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How do the Marines train women at Parris Island? A former officer shares 'The Truth'

Women are the fastest growing demographic among veterans, but the hospitals that treat them don’t have enough female doctors, perform enough outreach or offer sufficient counseling and addiction recovery services for them, a group of women vets said.

ANESHEA YEE/U.S. MARINES PHOTO

By WADE LIVINGSTON | The Island Packet (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 5, 2018

In her recent essay in the New York Times, former Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island battalion commander Kate Germano began with a story about chairs.

And why she got rid of them.

It's a story she tells in her new book, "Fight Like A Girl: The Truth Behind How Female Marines Are Trained," which debuted this week.

When she took command in June 2014 of the depot's 4th Recruit Training Battalion — the Corps' only female recruit training unit — she noticed a line of chairs had been placed behind a group of women trainees after they finished the Crucible, the grueling final test one must pass before earning her eagle, globe and anchor — and the title, Marine.

The chairs were there in case the women, who'd just endured days of physical and mental strain, needed to sit.

But those chairs weren't placed behind male platoons, Germano writes.

So, Germano — then a lieutenant colonel, the rank she'd retire at — nixed the chairs.

And months later she'd find herself out of a job for, as she tells it, challenging the status quo and pushing for higher training standards for, and equal treatment of, female recruits.

The experience led her to write "Fight Like A Girl," a memoir and cutting commentary on gender inequality in the Corps, and its relevance to greater American society.

"We are missing the boat on tapping into the talent that's out there and recruiting the right women and selling them on the right roles," Germano said Wednesday afternoon during a phone interview. And not just combat roles, she added: really, the book should be seen as a critical work advocating for a stronger, more agile, forward-thinking Marine Corps.

While the Corps contends she was relieved of command because she bullied subordinates and created a "toxic" leadership environment, it can't deny that women trainees' marksmanship improved on the rifle range. As the Marine Corps Times reported in July 2015, just after Germano's ouster, first-time rifle qualification rates "soared from 79 percent to 91 percent" under her supervision. (During that same time, the men's rates improved from 93 percent to 96 percent, according to the newspaper.)

She worked to increase physical fitness standards and reduce injuries, and to stamp out hazing in her battalion, a story she shared with The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette last year.

As Military.com's Hope Hodge Seck — who closely covered Germano's dismissal — writes, "In the nearly three years since Germano's firing, the Marine Corps has fallen increasingly in line with the changes for which she advocated."

Germano, who's back in school at Georgetown and doing consulting work, doesn't see herself as a trailblazer: "I view myself as somebody who ... was trying to do the right thing for the institution," she said.

Writing the book was tough, she said. As a 20-year Marine, she felt conflicted at times and was "literally terrified about what the Marine Corps' official reaction would be." But that reaction hasn't come yet, she said.

Today, according to Marine officials, no lines of chairs are placed behind recruits as they finish the Crucible and gather near a statue commemorating the famous World War II flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

Officials at Marine Corps Training and Education Command say women and men are held to the same standards at boot camp. Battalion command staffs have been integrated at Parris Island, even if much of training remains segregated.

In January 2016, the Department of Defense removed gender restrictions from all military occupations. The first female recruits with infantry assignments graduated from Parris Island a year later. The first women Marines have completed the Corps' Infantry Officer Course and Assault Amphibian Officer Course.

In March, the first female Marines integrated combat training at Camp Pendleton, Calif., and worked alongside men in squads and platoons.

Still, Germano says change is happening too slowly, and that Marine leaders often "say the right words" but fall short in their actions.

But she's been "shocked" by the support she and co-author Kelly Kennedy have received.

And, she said, it's nice to know "I'm not in the battle by myself."

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©2018 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
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