Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has doubled down on his assertion that all combat jobs should be opened to women in the wake of a new study showing that all-male Marine control groups outperformed those with women in nearly every infantry task.
Mabus spoke to David Greene at NPR a day after Marine officials revealed findings from a nine-month infantry experiment that assessed the performance of male and female Marine volunteers during physically demanding ground combat tasks. A summary of data showed that mixed-gender teams completed tasks more slowly and shot with less accuracy, and that women sustained injuries at more than twice the rate of their male counterparts.
In his radio interview, Mabus suggested the Marines' study was flawed due to the caliber and mindset of the volunteer participants.
"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,' " Mabus said. "When you start out with that mindset, you're almost presupposing the outcome."
Mabus also said the Marines could have selected female volunteers who were better suited to the task of marching under heavy loads, which accounted for many of the injuries that were observed.
"For the women that volunteered, probably there should have been a higher bar to cross to get into the experiment," he said.
Female volunteers, except for a small "provisional infantry" group, were required to graduate from the Marines' entry-level enlisted infantry training course and specific combat job schools, if applicable. They also had to get at least a third-class score on the male version of the Marine Corps' Physical Fitness Test, requiring three pullups, 50 crunches in one minute, and a 3-mile run in 28 minutes.
In a Pentagon briefing Thursday, however, officials said the female Marines who volunteered tended to be athletic, with high scores on the PFT and combat fitness tests.
"These were good Marines," said Paul Johnson, the principal investigator for the integrated task force experiment.
Despite the disappointment he expressed with the study, Mabus said it did reveal ways to set entry-level performance standards for each infantry job in order to mitigate injury risks and control for male and female Marines who are likely to execute physical tasks successfully.
"When you look at some of the outside analysis of this from the Center for Naval Analyses, they've looked at these and they've said there are ways to mitigate this so you can have the same combat effectiveness, the same lethality. Which is crucial," Mabus said.
That CNA study has yet to be released publicly.
Mabus' remarks come on the verge of a crucial decision for the Marine Corps: whether to ask to keep certain ground combat jobs closed to women to preserve combat effectiveness, or to move forward with integrating female Marines into every infantry specialty. Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford has not revealed his thinking on the matter ahead of a final decision. Mabus, however, has been vocal about his plans to work toward full gender integration.
"That's ... my call," he told Military Times this month about the upcoming decision.