U.S. Military To Make Recommendations On Women In Combat

Sep 30, 2015
Originally published on October 1, 2015 12:03 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tomorrow is a deadline for the Pentagon. Heads of the Armed Forces have to make recommendations to their civilian leaders. Should some ground combat jobs remain closed to women? The Marine Corps has reached a decision, and their indication's that it's to bar women from some of its ground combat jobs. Today at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Ash Carter was asked about that, and he dodged the question.

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ASH CARTER: I really don't want to characterize recommendations. There are no recommendations made to me.

SIEGEL: NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman is the one who pushed Secretary Carter on that issue today, and Tom's been following the debate over women in combat for some time. Hi, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: Why would Ash Carter be reluctant to talk about this?

BOWMAN: Well, Robert, Ash Carter says he wants to follow the process. He has until the end of the year to make a final decision whether women can serve in ground combat jobs. And if he says yes, they can start serving in January. Secretary Carter said he wants to go through all the studies sent in by the services on this issue. He said he wants to focus on the quality of the information, the analysis.

Now, from what we can tell talking to Pentagon officials, the Army, Navy and Air Force will not request that women be barred from ground combat jobs. Only the Marines are requesting that based on their own study.

SIEGEL: And what does the Marines' study show?

BOWMAN: Well, the Marines did a year-long study and released only a summary of it to reporters, and they found that gender-integrated units - so units with men and women - did not do as well as all-male units. The ones with women were slower, less lethal and less able to carry a wounded Marine to safety, for example. And the women also had more injuries than the men. So there are indications that the Marines will ask that some jobs - infantry jobs in particular - be closed, other ground combat jobs be opened, like artillery tanks, armored vehicles, where the performance apparently between men and women were not as stark - the differences between those.

SIEGEL: And Tom, what's the reaction been to the study by the Marines showing that women didn't perform as well as men or that mixed units didn't perform as well as all-male units?

BOWMAN: Well, it created something of a firestorm. Veterans - both men and women - spoke up. Women's advocates spoke up as well, some agreeing, some sharply disagreeing with the study. Now, the Marines only released a summary, as I said, and the Pentagon is refusing to release the full report until Secretary Carter goes through it in the coming weeks and months. But when the Marines recommend to Secretary - Navy Secretary Ray Mabus - now, he's the civilian boss of both the Marines and the Navy - that some jobs be closed, he dismissed the Marines' study as biased. He spoke about this on NPR's MORNING EDITION earlier this month. Let's listen.

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RAY MABUS: It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never be able to do this. When you start out the that mindset, you're almost presupposing the outcome.

BOWMAN: Now, this afternoon, the House Armed Services Committee held a closed-door hearing to go over this study, look at the methodology, how it was conducted and see whether it stands up or not.

SIEGEL: And again, Tom, the Marines here would be the exception. Other services, you've heard, will likely not request barring women from jobs - the Army, for example.

BOWMAN: That's right. Army leaders say they see no problem with women serving in the infantry. And of course, two women recently graduated from Ranger School, some of the toughest in the military, right? But the Marines say, listen; we're different. The Army arrives at a fight in a big armored vehicle, sometimes by helicopters. The Marines said, we walk to the fight with heavy packs and weapons.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: Thanks Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.