The Marine Corps recently released the summary of results of its Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, a nine-month study to "better understand all aspects of gender integration while setting the conditions for successful policy implementation." The study was the first step in implementing the order of former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to open combat roles to women across the Department of Defense.
Col. Matthew G. St. Clair, the commanding officer of the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, addresses Marines after an award ceremony. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders)
The results were not kind to the gender integrated unit in the study. Against the all-male combat units, the gender-integrated were outperformed in 69% of tasks evaluated, which the Marine Corps says were "basic infantry tasks."
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, an outspoken proponent of gender integration in combat roles throughout all branches of the military, decried the results of the tests, implying the Marine Corps was biased toward women in the first place and that the results may be skewed because of it. He repeatedly denounced the conduct of the test on multiple occasions.
Mabus told the City Club of Cleveland "one of my concerns about it was, we didn't do a very good job of screening people before the volunteering. One of the things that came out of this was there were no standards, zero, for most of these jobs. You just assumed that if somebody went through boot camp, a man went through boot camp, that they could do it."
In an interview on NPR, Mabus said, "It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never be able to do this. When you start out with that mindset you're almost presupposing the outcome."
Results found women were more than twice as likely to be injured and ultimately compromise a unit's combat effectiveness, Mabus said, were an "extrapolation based on injury rates, and I'm not sure that's right."
But Mabus is getting an earful from all sides. Enlisted Marines who took part in the exercise, male and female alike, had stong words for the Navy Secretary.
Sgt. Joe Frommling was a Marine monitor during the experiment. "What Mabus said went completely against what the command was saying the whole time," he told the Washington Post. "They said, 'Hey, no matter what your opinion is, go out there and give it your best and let the chips fall where they may.'" The same article quoted a female Marine, Sgt. Danielle Beck, who was insulted by Mabus' saying the women probably should have had a "higher bar to cross" to join the task force.
"Every day we were training," said Beck. "We didn't know what we were going to expect when we got to Twentynine Palms, but the training that we did do got us physically ready and mentally in the mind-set for what were going to do."
Marine Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, who was one of Marine Corps Training and Education Command top enlisted leaders for the experiment and a key figure in its implementation, wrote on his Facebook page Mabus' comments are "counter to the interests of national security and unfair to the women who participated in this study. No one went in to this with the mentality that we did not want this to succeed no Marine, regardless of gender, would do that."
LeHew's comment carries some weight. He is known as "The Hero of Nasiriyah." He received the Navy Cross for risking his life under heavy enemy fire to evacuate four soldiers and recover nine dead and wounded Marines following a 2003 ambush in Iraq. Since then many Marines "dished" about their experiences in the task force.
There has not yet been a response from the Marine Corps about Mabus' remarks. When asked, the Marine Corps Headquarters Public Affairs Office said "obviously, the Marine Corps is not going to have a public policy dispute with the Secretary of the Navy."
But someone in Congress is eager to pick a fight with Mabus, however.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine officer and Iraq veteran, released a statement last Tuesday saying "Secretary Mabus is quickly proving that he's a political hack ... Mabus is not only insulting the Marine Corps as an institution, but he's essentially telling Marines that their experience and judgment doesn't matter." Hunter then called for Mabus to resign.
The office of the Navy Secretary has not commented on individual statements, but previously said the Secretary's comments "stand on their own."