Joe Dunford, the commandant of the Marine Corps and incoming chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, owes a recommendation to his superiors soon on the question of integrating women into combat jobs in the Marine Corps. Dunford commands near universal respect among the Marines who have served with him, and he will be making his decision guided by the results of a multi-million dollar, multi-year study conducted by Corps evaluating how mixed gender units perform under combat conditions. If any officer can be trusted to call the issue straight, it is Dunford.
Too bad that the Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, is making it abundantly clear that his mind is already made up, in a naked attempt to short-circuit the review process for Dunford's staff and pressure the Marine Corps before a recommendation gets made. He already weighed in on the issue last week, and this morning gave a simply astonishing interview to NPR where he all but said that the Marines who conducted the gender integration study were being dishonest because of their chauvinist prejudices. No, really:
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Friday criticized a Marine Corps study that showed that female Marines in a mixed unit did not perform as well as men in several key areas.
"They started out with a fairly largely component of the men thinking this is not a good idea, and women will not be able to do this," he said in an interview with NPR.
"When you start out with that mindset, you're almost presupposing the outcome," he said. …
The study showed that females in the unit were injured twice as often as men, were less accurate in shooting, and were not as good at removing wounded troops off the battlefield.
Emphasis mine. Is there any precedent for such a senior civilian defense appointee publicly challenging the integrity of the commissioned officers who serve in his department? What a low moment in the history of the office of the Secretary of the Navy.
Having accused his officers of reaching conclusions based on preconceived prejudices, Mabus goes on to provide a critique of the study, which showed that mixed gender units performed worse than all-male units in almost every battlefield task, based on his own preconceived prejudices:
Mabus said some of the report's conclusions were not based on generalizations, and not the women's performance.
"Part of the study said women tend not to be able to carry as heavy a load for as long. but there were women who went through the study who could," he said.
"And part of the study said we're afraid because women get injured more frequently that over time, women will break down more, that you'll begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time."
"That was not shown in the study, that was an extrapolation based on injury rates," he said.
What the Secretary appears to be implying here is that, despite the clear implications of the data in the study, we are not meant to conclude that higher injury rates for women will harm the long-term effectiveness of mixed-gender units, because… well, because that doesn't square with what he wants to believe.
I've been predicting for a while that if the Marine Corps is going to request an exemption on this issue from the Secretary of Defense, it will almost certainly find itself standing alone against tremendous political pressure. Here we go.