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Marine Corps Releases Results Of Study On Women In Combat Units


The Marine Corps just released a year-long study testing whether women can survive the rough, grueling world of ground combat. The details are stark. All male units outperformed mixed-gender units across the board. Here's the decision Marine leaders have to make now - ask the Pentagon to still bar women from ground combat or push for tougher physical standards to let them in. Here's NPR's Tom Bowman.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The Marine Corps created a battalion of 100 women and 300 men last fall to test whether opening up jobs in the infantry, artillery and armor to women is a good idea. NPR went along. They carried heavy packs and mounted patrols, shot at targets and dug fighting holes, practiced pulling the wounded to safety.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Get up. Get up. Let's go. You got it.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I can't get up.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: You got it. Get yourself up, Girl.

BOWMAN: Others changed massive tires on armored vehicles, while still others loaded artillery shells.

PAUL JOHNSON: Those are measurements of things that we believe impact combat effectiveness.

BOWMAN: That's Paul Johnson. He directed the study for the Marine Corps. Women will be allowed in those ground combat jobs beginning in January unless some Marines can successfully argue for an exception in the coming weeks. Now the results of the Marine study are in.

JOHNSON: In 93 out of 134 tasks that we tested across the MOS's, the all-male groups outperformed the integrated groups.

BOWMAN: And those task basically tell how good a unit is in fighting the enemy. Johnson's study found that male-only squads, teams and crews outperform those mixed with males and females. Today, a four-page synopsis of the study was released, and the Marines says the full study will be released soon.

All-male units were faster in moving to a target, the study found, especially with a heavy weapon like a machine gun. They also had more hits on target and at a faster rate. And the number of females in those mixed-gender units was small. They tested with one woman, then two women. The numbers were kept low to reflect this reality. Women make up just 7 percent of the Marine Corps.

The study pointed to what it called notable differences in the amount of time it took an all-male unit to evacuate a wounded Marine compared to a mix-gender unit. In addition, women had trouble climbing over a barrier with their packs and often needed assistance. And they suffered more injuries, like stress fractures from carrying heavy packs. Still, the Marines included no specific time differences in the synopsis, and they said the findings do not necessarily mean that women should be barred from ground combat.

COLONEL ANNE WEINBERG: I would characterize this as there is more to be learned.

BOWMAN: Colonel Anne Weinberg was among those leading the study.

WEINBERG: Again, if we take in the whole body of knowledge of what we know about physicality, there are opportunities to train and become stronger and to be able to complete these tasks in a faster and more lethal manner.

BOWMAN: Faster and more lethal - that can mean the difference between life and death. The Marine Corps synopsis included this quote from a 1992 presidential commission. A military unit at maximum combat effectiveness is a military unit less likely to suffer casualties.

The Marine Corps said its leaders are still deciding whether to ask Defense Secretary Ash Carter to keep women out of some combat jobs. Army leaders, meanwhile, are expected to open all their ground combat jobs to women who can meet the physical standards. Secretary Carter recently signaled that's what he plans to do as well starting in January.


ASH CARTER: And the Department's policy is that all ground combat positions will be open to women unless rigorous analysis of factual data shows that the positions must remain closed.

BOWMAN: Now the Marines will have to decide what to do with their factual data on combat effectiveness. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.