Navy secretary criticizes controversial Marine Corps gender integration study

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Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

Navy secretary criticizes controversial Marine Corps gender integration study

by: Dan Lamothe | .
The Washington Post | .
published: September 12, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Navy secretary took issue with the Marine Corps' controversial gender integration study released Thursday, saying that he questioned some of its findings and still believes the military would be best with all jobs open to women.

In an interview with NPR, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus commented on the study, which found that combat units integrated with female Marines typically did not move as quickly or shoot as accurately, and that women were more than twice as likely to suffer injuries.

The study tracked about 300 male Marines and 100 female Marines through nine months of rigorous combat activities at Twentynine Palm, Calif., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., including long marches carrying heavy loads and live-fire exercises with a variety of weapons. Women were inserted into some squads of Marines for 24 to 36 hours, with the units all compared.

Mabus, who oversees both the Navy and the Marine Corps, seemed to take issue with the study's focus on the average female Marine, rather than high performers who may be able to stand up to the rigors of life in the infantry or another combat unit. That point also has been made by others advocating full integration of the military.

"Part of the study said that women tend not to be able to carry as heavy of a load for as long," Mabus told NPR. "But, there are women who went through this study that could. And part of the study said that we're afraid that because women get injured more frequently, that over time women will break down more. That you will begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates, and I'm not sure that's right."

The Marine Corps' research was conducted as the services face a deadline this fall to submit recommendations to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on whether any jobs should be kept closed to women. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta threw the doors to women serving in all positions in January 2013, but gave the services until this fall to research how they wanted to better integrate women and if any jobs should be kept closed.

Officials who conducted the research said Thursday that they did not focus on the performance of individual Marines because they wanted to see how inserting women into combat units would affect the performance of the overall units. The research also did not track the performance of individual women in an effort to avoid "confirmation bias," in which personal opinions gleaned by watching some women in action tainted the research, said Paul Johnson, the principle investigator involved.

"There isn't enough power in the research _ at least not the way this research was designed _ to go back and say, 'There you go. That's her. You want ones that look like that,' " Johnson said. "We tried, and that's one of the limitations in my report."