by Andy Weddington
Wednesday, 06 February 2013
"The very purpose of a knight is to fight on behalf of a lady." Sir Thomas Malory
In a letter dated 24 January 2013 our Commandant addressed his generals, retired generals, on the subject "OUR MARINES".
General James Amos, USMC, specifically turned attention to Secretary of Defense Panetta's decision to eliminate the 1994 policy that restricted women from combat roles and what that decision means, from his perspective, to our Marine Corps.
As goes the chain of command and information flow, the generals sent the commandant's letter down the chain to their Marines. I received it multiple times. I've read it - multiple times. And have thought about it at length.
A couple of paragraphs - the last on page one and the first on page two - are standouts. As follows...
"Today's announcement not only provides the policy context for what began in 2011, it gives us the time we need to continue our effort to gather and review statistically relevant data to validate occupational performance standards the right way. We have long since stepped off on a deliberate, measured, and responsible approach aimed at carefully examining all aspects of combat unit readiness, MOS assignments, and individual safety and health. As we identify MOSs that can be responsibly opened up to our female Marines we will do so.
It will not surprise you to learn I get the most questions about our infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations MOSs. Across DOD, the decision to open them will be determined by recommendations from the Commandant and the Chief of Staff of the Army. Our recommendations are due 2016. The 36th Commandant will have three years of collected data and ground truth to consider as he makes his final recommendation. I believe we have created the conditions for him to provide his best analytically-informed military advice on this critical matter to the civilian leadership, who have the constitutionally-enshrined power of final decision. I don't know what my successor's recommendation will be, but the end state is not a foregone conclusion, as some have suggested. The memorandum agreed to by all the service chiefs specifically states, "...if we find that the assignment of women to a specific position or occupational specialty is in conflict with stated principles, we will request an exemption to policy.""
There is ample to analyze but to the point(s).
For two days I watched the publicly broadcast hearings held by the Senate Armed Services Committee, with testimony by the service chiefs, regarding repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT). Some service chiefs supported repeal. Some service chiefs, including our Commandant (who read from a powerful letter he received, from a second lieutenant in command of a rifle platoon in combat, pleading not to let repeal happen because it would destroy unit cohesion), did not support repeal. It didn't matter. The tone of those hearings was clear - the decision a foregone conclusion. Repeal, no matter what the data said (not compelling for change, in fact combat arms specialities were against), was going to happen. It did.
General Amos makes an assumption our next Commandant will be a male. Considering the agenda to assign women to ground combat units, is that presumptuous?
And, the most significant words of our Commandant's letter, "...the civilian leadership, who have the constitutionally-enshrined power of final decision."
Indeed they do. And they exercised it repealing DADT. And they will exercise that power again when it comes to assigning women to ground combat units - regardless of how compelling the data and arguments. A request for exemption? Why bother? But it sounds good. Though it comes across as an appeasing pat on the head.
And so some questions about this whole gender-neutral concept as is talked about for developing one performance standard for Marines in all MOSs.
Women Marines will soon be required to perform pull-ups as part of physical fitness training and testing. Good. But the standard is less. Why?
And, if Marines are to train as they are going to fight, should not gender-neutral also apply to all other aspects of life as a Marine?
What about grooming standards? Why should women be permitted to wear makeup and earrings and nail polish when in uniform? What functional purpose, to a Marine, do they serve? Are they not distracting, attracting, to males (especially younger Marines with hormones amok)?
Uniforms - why skirts and pumps and heels (likely an elimination most women would welcome) and anything attire related that announces femininity?
Should male Marines open and hold doors for female Marines and extend other cultural courtesies typically favored to the fairer gender? Arguably no - if there is to be no preferential treatment during tough training and on battlefields - in combat.
Is not one standard one standard? Or will gender-neutral be tailored as convenient? How confusing when consistency is absent.
And on go the questions.
Elaine Donnelly, President, Center for Military Readiness (www.cmrlink.org), is leading a valiant charge to stop the push for assigning women to ground combat units.
Her efforts are being waged largely from a quantitative vantage point (to counter, to challenge, the "quantitative" data collection being done by the services). That is logical. I, as do many Marines, applaud and support Ms. Donnelly, but it is the wrong strategy using the wrong tactics. The battles will be lost and so will the war. It positively will not work because the data, regardless of what it indicates, will not matter. Requests, by service chiefs, for exemptions will not matter.
The only approach that will stop women from being assigned to ground combat units is an overwhelming emotional one - that is, parents and grandparents and great grandparents engaging with their elected representatives and making it clear they do not want their daughters, granddaughters, and great granddaughters serving in ground combat.
Another Marine, a Commandant, makes this point crystal clear - pick up his perspective at the 9:55 mark (by the way, that's Ms. Donnelly seated to his immediate right - she's been engaged a long time and knows the issue): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fy--whDNNKk
But it is not Marines who should be listening to General Barrow.
America, that 99% that does not serve in uniform, should be listening. And that 99% should be listening closely and carefully to what their government is trying to do. Americans need to quit looking at their feet and shift their gaze to the horizon - disaster looms.
General Barrow's testimony has had another 5,000 or so views since I posted it last week. Later today it will surely eclipse 50,000 views (in 11 months). But there's no reason it shouldn't be 50 million or 100 million views - for public awareness and engagement. Congress will do what America demands. That's the beauty of voting.
General Amos has a job to do. He had a decision to make. He's opted in support of ending the combat exclusion. For continued service, he had to make that decision. Active Duty and Reserve Marines salute and carry on. Some Marine organizations are opting to remain mute. But America does not have to do likewise.
In closing, as I wrote to a retired Marine general officer a few days ago...
"My sentiments about current USMC leadership are not personal whatsoever - but for the health of the institution I dearly love. I fear and I believe General Barrow, who knows (knew) more about ground combat than anyone opining today, will prove correct in his prediction: The Marine Corps will be destroyed. And it will happen not by deliberate sabotage (at least I hope that's not the case) but by means of decisions and actions ordered by those (and I speak to politicians not Marines) who do not know what they are talking about."
This is serious business. Forward General Barrow's testimony to everyone, especially mothers and grandmothers and great grandmothers, with an encouraging word to watch - for their kin will not be exempt. Let's make sure America understands what's at stake. Or, forever hold your peace while witnessing females one day, in the not-to-distant-future, being compelled to carry a piece.
And visit Ms. Donnelly's website. Engage. Help!
From my paintbrush a few years ago - painted for the Officers Spouses. It hangs in the Officers' Club, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, 29 Palms, California. How appropriate. How serendipitous. I don't remember titling it but it has one now.
'Drawing Sword on Chivalry'
24 x 24 acrylic on panel