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Mabus: I'm not asking for women-in-combat exemptions

September 15, 2015 (Photo Credit: Sgt. Tyler L. Main/Marine Corps)

Days after the Marine Corps released new data showing men outperformed women in a host of combat-related tasks, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus erased any doubt about his plans to open all jobs in the sea services to female troops — including those in the infantry and Navy SEALs.

"Nobody's asking for an exemption in the Navy," Mabus said Monday in a speech to the City Club of Cleveland in Ohio. "...The SEALs aren't asking for an exemption ... I've been pretty clear, and I've been pretty clear about this for a while: I'm not going to ask for an exemption for the Marines."

Mabus went on the offensive last week after the Marine Corps released partial findings from a nine-month experiment comparing the performance of ground combat units with female members to all-male teams. In the all-volunteer study, the men consistently outperformed the women in speed and accuracy, while female Marines were injured at more than double the rate of their male counterparts.

In a Sept. 11 NPR interview, Mabus alleged the Marines involved in the experiment were biased against the idea of women in combat and suggested officials should have picked higher-quality female volunteers to assess.

During his speech, Mabus made clear that the course was set for gender integration. He was careful, however, to distance himself from the design and the creation of the Marines' infantry experiment that he has criticized as flawed.

"I knew about this study, of course, but I don't reach down and say, 'do this kind of study, do that kind of study,'" he said. "That came up from the Marine operating forces."

Mabus said the Marine Corps' study pointed to a need for gender-neutral, job-specific standards for each combat specialty. That the average woman couldn't perform some infantry jobs, he said, was irrelevant.

"We're not looking for average," he said. "There were women that met this standard, and a lot of the things there that women fell a little short in can be remedied by two things: training and leadership."

The creation of job entry standards would keep the Marine Corps from losing any of its strength or lethality on the battlefield, Mabus said. He also asserted that a force including women would be a stronger force, because it was more diverse. The Marines' infantry experiment illustrated some ways that men and women act differently, he suggested.

"Women got injured a lot or more than men on duty. Men got injured four times as much as women off duty. So, we've got these knuckleheads who are, 'here, hold my beer and watch this,' " Mabus said. "So, do we keep men from being in the infantry because they get hurt so much off duty? I don't think so."

Marine Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford has been far more reticent about his own opinions regarding women in combat ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline to open all jobs to female Marines, saying in the past that he wanted to evaluate study data before making a decision. But Mabus plans to have the final say, telling Military Times earlier this month that the way forward on integrating combat units is "my call."

Mabus has received heavy criticism for his disparagement of the Marine Corps' infantry experiment. Female Marine volunteers told the Washington Post that the Navy secretary "threw us under the bus" by suggesting that the study was flawed and the participants not fit enough.

And Sgt. Maj. Justin LeHew, a Navy Cross recipient and the senior enlisted Marine for the Corps' Training and Education Command, slammed Mabus in a lengthy post on Facebook, calling his comments "counter to the interests of national security and unfair to the women who participated in this study."

The Marine Corps plans to release more data from its women-in-combat study later this month.

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