Women Marines train for combat, but battlefield role uncertain

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SAN DIEGO -- Starting next year, all combat positions in the military are expected to open to women, but that decision is not sitting well with the U.S. Marine Corps.

In September, the former Commandant of the Corps and now Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford submitted a recommendation to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus that he thinks women should be excluded from certain jobs on the front lines including that of “infantrymen.”

There are two places where Marines can train for infantry: Camp Geiger at Camp Lejune in North Carolina and at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. At Camp Pendleton however, women are not allowed.

Corporal Asia Sorenson, 27, is one of the few women who trained and graduated at Camp Geiger.

“There were 26 females in a class of about 300 to start. By the end of the two-month course, there were six of us left,” she said.

The training course was the same for men and women. They had to do the same number of pull-ups, hike the same 20-kilometer course with a full 80-pound pack and pass a test with their M-16 rifle.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has made it clear all combat positions should be open to women, as long as they can pass the same standards, including for the elite Navy SEALS.

The branches of the military have until the end of the year to submit their recommendations or note for exemption. All branches of the military support Carter except for the Marines.

Reinforcing their hesitation to allow women on the front lines is a recent study called “United States Marine Corps Assessment of Women in Service Assignments.” The entire report hasn’t been released publicly, but the Corps did send out a synopsis.

While highlighting the achievements of many outstanding women in the Marines, it also found women were not as accurate shooters, were injured twice as often as their male counterparts and moved slower in tactical movements.

Mabus dismissed the study, saying those who conducted the study were biased against women. Many Marines, including Dunford, argue gender equality shouldn’t supersede national security.

Corporal Sorenson believes women do have what it takes to be on the front lines and plans to sign up as soon as she has the chance.

For now, she works at the Public Affairs Office as a photographer.

When asked if she thinks that is fair, Sorenson responded, “I don’t think fairness plays a role in it.”

Her story is similar to that of the two woman who graduated from Army Ranger School earlier this year, but still cannot assume the job.

Secretary Carter is expected to make his final decision in early 2016.

3 comments

  • Women fail to meet standards

    One major problem is that the equipment and tactics were optimized for men. If we are to integrate females in combat roles the equipment being built needs to take females into consideration and new tactics developed. Equipment being built now under many DOD programs was spec’d 7 years ago for a male. Many of these programs are still pushing forward to produce something for males (only) and will continue to complicate integrating females.

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