Tensions rise over women in combat

Tensions rise over women in combat
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A battle is brewing in Washington over the military's push to open all combat units to women.

The Marine Corps is reportedly poised to ask that some positions remain available only to men, following a nine-month study that found units with all genders did not perform as well in combat.

The issue is stirring a passionate debate in the military community, pitting the Marine Corps against its own service secretary and creating a bitter divide on the House Armed Services Committee.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, who is the service secretary for the Marine Corps, blasted the study of the Marine units as biased and said he plans to open all jobs to women.

Backed by members of Congress, Marines quickly fired back, with some who participated in the study telling The Washington Post that Mabus threw them "under the bus." 

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a former Marine and member of the House Armed Services Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter calling for Mabus’s resignation.

Hunter's chief of staff, Joe Kasper, said the congressman thinks the decision of women in combat roles should be up to the Marines, not Mabus.

“You don’t go and take a giant crap on the men and women in the Marine Corps and then expect them to continue giving you respect and admiration,” Kasper said.

A spokesman for Mabus said he was aware of the letter from Duncan and declined to comment. 

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.), another member of the House Armed Services Committee, backed up Hunter in a letter sent Friday that asked the Pentagon to release the full study on the Marine units.

"I am concerned the Department of Defense is withholding information regarding the findings of this report," Kline wrote in the letter, which was obtained by The Hill. 

"As a 25-year Marine Corps Veteran, I am offended by the comments made by a senior leader in the Department of Defense," he said. "They were inappropriate given the hard work and dedication of the men and women that volunteered for this important study."

Meanwhile, female lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee are calling for greater scrutiny of the Marine Corps's study, questioning whether it was designed to “undermine” then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s 2013 directive integrating women into all combat positions.

"Secretary Mabus’s concern that the Marine Corps study was designed with a predisposed notion that women undermine combat effectiveness is of grave concern to all of us," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) said in a written statement Friday. 

"We must know whether this is the case, because so many questions have been raised about the study’s scope and methodology. This isn’t information that would justify barring women from serving in any combat position — indeed we know from our allies’ experiences that all positions should be open to anyone who qualifies," she added. 

Lawmakers are pressing the Marine Corps for more information about the study.

Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the panel's military personnel subcommittee, said she has requested and will soon receive a briefing from the Marine Corps on the findings.

Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said she has had "a number of briefings" with the Marine Corps, and has expressed to the service the same concerns as Mabus. 

"I am disappointed that this report is essentially being used as a way to exclude women," she said in a statement to The Hill. "We are not asking for standards to be lowered, all we are asking is for women to have the opportunity to pursue whichever roles in the military that they wish to pursue."

"Opening up all roles to women will ultimately strengthen the military and our nation, and this is something the U.S. Marine Corps needs to understand."

A summary of the report released last week stated that all-male Marine squads were faster in each tactical movement than integrated squads. The all-male rifle groups also scored better on accuracy. 

In addition, the summary said the female Marines had more injuries, such as stress fractures, than the men.

The Marine Corps has been exploring whether to open the infantry and all other combat jobs and units to women, as the Pentagon moves to implement Panetta’s order by 2016 — a presidential election year where defense and national security issues will be at the forefront.

The Marine Corps has allowed women to volunteer for its Infantry Officer Course, but none passed. Enlisted female Marines had better results. 

The Corps also relieved a female commander of duty for what she said was pushing female recruits to perform better. Marine officials say the commander’s reassignment was due to a clash between her and her supervisors, as well as complaints from females in her unit. 

Meanwhile, the Army has opened up the Ranger School, its elite leadership course for soldiers, to women after two completed it.

The four services are due to submit any requests for exceptions by the end of September to Carter, who will review those requests and make final decisions by January.

In a briefing Tuesday, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters that while the recommendations may go through the service secretaries, Carter “will hear input from as many people as possible.”