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Strategic Defense Guidance

Posted: April 1, 2014 5:43 PM

Op-Ed Gets USMC Commandant’s Attention, Sparks Change for Women

By OTTO KREISHER, Seapower Special Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps commandant has reacted swiftly to a female Marine officer’s complaint that women are unfairly precluded from trying a second time to pass the prestigious Marine Corps Infantry Officers Course, when men can have a second try.

In response to a question from a female Army officer at an Atlantic Council forum April 1, Gen. James F. Amos said he has ordered a change in the rules and lavished praise not only on Marine Corps 2nd Lt. Sage Santangelo, who protested the restriction, but on all his female Marines.

And, Amos said, he offered Santangelo a chance to go to Afghanistan while she awaits an opening in flight training.

“I got an answer back in about 14 nanoseconds. … So we’re cutting orders right now. Sage is going to go to Afghanistan, to join the Marine Expeditionary Brigade Forward over there,” the commandant said.

The question was sparked by an opinion article Santangelo wrote in the March 30 Washington Post in which she graphically described the tremendous physical ordeal young Marine officers endure in trying to qualify to lead Marine infantry. Despite her great desire and effort, she was physically unable to complete the initial endurance test, as did 25 male officers and the three other female Marines who tried that day.

So far, 14 women officers have tried to pass the 17-week infantry officers course at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., and all have been unable to complete it. Thirteen enlisted female  Marines, however, have passed the somewhat less difficult basic infantry training school at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The women have been given those chances because the Marine Corps, along with the Army, is attempting to determine if they can open ground combat jobs, including infantry, to women. Although military women are now able to serve in many combat-related positions, including aviation, military police and, for the Army, field artillery, they still are banned from the infantry.

Putting women through the infantry qualification schools is part of the Corps’ tests to see if they can meet the tough physical standards now required, and if those standards are necessary.

The Marines also are forming an experimental unit that would give a group of volunteers a chance to see if women can perform ground combat tasks over a prolonged period.

But in her article, Santangelo complained that her training in the Marine Officer Candidate School was not as physically demanding as what was required of male officer candidates, so she was not as prepared for the infantry course.

And, she noted, the men who failed the initial qualification test could apply for a second chance, but she could not.

Amos said he read Santangelo’s article, which he said “was superb,” and invited her to his Pentagon office to discuss the issue.

“When she brought up the point about the inability to recycle. … I went back to my folks and said, ‘we got to fix this.’ So we are,” he said.

Amos explained that the rule about not getting a second chance was intended to protect the unsuccessful officer’s ability to get into their future military occupational specialty and be positioned for the critical selection for a regular commission, rather than staying as a reserve officer, which limits their potential for a career. But, he said, “we’ll take care of them.”

Amos said he “bristled at the headline” on the Post article, which said the female officer “failed,” saying it “took enormous courage” for Santangelo and the other female Marines to attempt to win a position in what has been a male-dominated field for the Corps’ 238-year history. “I’m a big fan of our females,” he said.

In his presentation and answers to other questions, Amos spelled out the challenges he faces in trying to shape the Corps to continue to meet the nation’s challenges, when the fiscal constraints imposed by sequestration force him to reduce his force structure to have enough money to maintain combat readiness in the near term and for modernization for future capability.

And he strongly defended his top acquisition priority, the short takeoff, vertical landing F-35B, and said his top ground combat need, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, is moving ahead and he will soon announce the road map for acquiring the initial replacement for the Vietnam-vintage AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles.

U.S. Naval Sea Cadets Corps