Once more the Marine Corps screws up when dealing with female Marines
The Marine Corps just cannot seem to get it right when it comes to training women.
By Lynn Lowder
Best Defense guest columnist
On June 30, the Marine Corps relieved Lieutenant Colonel Kate I. Germano, the Commanding Officer of the Marine Corps’ all female 4th Recruit Training Battalion after she implemented material and measurable performance improvements for female recruits across all boot camp graduation criteria. The Corps just cannot seem to get it right when it comes to training women.
We all know by now that women in the male-dominated military culture face unique challenges compared with their male counterparts — especially in the elite force known as the Marines. Since 1918, the Corps has struggled against its own culture to effectively leverage the talents of it’s female talent pool. Much of the struggle is due to systemic gender bias — even in the higher echelons of command.
Yet as we have witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan, the concept of a male-only front line is deteriorating, and women have served proudly and effectively in the vast majority of modern combat operations. Although women tend to be smaller in stature than the average American male, our women warriors have displayed courage and a willingness to place their lives between the American people and our enemies abroad.
Despite this reality, a significant gender bias remains, and relieving this 4th Recruit Training Battalion Command Officer is a case in point. She has a stellar 19-year career, a combat tour in Iraq, two successful recruiting tours, and an assignment as the Secretary of the Navy’s aide de camp. When she took command of the only all-female unit in the Department of Defense, she vocalized that men and women tend to develop mutual respect based on professional abilities and human dignity when integrated into teams. She analyzed training deficiencies and established programs that improved female recruit performance across almost all testable areas.
What types improvements are we talking about? Only things essential to Marines, such as shooting. Since the Marine Corps first allowed women to shoot the M-16 rifle in 1985, its unofficial sentiment throughout training environments has been that women couldn’t shoot as well as men. Nonetheless, the recently relieved commanding officer knew that such a biased attitude was archaic and wholly inconsistent with trained civilian women shooters’ performance. She proved her point by developing a program that increased female first-time rifle qualification scores from 68 percent to approximately 91 percent. Just last week, female recruits achieved an unprecedented 96 percent on the rifle range. Under her leadership and care, women encroached upon their male peers’ shooting performance, among other measurable performance standards, for the first time in Corps’ history.
What was this officer’s reward for delivering superior results? When she voiced concerns about gender bias and the Corp’s lowered expectations in recruiting and training women, her command relieved her.
What a national shame, especially in light of the decisions the Marine Corps will face regarding integrating women before January 2016. The Marine Corps needs more officers who know how to tap into female potential. She deserves an award for what she accomplished instead of vilification.
Lynn Lowder is a Silver Star recipient and Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance veteran of war in Vietnam. He is currently the CEO of 1 Vet at a Time, a veterans’ advocacy group.
George M. Bell/U.S. Navy/Flickr