Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Marine captain: My Marine Corps doesn’t know how to treat its female members

The Marine Corps needs to ensure that women are not punished for choosing to have families.

Female Marine Corps recruits undergo combat training at the United States Marine Corps on Parris Island, South Carolina in 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Female Marine Corps recruits undergo combat training at the United States Marine Corps on Parris Island, South Carolina in 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Female Marine Corps recruits undergo combat training at the United States Marine Corps on Parris Island, South Carolina in 2004. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

In case you missed it, Captain Lauren Finch Serrano had an impassioned article in the July issue of the Marine Corps Gazette basically saying that the corps doesn’t have a clue about how to treat — and especially to retain — its female members.

The big awakening for Serrano, a Middle East intelligence specialist, came with having a baby:
I have always assumed that I was a "lifer." And would stay in the Corps for at least 20 years. On paper I am excelling and "living the dream" but I feel like I am drowning. Why does it feel like the Corps and I are beginning to part ways?
The problem is that the way the Marine Corps handles parental leave, nursing at work, and other issues create a fatal trap, she avers: “If I am excelling at work, I am likely failing at home, and vice versa.”

She recommends that both female and male Marines be offered the option of “taking up to two years of an unpaid sabbatical leave with each child.” Generally, she says, adopt policies that “do not punish Marines who choose to have families.”

In case you missed it, Captain Lauren Finch Serrano had an impassioned article in the July issue of the Marine Corps Gazette basically saying that the corps doesn’t have a clue about how to treat — and especially to retain — its female members.

The big awakening for Serrano, a Middle East intelligence specialist, came with having a baby:

I have always assumed that I was a “lifer.” And would stay in the Corps for at least 20 years. On paper I am excelling and “living the dream” but I feel like I am drowning. Why does it feel like the Corps and I are beginning to part ways?

The problem is that the way the Marine Corps handles parental leave, nursing at work, and other issues create a fatal trap, she avers: “If I am excelling at work, I am likely failing at home, and vice versa.”

She recommends that both female and male Marines be offered the option of “taking up to two years of an unpaid sabbatical leave with each child.” Generally, she says, adopt policies that “do not punish Marines who choose to have families.”

She also makes the point that gender neutral doesn’t simply mean adopting the standards males are held to. For example, she points out that she can lactate out more breast milk than any male Marine.

The article kind of runs out of steam. It should have been edited down a bit, I suspect. Still, both the author and the Gazette are to be commended for tackling this difficult subject.

You may disagree with her recommendations. But I think such changes will be made in the private sector, if only for companies to remain competitive with other employers. So, like it or not, the military services will have to consider following suit if only to keep up.

Photo credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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