Current and future U.S. military leaders will face immense pressure to lower standards in the services in order to allow more women to serve in combat roles, a top general recently warned.
Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command and a Marine for 45 years, told reporters on Friday that his "greatest fear" is the easing of the military’s stringent training standards as a result of the new policy of integrating women into combat and infantry posts.
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When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced the policy change last month, he said standards would not be altered to accommodate more female soldiers in combat positions. "Equal opportunity likely will not mean equal participation by men and women in all specialties," he said, indicating that smaller numbers of women would likely migrate into combat.
However, Kelly said the disparity between men and women in combat roles would likely not satisfy outside pressure groups, which will continue to press the military to achieve more equality of the sexes by diminishing standards.
"There will be great pressure, whether it's 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we've let women into these other roles, why aren't they staying in those other roles?" said Kelly, who is retiring at the end of this month and has also served in Iraq.
"If we don't change standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers—any real numbers come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the Seals, but that's their business," he added.
Whether it’s purchasing equipment or recruiting personnel, Kelly said military leaders should ask: "Does it make us more lethal?"
"If the answer to that is do it—is yes, then do it," he said. "If the answer to that is no, clearly don't do it. If the answer to that is, it shouldn't hurt, I would suggest that we shouldn't do it, because it might hurt."
Carter’s decision rebuffed the request of the Marine Corps and Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman and former Marine commandant, to exempt some combat jobs from the requirement to integrate women. A months-long study by the Marines found that, compared to all-male combat units, gender-integrated units were generally slower, less accurate, and had more difficulty removing wounded soldiers from the battlefield. Additionally, units with female soldiers were more injury-prone—40.5 percent of women sustained a musculoskeletal injury, compared to 18.8 percent of men.
"Because of the nature of infantry combat, infantry training, and all of rest, there's a higher percentage of young women in the scientific study that get hurt, and some of them get hurt forever," Kelly said, referencing another study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Neuromuscular Research Laboratory for the Marines.
A Defense Department spokesperson said Carter is focused on maintaining an effective and fit fighting force, rather than altering standards.
"Going forward, Secretary Carter has directed that mission effectiveness and maintaining the welfare of the force is paramount and cannot be compromised," the spokesperson said. "Everyone who serves in uniform—men and women alike—have to be able to meet the high standards set for the job they are in."
"Several principles guide our approach," the spokesperson continued. "Leaders must assign tasks and jobs based on ability and not gender."
Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy, is reported to have further ruffled the feathers of Marine officials by giving the Corps just 15 days at the start of this year to develop a plan for integrating its boot camp and Officer Candidate School, despite a longstanding tradition of training female and male trainees separately. Mabus also ordered the Marines in his memo to ensure that position titles are "gender-integrated" by "removing ‘man' from the titles," potentially affecting historic monikers such as infantryman.
Some current and former Marines have lambasted Mabus on social media for the gender integration push.
"We serve, fight and sacrifice for our country for our Shipmates and fellow Marines and for the traditions of the sea services," wrote Joe Therriault, a retired Navy Reserve commander, in one post. "These were built by the blood, sweat, tears, and passions of the men and women who have gone before us. Your Orwellian efforts dishonor them. The United States Navy and Marine Corps shall endure with its traditions intact. You, sir, shall be forgotten."