine Corps and ultimately the Secretary of the Navy has the last word on this issue as all branches of our professional military fall under their prospective civilian leadership. The Marine Corps was directed to assess how individual women would perform in combat situations. However, they chose to include mostly average female Marines, and the study states these average female Marines included in this study performed inferior to men in many areas to include marksmanship and carrying heavy loads. The Marine Corps report also says that these women were injured at slightly higher rates. This is a fundamentally unsound approach as “average” female Marines would not realistically be competing for jobs in the Infantry, only high performing female Marines would. No one is arguing that any woman can be a Marine infantrywoman, but rather, only a few exceptional women can. Needless to say, many military officers, veterans, and members of Congress take issue with the study’s claims.

Marine Major Edward Carpenter, a military professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, and the author of Steven Pressfield’s “The Warrior Ethos”: One Marine Officer’s Critique and Counterpoint, argues:

“The bottom line? Out of those 400 young men and women, the Marine Corps is currently willing to give 300 of them a pass straight to infantry, whether they are good shots or bad, whether they are strong or weak, fat or skinny, short or tall, fast or slow, simply because they are men. Similarly, it is willing to tell the other 100 that, regardless of how great they are with a gun, how fast they can run or how long they can exert themselves, that they cannot serve in the infantry, because the average female Marine scores lower in those areas.”

Rep (AZ). Martha McSally, a combat tested fighter pilot, and Army Colonel Ellen Haring have both raised concerns about the study.

Rep (AZ). McSally recently said this of the study:

“I echo some concerns by the secretary of the Navy related to, ‘Do we take a bunch of combat trained men and a bunch of non-combat trained support women and put them together, and just wonder how they’re going to do?’  You can study anything and get the results you might be looking for, or have some flawed assumptions in how you’re setting it up. And so we want to make sure we understand where the study was and what the results are from it, and then what to conclude from it.”

Army Colonel Ellen Haring maintains:

“The results of the Marine Corps’ research are not surprising. The service was told to assess how individual women do in combat situations, but the task force instead assessed groups with average female Marines — rather than high performers — in them.”

When you place average female Marines in an Infantry unit who have never served a day in an Infantry unit, they will naturally not initially perform at the same level as a man who has served in an Infantry unit for months or years. A better and more scientific approach would have been to select only the highest performing female Marines and see how they performed in a Marine Infantry unit. We expect a learning curve, and that is just what we have in this study, and not much more. But perhaps the real culprit is the Marine Corps’ policy of gender segregated initial training, which many argue has placed female Marines at a distinct disadvantage Army since 1918, the year the first American woman enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Many veterans and military officers have written at length about the Marine Corps’ archaic policy of segregated training and how this approach to training places female Marines at a clear disadvantage the minute they raise their hand to enlist. How can we expect an average female Marine to perform equally to male Marines when in her most fundamental initial training she is segregated from men and thus never competes with male Marines and works to reach only the highest female standard? We cannot and I think as we integrate the force we will continue to see the consequences of segregated training. USMC Major Kyleanne Hunter and USMC Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, (who was subsequently fired for her efforts to train female Marines to meet the male standard), discuss the lower standards that often result from segregated training at length in two recent articles in the New York Times: Lt. Col. Kate Germano on Marines and Women and The Cost of Lower Standards for Women in Marine Recruitment.

The two women who graduated from Army Ranger School did so because from day one they were required to run next to men, ruck-march with thirty five pounds next to men, load and fire heavy weapons next to men, swim next to men, eat and sleep next to men in the field, patrol with men… the list goes on and on. Because women and men in the all other services train together from day one most women in these services do not work to achieve only the female standard, they work to achieve the highest male standard possible. If the Marine Corps were to open its infantry to qualified women they will surely have to de-segregate their initial training of Marines, and this might just prove more of a culture shock to the Marine Corps than the idea of a female Infantry platoon leader.

So, is Congress to allow the Commandant of the Marine Corps to say on one hand that the Marines in his ranks are reflective of the American society from which they come (which he says regularly), while on the other hand say that the 51% of our population, that American society has deemed equal and deserving of every opportunity they are qualified for, are somehow banned from his infantry? American women already serving in our military and those who have served want this and are fighting for it, not politicians or so-called feminists who have never served. When Army Ranger School opened its doors to female Army soldiers, hundreds applied. When the Navy opened submarine duty to women, hundreds applied, when the United States Army opened its Infantry training to women on an experimental basis, hundreds of female soldiers applied, and when the Marine Corps opened its Infantry Officer Basic Course hundreds of female Marines applied. The American people see this issue simply on the basis of equality and democracy. Julien Mathonniere, a respected defense scholar illustrates this point clearly when he writes:

“Common people don’t reflect about the future of infantry. But they certainly do about the place of women in society. And the military would gain nothing by pitting their operational requirements against the wider demands of the public opinion; lest they be insincere about narrowing the civilian-military gap. People want their military to remain a true and fair emanation of the society they live in. It is not as if they were two separate entities.”

The military is not a brotherhood. It’s not a sisterhood.  We are all comrades in arms. Let’s hope the Marines can help set the conditions for future success for all who serve.


The Ranger Tab….Who Will Be The First Woman to Wear It?


 “I’m no sociologist, I have no anthropological training but I’m certain of this … we live in a world where the squandering of women’s talent, the traducing of their potential, is a global disgrace”. [Opening all areas of the armed forces to women] “Wipes away the barriers to achieving potential and sends a clarion call to all who serve that talent will prevail, not gender. Armies that revel in their separateness from civil society, that value the male over the female, that use their imposed values to exclude those that don’t fit the particular traits of the dominant group, who celebrate the violence that is integral to my profession rather than seek ways to contain it … they do nothing to distinguish the soldier from the brute.”

~Chief of the Australian Army, General Morrison

A few weeks ago a qualified soldier with two X chromosomes, whose primary profession is not Infantry, was given access to, and graduated from, the Army’s new challenging Combat Jungle Warfare course. The soldier had this to say about her experience:

This is infantry we’re talking about here. These are guys who know they’re going to war and know they’re going to get into firefights. Me being there, of course I was not accepted at first. Every day, for the first two weeks, they’d wake up and say, ‘She didn’t leave yet?’ They tested me the whole time I was there until the last week, until they finally said, ‘Taylor, you’re not going nowhere, we’re so proud of you.’ They just want to see you prove yourself without any favoritism. They want to see you do what they do because they do this every day. Infantry doesn’t play. They respected me at the end, but I earned my respect.” ~Specialist Tinita Taylor, U.S. Army

So what exactly is the new Jungle Warfare Course? This new Army combat course is conducted in Hawaii and is designed to train our young soldiers in the lost art of jungle warfare. Our Army has been at war for over a decade in the desert, and has neglected to train in a subtropical environment; we must again become proficient at these specific skills. The Jungle Warfare Course, like Ranger School is extremely difficult, physically taxing, and mentally demanding. However, with that said, it is not a profession, Jungle Warfare School, like Ranger school is never a soldier’s primary occupation or MOS. The Jungle Warfare Course like Ranger School is just that, a school.

Like Airborne School, Air Assault School, Combat Dive School, etc., the Jungle Warfare Course and Ranger School is a course, an opportunity for a soldier to become certified in an EXTRA set of war fighting skills. These military schools are much like a police officer’s extra designation as “SWAT” qualified, or a Park Rangers extra certification of “search and rescue qualified”.

So, if a female soldier was allowed to pursue the extra certification of “jungle qualified” why do the same soldiers with two X chromosomes continued to be banned from accessing the Army’s elite Ranger School? Why is Ranger school different?

Many men in our military are supportive and frankly champions of equal access for qualified women to all combat professions and schools. However, there are those, who belong to a dwindling squad of mostly men in our Nation’s Armed Forces who vocally believe that the Special Operations, the Infantry, and Ranger School are just too difficult for women, that ultimately they are the sacred place of men…these arguments no longer hold any validity in our society and serious thinkers on the subject no longer entertain them, and neither will I.

What I will address however, are the dishonest group of hold outs who secretly place themselves among the supporters of combat integration, but in reality oppose the integration of women into combat jobs. This cowardly group in our Army endorse all the same antiquated ideas of women and their place in our society that I just mentioned, but won’t come out and publicly say it. This band knows that their beliefs no longer hold water in our society, that their civilian masters will no longer tolerate such ignorance. Let me be clear, they do not think a female soldier should have been allowed to attend the Jungle Warfare Course, and they certainly do not want women serving in the Infantry or wearing a Ranger Tab. However, because they can no longer successfully employ their base arguments they resort to deceptive delay and distraction tactics.

To delay the directive to give women equal access to all combat professions and schools they employ countless tests and studies, they hire research teams. They rattle off terms like “critical mass”, “force multiplier”, “bone mass”, “muscle composition”, cardio capacity”, “injury rate”, etc., etc., etc., etc.

To distract their bosses (the American public) they calmly list reasons like: “She is not Infantry why does she need a Ranger Tab?”, “Women in the Army don’t really want this”, “this is a political experiment”, “the 15+ women who graduated Marine Infantry training were trained to a different standard” etc., etc., etc. All of these new “reasons” are simply Red Herrings, the last desperate and veiled attempts to ban women from accessing these elite courses simply due to their sex.

They will tell their bosses, (the American people), that only soldiers who are Infantry soldiers need to attend Ranger School, and because qualified soldiers with two X chromosomes are not yet able to serve in our nation’s Infantry they should not be allowed to attend the Ranger Course. Yet, many male soldiers who are not Infantry soldiers become “Ranger” qualified every year; Chaplains, Armor soldiers, Medical Officers etc. You see, the Army believes that it is beneficial to have soldiers in many professions Ranger qualified. For example, a doctor might very well be attached to, or serving in an Infantry unit and her Ranger qualification will assist the entire unit as well as placing her on equal footing with her fellow Infantry soldiers who wear the Ranger Tab.

Because all combat jobs must be opened by 2015, women will surely begin to assume Armor and even Infantry professions. With this inevitable fact, doesn’t it make sense to allow female soldiers access to all the military’s special schools and extra certifications in order to develop a better trained fighter? Based on the direct order to integrate all jobs and schools by 2015 it seems to me, to be illegal and a complete disregard for a direct order, to continue to ban women from Ranger School. After all, Ranger School, like all other combat schools, is no longer reserved for men, it is reserved for warriors.

It is the hope of many female soldiers; to include the one who just graduated from the Jungle Warfare Course that, by next year, the first qualified soldier with two X chromosomes will have earned the right and the honor to wear the coveted Ranger Tab. In fact the young female soldier who currently wears the Jungle Warfare Tab had this to say about Ranger School:

 “My goal is to be the first female soldier to complete Ranger School.”

Many women, just like many men in the military do want this. It is not a political experiment, it is equality based on qualification; I can think of no other profession in our free nation that bans someone simply due to their chromosome make-up.

“Game Changers…The First Four Infantry Qualified Female Marines in our Nation’s History”


Last night, actually pretty late last night as I was aimlessly scrolling through my Facebook Timeline before bed, I scrolled past a story posted by the Marine Corps Times with a title something along the lines of: “Four will Graduate from the Marine School of Infantry”. I almost scrolled past it; I guess I was expecting that when a woman or women graduated from such a course there would be a bigger story…maybe there will be.  But last night this story was posted late, it seemed like an afterthought and it was short.  Nevertheless, I had to take a knee, not because I didn’t think it would happen; I did. I had to take a knee, because it means a lot.

Because only 1% serve in our Armed Forces, four female Marines making it through some military course in the middle of the North Carolina woods is surely not a huge story to most Americans, but to the military community, to the Marine Corps, to the Army, to the Infantry, to Special Forces, to women in the Army and the Marine Corps, and mostly to the women currently in the service academies, the hundreds of ROTC programs, and American high schools; it is a huge story. It is a game changer, and it is absolutely worth taking a knee for.

So how exactly is the fact that four female Marines will soon stand among hundreds of their fellow male Infantry Marines on a cold parade field in North Carolina a game changer? It is a game changer because America now knows that physically some women can do it…we can no longer pretend they can’t. It means that the Infantry, the Holy Grail of combat arms is no longer reserved for men; it means that our nation will finally join Canada, Israel, Norway, and Australia as places of absolute equality in the military.

So what comes next?  Well, I am not quite convinced that I can stop writing about this just yet, and I am not convinced that the Marine Corps and Army actually want women in the Infantry…sorry I am just not there yet. I am however convinced that what comes next is a bunch of “studies” and surveys to determine if women will get injured, if units will break down, if there are enough women, if their fellow Infantry Marines will abuse them, and if they can pee or sleep next to their fellow male Infantry Marine. Sadly like me, many female Veterans, and many active duty women remain skeptical that the Marine Corps or the Army really thinks that women should be in the Infantry. If they did, they would award these four women the MOS they earned. What’s also next is the Marine Corps and Army desperately clinging to Injury and the idea of “critical mass” as the next reasons that will somehow rescue them from their rightful owners (the American taxpayer) demand to allow qualified women into the Infantry.

Will women get injured? Yes and so will men. The Corps and the Army has yet to ban a skinny short male recruit from trying to be an Infantryman or a Navy Seal because he might get injured.  No, the Marine Corps allows that man to accept physical risk to his own body. Is this idea of “critical mass” important when it comes to equality? No, “critical mass” did not seem to be something that was thrown around as the services integrated black men into the military and specifically into combat arms. The military understood that even if there was one black man who wished to be an Infantry soldier he was enough…ten were not needed. You see we are no longer talking about combat readiness or the possibility that no female can physically do it; we know now that some woman can physically do it, so why does it matter that there might only be a few in the first few waves? It doesn’t.

Many men and women who oppose this policy also like to promote the idea that it is only so called “hard core feminists” and women who are not actually in the military who are pushing women in combat arms. It is not. I am a combat Veteran and the many female Veterans and active duty officers and enlisted females that I speak with, agree that women should be able to pursue the Infantry if they qualify and the standard does not change. With that said, because I was in the military, I am very aware that just because some women can get through Infantry training that does not mean that women in the Infantry is still not a complicate issue, it is and I realize this.

I have had many enlightening and uncomfortably honest conversations with Infantrymen on this issue; it is an emotional issue for them. They love their Infantry; they are connected to it viscerally, and fear what it will become with the inclusion of women. It is not even necessarily that they think it will be less, they just know it will be different…I understand this. But we are now on our way, and as military leaders and leaders in the Veteran community we must lead all soldiers, and Marines to embrace this next evolution in the finest fighting force in the history of the world.

No matter how one comes down on the policy change, one thing can definitely be said: ever since the policy was changed, thus propelling the idea of women in the Infantry from a very abstract idea to one of absolute reality, some really in depth and smart writing has surfaced. Writing which explores both sides, writing that admits the complexity of the issue, and most importantly writing that moves beyond the anecdotal, ridiculous and frankly insulting and sexist: “where will they pee?” arguments. Anyone still rattling off these reasons to ban women from the Infantry is just simply not educated on the issue, is inherently sexist, or both.

I do not kid myself and pretend that these four women selflessly volunteered to endure brutal Infantry training for the noble advancement of all female soldiers and Marines. I know a little bit about enlisted soldiers and Marines and it is probably much more likely that they very selfishly saw an opportunity and seized on it. Two of them probably wanted to just see if they could do it and the other two probably wanted to be Infantry Marines from the get go. Whatever their reasons, the Cadet in her junior year at West Point will have these four Infantry qualified Marines to thank when she fills out her “wish list” and places Infantry as her # 1 choice.

“The good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow aint as bad as it seems” ~ Billy Joel.

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“The good ol’ days weren’t always good, and tomorrow aint as bad as it seems” ~ Billy Joel.  Romanticizing the past is something that should be done very carefully; usually the past was not better than today, and usually progress is a pretty great thing, especially in our military.

A recent “Spouse Buzz” Blog written by an Army wife titled 5 things military wives could learn from their Old School sisters, did just that, it romanticized the past, a past that wasn’t that great and  often was not as we remember.  The Blog spoke of all the great things we could learn from military wives of the past. The Blog specifically mentioned 5 things us “newer spouses” could learn from the military wives of long ago; the 5 things (real gems) were in this order: 1. Patience, 2. Appreciation, 3. Dignity, 4. Respect for and pride in your Service member, and finally 5. Manners.

I have no doubt that the Army wife who wrote this is a very nice person, one that has sacrificed great deal in the cause for her husband’s career, one that, at a game of Bunco, I am sure I would get along with fabulously, one that I might even know.  But it just so happens that I really don’t agree with her, and since that’s not on her list of things not to do, here goes.

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The Hancock Tower Summit


I have been out of the Army for quite a while now, and people often ask me if I miss it; this question pisses me off a little every time someone asks it; it seems like a question that has many dishonest motives and those who ask it never let me off the hook.  So here is my answer:  yes, sometimes I do “miss” the Army, but less and less as the years pass.  The first year or two after I got out I tended to see the Army through rose colored glasses; I only remembered the great things, and tended to not remember all the really awful days; and there were a lot of really awful days.  These days my memories are thankfully much more balanced.

But even as the years pass, there is one thing that I do actually persistently miss and it seems like a little thing, but it is not. I miss the absolutely candid, usually contentious, extremely imperative conversations I had with my soldiers, my peers, and my leaders.  There is a lot of down time in between the chaos of war, and soldiers do a lot of amusing things with this time, but they talk to each other a lot too…imagine that?  During smoke breaks, during the constant and never ending equipment inspections, in rain filled bunkers waiting for the “all clear”, and during the endless miles spent in a very hot HMMWV delivering supplies, I have talked at length with my soldiers, peers and leaders about categorically dark and difficult subjects like racism, torture, President Bush, rape, freedom, being gay in the Army, service, citizenship, fear, and loss, never once experiencing intolerance or hurt feelings. This weekend as I travelled to Chicago to meet with my fellow Tillman Military Scholars, for our annual Leadership Summit I had a few of these rare and awesome conversations; the kind one remembers for a lifetime; the kind I miss.

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Marine Corps Times Fails to Mention that one Woman Actually Made it Through the “Endurance Test During the Latest Rotation.


“The two women and Pace were among 18 out of 79 Marines who failed the first day. Six were pulled out by instructors because they fell too far behind to finish in time, including one woman. Five men asked to drop out. An additional seven made it through the whole course but failed to score high enough to pass — including the other woman.” Marine Corps Times

Hmmm…a female Marine (otherwise known as a Marine) actually made it through the entire “Initial Combat Endurance Test”; she failed to earn enough points, but she made it through. Something the Marine Corps Times failed to mention. It is only a matter of time. This is first year women have been allowed to attend, so I would say that just making it through that Initial Endurance Test is a sign of things to come.

Close Quarters, Small Teams, Blah, Blah, Blah…


“The question for SOF is whether we can absorb women into those Special Operations units whose job generally entails small teams, operating for long periods of time, in close proximity to the enemy or behind enemy lines and in close quarters with other Soldiers. And, can we achieve this level of integration without lowering our SOF standards? This is what we must find out.”  Admiral McRaven

Sir, the only question is the physical one…the rest of this nonsense about close quarters, small teams, etc. sounds like any other combat unit, so these characteristics do not make you special, your physical standard is the only thing that makes you special; and if no women can meet this standard, than that will be the only reason to ban women from your units.