Fired female Marine commander turns to Congress

Fired female Marine commander turns to Congress
© U.S. Marine Corps

A female Marine commander of an all-female battalion wants Congress to intervene after she was fired over what she believes were her efforts to push female recruits to become better.  

Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano was fired from her job on June 30 as commander of a training battalion for female recruits at Parris Island, S.C., an action that has been gaining media attention due to its awkward timing.  

The Marine Corps and the other military services are readying to open all combat positions to women by January, or appeal to the Defense secretary.

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Marine Corps officials say Germano’s firing had nothing to do with gender, but her leadership.

Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, the top commander at Parris Island, said an investigation found Germano was  to be "hostile, unprofessional and abusive," according to the Marine Corps Times. 

But Germano, an 18-year veteran, says she was treated unjustly by the base's leadership. Her supporters say she was trying to hold women to tougher standards.  

For example, when Germano took command of the unit last June, she focused on improving her female recruits' marksmanship in order to help close a gap she found between male and female performance standards. 

“Once we showed the recruits and the coaches and drill instructors it was possible, it filled them with so much confidence,” Germano said in a New York Times article published Sunday. 

She said this week in an interview with The Hill that she chose to improve women's marksmanship first, due to the saying "Every Marine a rifleman." She said women had historically underperformed men in that area, reinforcing gender bias against women. 

Germano said that after she increased training, about 90 percent of women in her battalion passed initial rifle qualification, equaling the rate for men. 

German also sought to integrate males and females in boot camp exercises, although they had always been separated. 

Germano said in a statement to investigators her efforts were undermined by a very small group of individuals in her unit and her direct superior, Col. Daniel Haas, who ordered a review of her leadership in a unit survey. Two-thirds of the unit responded to that survey, half with complaints. 

Base leadership ordered then ordered an investigation into Germano's leadership. Germano said the survey was problematic since it allowed respondents to take it more than once and requested that it be fixed and reissued.

Germano called for an investigation into the base’s hostile work environment and gender-based discrimination, and submitted evidence that a battalion commander at Paris Island called her unit a "distraction" on training hikes, and that senior officials said there was "no value" in conducting co-ed training. 

Marine officials could not substantiate her claims, but relieved her over complaints about her leadership. 

Several officers under Germano's command interviewed by the Marine Corps Times and The New York Times defended her, saying she was just trying to improve the unit and that she was a caring leader and mentor. 

In a letter to her unit after her firing, Germano wrote, "Despite considerable active and passive resistance throughout all echelons of the Recruit Depot and the Marine Corps, we each worked incredibly hard to improve the performance of our recruits to make them stronger, faster, smarter, and better shots — all to better the institution."

Integrating women into combat jobs is seen as a top priority of the Obama administration, and the Marine Corps is widely believed to be the most resistant to allowing females serve in the infantry. 

In 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the military to remove a policy banning women from combat jobs and gave the services two years to implement that policy, or ask for exceptions for certain positions. 

The Marine Corps has the lowest percentage of females serving of all the military services, and is the only military service in which male and female recruits are segregated. 

Germano did not detail to The Hill her contact with members of Congress, saying was considered "protected communication." But there are a number of lawmakers who have made oversight of women in the military a priority. 

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a member of the Armed Services Committee, pressed Marine Commandant and nominee for Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joe Dunford last week. 

"I strongly believe that we should have standards that meet the needs of each position and then allow anyone in who meets those standards to compete," she said. 

Dunford said the Marine Corps has finished looking at standards and would provide results to him in the next month or two. 

"If I'm confirmed, sitting as the chairman ... I'll have a responsibility to look at each one of the requests on its own merits and make a recommendation to the secretary of Defense," he said.