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On policy allowing women into combat, Marines prepared to seek exceptions

Mar. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Members of a Female Engagement Team assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, conduct a security patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2011.
Members of a Female Engagement Team assigned to 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, conduct a security patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan in 2011. (Marine Corps)
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A force integration plan sent to top Marine Corps officers and enlisted leaders March 12 by the commandant reveals that more women will be assigned to previously closed combat arms units, but emphasizes the service will be prepared to seek exceptions to the 2013 Defense Department directive that opens all combat roles to women by Jan. 1, 2016.

The possibility of women serving in infantry, reconnaissance and special operations specialties has generated the most controversy since then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta rescinded the Direct Ground Combat and Assignment Rule, which excluded women from direct ground combat.

“My decision to integrate or recommend an (exception to policy) will be based on my foremost guiding principle: fielding a Marine Corps that is ready to fight and win on short notice, in the most difficult and uncertain circumstances,” Gen. Jim Amos asserts in the force integration plan,which was obtained by Marine Corps Times. “We will maintain our high standards while ensuring the maximum success for every Marine.”

The commandant could also request extensions past the 2016 deadline “if necessary,” according to the integration road map.

In a white paper accompanying the plan, Amos instructs leaders to familiarize themselves with the campaign as well as the service’s efforts to comply with the directive.

The integration blueprint identifies four primary lines of effort:

■ Expansion of the effort to integrate female Marines into previously closed, non-infantry combat arms units. Over the past year, the Corps has successfully done this with female officers and staff noncommissioned officers at the battalion level, Amos notes in his white letter. So, he has approved assigning female NCOs to such units, down to the company and battery level.

■ Expansion of the entry-level training research effort. After graduating from recruit training, female Marines will be able to to volunteer for more military occupational specialty training schools, which have been closed to them, before moving on to their assigned MOSs.

■ Establishment this summer of a ground combat element experimental task force, a quarter of whom are women, to study the physical, social and psychological impacts of integrated infantry units.

■ Early opening of more closed MOSs to women. The service announced last week that it had opened 11 more specialties to female Marines. Only twenty of the Corps’ 335 primary MOSs remain closed to women.

In a recent official interview, Amos said that if an exception to policy is needed, he will go to the defense secretary and the secretary of the Navy to “convince them why that’s the case.”

Brig. Gen. George Smith, head of the service’s efforts to study the integration of women into ground combat roles, told reporters on March 12 that possible exceptions could be sought made once the Marine Corps has finished collecting and analyzing the data culled from the experimental unit and other efforts. Lt. Col. David Nevers, the commandant’s spokesman, told Marine Corps Times that no “institutional perspective” has been formed yet on gender integration. That view “will be most fully informed by the (experimental task force), and that work hasn’t yet begun,” he wrote in an email. “So no, we haven’t drawn any conclusions yet.”

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