Marines, Pentagon face off over gender integration

First Lieutenant Shaye Haver (centre) being congratulated after receiving her Ranger tab at the US Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The US military is facing a deadline set by the Obama administration to integrate women into all combat
First Lieutenant Shaye Haver (centre) being congratulated after receiving her Ranger tab at the US Army's Ranger School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The US military is facing a deadline set by the Obama administration to integrate women into all combat jobs by next year or ask for specific exemptions.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • The US Marine Corps and its civilian leadership at the Pentagon are squaring off in an unusually public dispute over whether integrating women into the Corps' all-male combat units will undermine the units' effectiveness.

The military is facing a deadline set by the Obama administration to integrate women into all combat jobs by next year or ask for specific exemptions.

The Marines, with a 93 per cent male force dominated by infantry, are widely seen as the branch with the hardest integration task. The Marine Corps has the most units closed to women and still trains male and female recruits separately.

The tension began two weeks ago when the Marine Corps released a summary of a nine-month, US$36 million (S$50 million) study that found that integrated combat units were slower, had more injuries and were less accurate when firing weapons.

The commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph Dunford, submitted the Corps' recommendation on gender integration to the Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus last Thursday. Pentagon officials said the Corps was expected to request an exemption for at least some front-line combat units.

Mr Mabus, the civilian head of the Marine Corps, has steadfastly said that the Marine Corps study is flawed and that its summary findings were picked from a much larger study in a manner that was biased towards keeping women out of combat roles.

Mr Mabus said he planned to push ahead with integration despite the study.

"My belief is you set gender-neutral standards related to the job Marines have to do, and you adhere to them," he said.

Mr Mabus will make his recommendation to Defence Secretary Ash Carter by January.

Mr Carter recently echoed Mr Mabus' belief that women should be able to enter all military careers if they can meet standards set for their tasks.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 20, 2015, with the headline 'Marines, Pentagon face off over gender integration'. Print Edition | Subscribe