On December 3rd, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the inevitable: that women would be allowed to enter into combat specialty roles, which they had previously been denied.
I say inevitable, because as the New York Times points out, President Obama had already said three years ago that he wanted women integrated into all combat roles by 2016 (here are Owen Strachan comments on that decision). Denny Burk and Joe Carter have already written excellent pieces on the recent decision, explaining how we should think about it from a Christian worldview and why it carries devastating implications for our military and ultimately our nation. You can read those here and here.
But as Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr. points out on his daily briefing podcast (start listening at 5:50 mark), this decision was only supposed to be implemented after military leaders in each branch gave the go-ahead.
Most of the service branches were fine with the move, but the Marine Corps was not. And as a Marine officer veteran, I have an idea why.
The Uniqueness of the Marine Corps
The Marine Corps, historically, is concerned with primarily one thing: winning in combat.
Political correctness takes a back seat to the nitty, gritty capability of being able to close with and destroy an enemy, swiftly and effectively in combat.
This isn’t to suggest that the Marine Corps discounts its public image. The Marine Corps cares deeply about the perception of the Marine Corps in the minds of the American public and perhaps more importantly, our enemies. But we want that perception to be the image of the fiercest and deadliest fighting force on the face of the planet. We want Americans to sleep well at night because they know there is a Marine Corps that can be called on when needed.
America knows this. That is why as Lt. General Victor Krulak famously put it, “America does not need a Marine Corps…America wants a Marine Corps.”
And our enemies know this as well. In World War I, the Germans called the Marines Devil Dogs. In the Korean War, the Chinese and Koreans were instructed not to attack the Yellow Legs (Marines all wore khaki leggings), but the Army units instead.
In short the mystique is an edge, because it not only strikes fear into the hearts of the enemy, but it also continually drives some of the sharpest and most able-bodied young men and women in America to enlist in the Marine Corps. The mystique also propels Marine officers and senior enlisted advisors to train Marines to a grueling, rigorous standard. In short the mystique is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Want to be the best, join the USMC.” “If it’s not raining, we’re not training.” “Every Marine is a rifleman.” “We don’t promise you a rose garden.” “Want Action? Join the Marine Corps.” “The Few, the Proud, the Marines.”
All of the above slogans have been used in some way in Marine recruiting. It is the perception the Marine Corps maintains. It is the perception the Marine Corps works so diligently to achieve in real time. It is the perception that necessitates a Marine Corps in the minds of Americans.
The Difference Between Men and Women
That is why I was not surprised to see current Marine Corps brass fight the inevitable this past fall. They know the obvious. Men and women are physically different, and those differences affect how they are able to perform in combat. They also have implications for how men are to protect women with their strength (See 1 Peter 3:1-7).
In recent tests the Marine Corps conducted, women simply did not function as effectively in rigorous, combat-simulated training as men. You can read about the results here. Simply put, the combat units with women were slower and less accurate than the units made up of their all-male counterparts. As individuals, women were also more likely to be injured.
Of course, these results are not surprising to Marines.
Marines, male and female alike, know of the rigor and endurance necessary to face the exhaustion of long, intense periods of combat (that no Physical Fitness Test or Combat Fitness Test can accurately qualify one for, if we are honest). For, it is not how accurate you are at the rifle range or how fast you can run a PFT after a full-night’s sleep. It is how accurate you are after pushing your body beyond the point of exhaustion. It is how fast you are when you are carrying a wounded Marine across an open field under fire. It is lifting up a heavy artillery shell, not one time, or even fifty times, but hundreds of times.
These are the physical intangibles that the Marine Corps cares about across the board, but especially in its combat arms specialties, which have been up to this point, restricted to males.
That is why female Marine officers, who passed required Marine PFT tests, have simply not been able to complete the Marine Corps’ dreaded Infantry Officer Course. The course demands brutal physical intangibles of strength and endurance that many physically fit male Marines cannot even meet.
From a personal standpoint, I remember the training at the Marine Officer’s Basic School (TBS for short). After shooting at the rifle range all day, on one occasion our staff platoon commander led our platoon back, almost at a run, from the rifle range to our barracks two or three miles away at Camp Barrett in Quantico (the normal preferred routine was to hike back as an entire company). But on this occasion our staff platoon commander decided he was going to hit us hard, and he took the platoon for a run, separate from the rest of the company. Because we were carrying heavy packs, sappy plates, Kevlar helmets, and obviously our weapons in the hot, Virginia sun over terrain covered with big hills (one even had a name—Cardiac Hill), the run was one of the most physically demanding things I had ever done to that point in my life.
Of our platoon of forty or so officers, less than half of us finished with our staff platoon commander. I remember finishing the run with my hands shaking and my heart beating out of my chest. None of the three females in our platoon made it back with the main group on that run. It was simply too difficult.
Then there are issues of unit cohesion and the tremendous sexual distractions that go along with males and females serving next to each other in combat units. When I was a Series Commander at Parris Island, we did not mix male recruits and female recruits in training for these reasons. I could go over these points in detail, but female Marine Corps Captain Lauren F. Serrano has already done so in this article.
The Marine Corps Values Women
This is not to say that the Marine Corps does not value women. Indeed, I would argue that they have especially valued the role of women in support roles ever since women entered the Marine Corps almost one hundred years ago in 1918.
In fact, I honestly do not know where the Marine Corps would be today without the critical role women have played in its history. It has been that important! Many have sacrificed their lives for our country, and the Corps. In short, female Marines deserve and have earned our nation’s upmost respect.
By not thrusting women into combat roles, the Marine Corps has shown women this proper respect by not putting them in situations which further compromise their safety, opportunity for success, and even their dignity. Instead, the Marine Corps has focused on placing women in combat support roles, where they can excel, as women, with their unique abilities.
And excel they have. There have been thousands and thousands of brave women serving in the Marine Corps in critical areas since Opha Mae Johnson first donned the uniform. I knew many female Marine officers and female staff enlisted officers who I preferred to work with and respected more than their male counterparts. They were just as sharp, smart, and respected across the Corps as anyone else.
However, it is an act of disservice and dishonor to women to place them in situations where they will not succeed and their safety will be compromised. By pretending that there is no difference between men and women, we not only cast shame on what it means to be a woman, we cast shame on our nation by asking them to fight at the tip of the spear, when able bodied men are already volunteering to protect, defend, and even lay their lives down for America in these roles (see Eph. 5:25 on the self sacrificing role men are to play in serving and protecting their families and by extension their country).
A Sad Day for Women, the Marine Corps, and America
Eventually, by opening up combat roles to women, the Department of Defense will demand that women fill those roles. To accomplish this, physical standards and training requirements will be lowered.
Not only will the safety of women in these roles be compromised, but their unit’s effectiveness will be undermined as well. By damaging the ability of the Marine Corps to succeed in combat, both the Marine Corps and America lose something valuable in the end.
The Marine Corps’ mystique of being the fiercest fighting unit on the planet will be tarnished, because combat leaders will know, deep down, that their ability to reach maximum efficiency in combat has been hijacked by a politically correct administration that values secular reasoning over God’s clear design of humanity as distinctly male and female (Gen 1 and 2).
And America will have to go to sleep at night knowing that the Marine Corps we will trust tomorrow is not the same Marine Corps we trusted yesterday.
And that is a sad day for women and the Marine Corps, as well as America.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.