A female lieutenant in the Infantry Officer Course hangs from a rope at the obstacle course on Marine Corps Base Quantico July 2, 2013. The Corps plans to adopt gender-neutral fitness tests for combat arms MOSs. (Thomas Brown/Staff)
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The Corps’ top general said the service plans to adopt a gender-neutral screening test that would assess Marines’ physical qualifications for various military specialties. The plan follows a separate announcement that immediately opened 11 new jobs to female Marines that were previously closed to women.
In an editorial published in the July edition of the Marine Corps Gazette, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos revealed initial findings of research and testing from its Women in Service Review process, sketching out next steps as the evaluation continues.
Corps officials started developing a physical screening test last year, designed to evaluate Marines’ ability to perform in specific job specialties, including combat fields. Defense officials previously told Marine Corps Times the test would be akin to a “physical ASVAB,” the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test prospective service members take before enlisting. But unlike the ASVAB, this would be Marine Corps-specific.
While the deadline to complete its four-stage study on female integration is the end of 2015, the Marines’ plan included the opening of certain combat jobs ahead of schedule. On July 16, following a petition to the Secretary of the Navy, the Marines Corps received approval to open the first 11 previously closed combat-related MOSs:
■ 0803 Target acquisition officer
■ 0842 Field artillery radar operator
■ 0847 Field artillery meteorologist
■ 2110 Ordnance vehicle maintenance officer
■ 2131 Towed artillery repairer/technician
■ 2141 Assault amphibious vehicle repairer/technician
■ 2146 Main battle tank repairer/technician
■ 2147 Light armored vehicle repairer/technician
■ 2149 Ordnance vehicle maintenance chief
■ 7204 Low altitude air defense officer
■ 7212 Low altitude air defense gunner
The move opens 2,122 positions to female Marines, said Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine spokeswoman at the Pentagon. The opening also puts a spotlight on Marine Corps efforts to create a gender-neutral qualification test for the newly open combat jobs.
Officials at Marine Corps Training and Education Command analyzed all 335 Marine Corps primary MOSs, isolating 29 jobs with built-in entry-level physical qualification standards, Amos wrote in his editorial. They then narrowed a list of 278 possible physical tasks related to the MOSs to create a battery of five tests with 14 different pass-fail tasks, Amos wrote. The tasks included challenges such as lifting various weights and scaling a 7-foot wall in full combat armor.
The Marine Corps administered these tests last year to 800 Marines, roughly half male and half female. After analysis, officials found that success during the new tests often correlated strongly to achievement on events in the existing service-wide physical and combat fitness tests.
Performance on the following five PFT and CFT events had the strongest correlation to performance on the proxy test: the three-mile run, pullups, maneuver under fire, movement to contact and ammunition can lift.
Crunches were found to have only a moderate correlation to success on the new screening test, Amos said. And the flexed-arm hang — which has been extended as the arm strength requirement for female Marines in place of pullups — was found to be weak preparation for the test.
For now, Amos said, all enlisted Marines signing a contract to enter a ground combat arms occupational field will have to complete two pullups, 44 crunches, and a 1.5-mile run in less than 13½ minutes.
Those requirements are identical to the initial strength test all prospective male Marines need to pass in order to enlist in the Corps. Female poolees have to pass a differently scored test that includes a 12-second flexed-arm hang, 35 situps in two minutes, and a 1½ mile run in less than 15 minutes.
And before any recruit is assigned a ground combat arms MOS during boot camp, he or she will have to score at least a third class on what is currently the male scoring system for the PFT and CFT. Young officers at the Basic School will continue to be required to score a first-class PFT and CFT on the gender-specific scoring chart before assignment to any MOS school.
“These physical requirements have been established to provide reasonable assurance of success as early as possible in the entry level training and will be further refined upon the conclusion of the Marine Corps collecting its data over the next year on occupational standards,” Krebs said.
The Corps will continue working on the elements of the final physical screening test for combat arms fields, Amos wrote.
“The final test parameters will include measurable physical and physiological characteristics specific to the requirements of each combat specialty,” he wrote. “Further, this final test will include a series of occupational task performance metrics that will inform and determine combat arms MOS assignments.”
As the Corps progresses with the review, about 500 Marine volunteers — of which about a quarter are women — will stand up the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, later this year. The task force will imitate a Marine expeditionary force’s ground combat element, officials said, with male and female Marines working in jobs previously open only to men.
Data gained from the task force will be used to develop final versions of gender-neutral physical standards for combat-related jobs or even Corps-wide gender-neutral standards.
The Marine Corps may still request exceptions at the end of 2015 to keep some specialties closed to women, based on the results of its review. The Pentagon’s directive requires that service chiefs ask for exceptions for certain jobs only as a result of study and evaluation.
With many variables in flux, Amos was clear in the editorial that one thing won’t change: the grueling Infantry Officer Course that has, so far, stymied 20 female volunteers participating in the integration experiment. The course was recently opened to more seasoned female officers for the duration of the review in efforts to give more volunteers the opportunity to take the course.
One critic, a retired Army colonel, said the problem with the course lay in the arduous combat endurance test, which she argued was more of a “rite of passage” than essential training. But Amos maintained that all infantry officers, regardless of gender, must be able to pass the challenging course.
“Our 238-year combat history — reinforced by recent bloody experience — shows that infantry officers must be physically, mentally, and morally elite,” Amos wrote. “This is why IOC is and will remain as tough and challenging as it is today.”