MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. — The Marine Corps is requiring that all leathernecks complete two days of training on the service's gender-integration plan as women take on new roles in ground combat units.
All active-duty Marines will complete the 16-hour training by Oct. 31, said Lt. Col. Larry Coleman, integration branch head with Manpower Plans and Policies. Reservists must finish the training by Jan. 31.
The two-day sessions will include discussions about new gender-neutral physical standards for certain military occupational specialties, why some units were closed to women and how the Marine Corps' gender-integration plan will work, Coleman told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.
“Then we start talking about the plan itself: Here are the phases of the plan,” he said. “We break it down and go into detail of each phase. So it’s a good 90 minutes to two hours just talking about the plan and how we got to where we are.”
Not all Marines understand why combat jobs were once closed to women, Coleman said, so they're taking steps to explain when and why the recently lifted ban was in place.
“We weren’t really treating them differently because they were females; we were treating them different because it’s what the law or policy said we had to do,” he said.
The trainers will also address questions or misconceptions Marines have about gender-neutral physical standards. Those rules were developed by Training and Education Command before the Marine Corps began its gender-integration research, Coleman said.
Battalion commanders can determine how to conduct the training, but service leaders recommend that trainers meet with between 10 and 20 Marines at a time for guided discussions, he said.
The training is for everyone, in part to allow Marines who have served in units with women to share their insight with their colleagues, Coleman said.
“They’re passing on best practices from a gunny to a gunny, or from a first sergeant to a major, to say: ‘Hey, we had that same problem two years ago and here’s what we did that worked’ — and even as important, ‘Here’s what we did that didn’t work,’” Coleman said.
Right now, Coleman said he is training the officers and staff noncommissioned officers who will facilitate these discussions. The trainers often ask him why the service is opening all combat jobs to women if mixed-gender teams did not perform as well as their all-male counterparts during the service's Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force experiment.
“We tell them that, yes, the majority of the tasks they performed at a lower level; however, their performance was not unsatisfactory,” Coleman said. “Their performance and the attacks that they executed were not failures. They just were potentially slower, maybe it was less accurate – whatever the metric that was being used for that particular task.
"It may have been a little bit off from what the males were, but they were still meeting what we have in our training readiness manuals as the standards.”
One aspect of the training looks at how Marines form biases, but Coleman made clear it will not be a discussion about Marines’ feelings.
“Everyone has bias,” Coleman said. “It’s part of the way you were raised; it is part of your life experiences. You have biases that exist in you. The thing we’re trying to tell them is: A bias, again, is not necessarily a bad thing to have. Sometimes it’s what keeps you alive in certain scenarios and in certain contexts.”
In March, Marine Corps officials said the training would include discussions on Marines’ “unconscious bias,” but a Corps spokesman said later, “This is not sensitivity training.”
The subject of unconscious bias is a “very minimal” part of the planned discussions on how Marines think, act and make decisions, Coleman said. Marines are asked if they associate words like “deployment” with military or family life so they can see that not everyone thinks the same way.
“They start to realize that: ‘OK, I do see things a little bit differently,’” Coleman said. “Then we start to roll into … 'This is how your biases are formed; this is how the way you think is formed.' Bias is a way you think. It’s just identifying that."