After years of focused advertising and a review of its culture, the Marine Corps is becoming more diverse, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Rocco, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, testified to Congress in December.

More than 40 percent of the force identifies as a member of a minority group, compared to just 30 percent in 2010, Rocco said at the House Armed Services Committee hearing Dec. 10 titled, “Diversity in Recruiting and Retention: Increasing Diversity in the Military.”

Increasing diversity in the force, with an emphasis on recruiting more women, has been a focus of the Marine Corps ever since the 2017 Marines United scandal that rocked the Corps. Marines United was an invite-only Facebook group with nearly 30,000 members, mostly made up from active duty and veteran Marines. Members would share intimate pictures, often of other Marines, many of whom received harassing comments.

In response to the scandal, then-Commandant Gen. Robert Neller brought in changes to the Marine Corps social media policy banning Marines from sharing intimate photos without the expressed consent of the person photographed.

Neller also tasked Marine Corps Recruiting Command to recruit women and build a force made up of at least 10 percent women.

The Marine Corps has made progress on the goal set by Neller, with women making up nearly 9 percent of the Marine Corps, Rocco testified.

The Corps also has seen a growth in women being recruited, the Marine Corps confirmed.

More than 10 percent of all enlisted recruits are women, Lt. Col. Christian Devine, national director of marketing and communication, told Marine Corps Times in an email.

On the officer side, women make up 12.7 percent of officer candidates, “representing the highest percentage of female officer accessions in the Marine Corps since the establishment of the all-volunteer force,” Rocco testified.

“We have achieved our accessions success by increasing our female inclusive marketing and by focusing direct mail and advertising to generate awareness and highlight opportunities in the Marine Corps,” Rocco said.

Battle Up

In 2017 the Marine Corps launched its first ad with a female protagonist, titled “Battle Up."

The commercial focuses on the life of one girl, as she fights school bullies, plays rugby, passes Marine boot camp, fights in a combat zone and eventually works for a charity, while a narrator talks about the indescribable quality required to become a Marine.

Since then, the Marine Corps has created more commercials showing men and women experiencing the Marine Corps side-by-side, and has even reached out to social media influencers.

The “Battle Up” commercial was the best received by every service, according to slides shown at December’s quarterly briefing from the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, a group meant to provide the Defense Department recommendations on how to improve gender integration throughout the military.

The slides said the Marine Corps should focus on commercials that show women being included in the Marine Corps community.

“Our own research and testing show that young women respond more favorably to military advertising that features women among men,” Devine said. “However, through our media-marketing mix — primarily through social platforms and some select collateral materials, we do create unique storytelling verticals that exclusively showcase our women, demystify their service experience, and positively portray their contribution to the Corps and their fellow Marines."

As part of that “demystifying campaign," the Marine Corps invited four “social media influencers," three men and one woman, to spend three days at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina.

“The series showed four YouTube influencers getting exposed to some of the hallmark experiences of Recruit Training, and performed very well,” Devine said. “In particular, Michelle Khare’s storytelling and content garnered the greatest reach with over 6.4 million views with a significant completion rate.”

Measuring success?

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano told Marine Corps Times the targeting advertisement was a “haphazard” attempt to do something.

Citing a recent study request from the Marine Corps to investigate the cost and requirement for Corps to have gender-integrated boot camp, Germano said the Marine Corps does not really plan on increasing the number of women in the force.

The requested study said the number of female recruits entering the Corps each year “is anticipated to remain static” at around 3,000 recruits a year.

In fiscal year 2019, the Marine Corps sent 3,412 female recruits to boot camp out of a total 36,902 recruits.

“If you can only recruit and train 3,000 women a year to join the Marine Corps, there’s never going to be any positive growth,” Germano said. “It’s just another haphazard, unconnected activity where we’re spending a lot of money and we’re not achieving growth."

Germano has experience both as a Marine Corps recruiter and on the training side as a commander of the all-female 4th Recruit Training Battalion, at Parris Island, South Carolina. She was relieved of her command at the training battalion in 2015 for leading a “hostile, unprofessional and abusive” command.

In her retirement Germano has defended her command practices, saying she held female recruits to a higher standard leading to improved performance. She also authored the book, “Fight Like a Girl,” about her experience fighting against gender bias in recruit training.

Germano said she believes Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger genuinely wants a more diverse Corps and to fix the cultural issues that led to Marines United, but he does not know how to fix the problem.

“I think his heart is in the right place,” Germano said. “And I think that there are other senior male Marines who have their hearts in the right place, but that does not equate to having the skills and knowledge required to make integration successful.”

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