It was a sweltering midsummer day on Parris Island, and I stood in a sandy pit, holding a pugil stick at the ready. The four-foot pole with padded ends was used to simulate close combat with a rifle and bayonet, and for this bout I faced two opponents.
As the drill instructor (DI) blew the whistle for the match to start, a passing comment he’d made during training flashed through my mind: when fighting two or more opponents, keep moving so they cannot come at you two abreast. One will always be blocked by his partner.
I began a rapid sidestep and tried my best to remember the jabs and swings we’d been taught. The deep sand seemed to grab my feet and hold them, slowing me down. The first of many blows struck my arms and shoulders. Fortunately, none counted as a kill—a blow to the head or a jab to the chest or neck.
The fight became a blur of colors and pain, grunts and curses. The rest of the world vanished as I tried desperately to fend off the rain of blows and to make my own feeble counterattack. The pugil stick became heavier, and I soon felt as if I were flailing uselessly. My lungs burned for air, and my legs were quickly turning to jelly as I continuously danced around my opponents in the soft sand.
Suddenly, the DI’s whistle blew: he pointed to one of my opponents and made a slashing motion to the neck, meaning the recruit had been killed. I looked at the referee incredulously, and a roar went up from my platoon lining one side of the pit. But I still faced a remaining foe.
My legs were growing weaker and my arms rubberier. But my adversary seemed to have slowed even more. I was seized by a new aggressiveness, and whereas my first kill had been pure luck, I found myself aiming a direct slashing blow to his head. My first shot missed, but I was driving him back with a flurry of blows and jabs.
Suddenly, the whistle blew again. The referee motioned toward my opponent’s head—he was dead. My fatigue was forgotten as I triumphantly raised the pugil stick over my head in a scene straight out of “Gladiator.” My platoon roared its approval.
I Want You to Hit a Girl
Now change the scenario. What if one or both of my opponents had been female? Would I have struck so hard or attacked so aggressively? Probably not. It’s never been in my constitution to hit a girl, and even as an impressionable 18-year-old with a Marine DI screaming in my ear, as I was that day more than 40 years ago, I still don’t think I’d have fought as well. But that’s the future Marine recruits are now facing.
In addition to endangering lives by forcing the services to accept women into frontline combat units, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus have now ordered the Marine Corps to fully integrate all aspects of recruit training. Mabus explicitly said he wants this to go beyond merely co-locating the recruits; he wants males and females mixed together within the same platoon and squad.
Until now, female and male recruits trained separately. (Men attend boot camp at either Parris Island, South Carolina, or San Diego, California. Women are trained only at Parris Island in a completely separate battalion with its own barracks and training area.) The Marines are the only remaining service to do this, and they have good reasons for the policy.
The average age of a Marine recruit is 19, just out of high school, maybe some college. Both men and women are at an age where sexuality is ever-present, especially for the men. Men behave differently around women than they do among men. There is natural competitiveness to attract the attention of the prettiest girl, and they’re prone to showing off or acting out to get her attention. None of these things are conducive to producing battle-ready Marines.
Then there’s the physical aspect. From the moment you step off the bus at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, you’re pushed and run, run and pushed. No matter what kind of shape you’re in when you arrive, you’re going to get tired and worn down. The physical training (PT) program becomes more difficult week by week until Third Phase, when recruits are being pushed to the physical edge every morning, slowly getting stronger and building more endurance. (That’s without mentioning the forced marches and other endurance events outside normal PT.)
But how hard can they push recruits when a certain number cannot run as far or as fast, cannot keep up on the forced marches, and cannot carry the same amount of weight? Despite all the blather about keeping standards equal for both sexes, the inevitable result of this policy will be lower training standards for men so the women can keep up. It’s a simple physical reality.
Disrupting How We Make Marines
There is a more subtle danger. Marine boot camp is by design a highly artificial environment. It’s intended to be as far removed from recruits’ civilian experience as possible, to figuratively throw them into the deep end of the military life in order to quickly acclimate them to the Marine Corps way of thinking and doing. (A frequent taunt from DIs in my day was, “You’re not back on the block!”)
It’s important that recruits not be in an environment similar to the high school or college they just left. Mixing men and women together means that is no longer possible. The all-important socialization of recruits into Marines now has to compete with distractions that have not existed before.
What about simple logistics? The recruits live in open squadbay barracks with an open head and showers, and surely Mabus does not intend to have men and women share those living arrangements. More likely, they’ll have to live on separate floors, but that immediately interferes with the unit cohesion so crucial to recruit training. It also means the platoon’s DIs will have to divide their efforts to herd the male and female recruits separately in the morning and evening, again interfering with the all-important team building and unit cohesion.
Moreover, on Parris Island the barracks have no curtains on the windows. The barracks are arranged in long rows in each battalion area. (In San Diego the barracks are H-shaped.) It’s still dark at 0500 reveille, with the lights flashing on almost simultaneously in the entire row of barracks. The recruits tumbling out of their racks wearing nothing but their skivvies are easily visible from one building to the next. Will they now have to put up curtains? Where does it stop?
Every Marine a Rifleperson
In one final bit of silliness, Mabus also mandated the Corps to “update the position titles and descriptions themselves to demonstrate through this language that women are included in these MOSs [military occupational specialties]. Please review the position titles throughout the Marine Corps and ensure that they are gender-integrated as well, removing ‘man’ from their titles.”
So the Corps’ unofficial motto, every Marine a rifleman, must now become “every Marine a rifleperson”—a final insult to the grievous injury about to be inflicted on the Marine Corps. This is especially galling because it’s being ordered by a political hack whose sole qualification to be secretary of the Navy is that he’s a crony of President Obama.
Boot camp for enlisted Marines and The Basic School for officers are unifying experiences, a rite of passage to earn the coveted title “Marine.” We Marines are rightly proud to have endured the experience, but I fear for the future. The hardship will be watered down and made politically correct. I, for one, would not feel quite like a Marine if boot camp changes in the way I fear.
The Corps’ job, when called upon, is to kill people and break things. Every second of training is geared toward that ultimate end. It is not a plaything for social justice warriors and political hacks, especially those who have not and probably could not earn the title “Marine” the old-fashioned way.