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Marine Corps to create experimental task force with 25 percent women

Female Marine infantry students hike during patrol week near Camp Geiger, N.C., in October 2013. The Marine Corps plans to stand up an experimental task force consisting of about 25 percent women in primarily ground-combat-arms specialties so analysts can assess their performance.

The Marine Corps will open new combat jobs to women, allow women to volunteer for combat specialty training previously closed to them and create a co-ed experimental task force to evaluate how female Marines perform as part of a ground combat unit, Marine officials said.

The task force will be made up of about 460 Marines, and about one quarter will be women, said Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine spokeswoman. The task force will look like a small battalion landing team with attachments such as artillery, tanks and amphibious assault vehicles — similar to the ground combat portion of a Marine Expeditionary Unit, but about half the size.

The Camp Lejeune, N.C.-based unit will replicate the predeployment training cycle that other ground combat units go through, and will help the Marine Corps evaluate whether women are capable of doing the jobs and physically demanding tasks inherent in the training, Krebs said.

The unit will be made up of volunteers, and there will be jobs available in a variety of specialties, Krebs said. A forthcoming Marine administrative message will outline how many male and female volunteers are needed for different jobs.

Women will be able to volunteer for positions in their current military occupational specialty or for jobs in specialties that are now closed to women, Krebs said, but the women who volunteer for specialties in which they are not trained must go through the entry-level training school for the job before joining the unit.

Both sexes will have to meet a physical standard that has not yet been finalized in order to qualify for the unit, Krebs said. The unit is expected to stand up this fall and will be evaluated until roughly summer of 2015, though Marine officials may use the data gathered to open additional jobs to women before then.

“It’s going to be an incremental process,” she said.

The Marine Corps has been assessing the performance of female Marines at entry-level training and did a study of male and female Marines last summer to determine how men and women perform some of the most physically demanding tasks associated with the military specialties that are currently closed to women.

The Corps also announced it will open military occupational specialty schools to female volunteers, though the women will not be given those specialties if they graduate. Forty women have already graduated from the Corps’ enlisted infantry training school, and 14 have attempted the notoriously difficult Infantry Officer Course. Only one made it past the combat endurance course that begins the course, but she was injured in the second week of training. All of the women who volunteered for those training courses, whether they graduate or not, are given other MOSes.

However, the commandant, Gen. James Amos also had decided to open 11 specialties to women that were open only to men. Three specialties in the artillery field, six in the ground ordnance maintenance field and two in the low-altitude air defense field will be opened, leaving 20 of the Corps’ 335 primary military occupational specialties closed to women.

Last January, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that the Pentagon would lift the “combat exclusion policy” that had barred women from combat units and jobs. The services have until January 2016 to open all jobs to women or submit a request for an “exception to policy” for any positions they believe must remain male-only.

The Marine Corps in 2012 opened about 20 battalions to female officers and staff noncommissioned officers, allowing women who already held certain jobs to do those jobs in previously male-only battalions. Krebs said the idea is similar to how the Navy has gone about integrating submarines: Putting officers and senior enlisted leaders in first, so that junior troops will have role models and mentors of their own gender available when they arrive.

hlad.jennifer@stripes.com
Twitter: @jhlad

 

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