Two years into integrating women into combat arms roles, the debate has been reignited by a recent change in graduation requirements at Marine Corps Infantry Officer Corps (IOC) training. The new policy removes a high-attrition, pass/fail hike known as the Combat Endurance Test (CET) as a graduation requirement and the blowback illustrates the need for clearer, gender-neutral standards for male and female Marines in the service.
The discussion focuses on old arguments about female physical ability compared to males, while the reality is that a change to IOC is one in a long history of changes to physical evaluation and training in response to operational realities, rather than gender. Prior to the change, only one woman of 36 had passed the course, leading some to believe the change allows women greater entry to combat arms. However, the backlash illustrates the failure of Marine Corps leadership to communicate the reasons for such changes.
Physical testing standards have changed regularly since the Corps’ inception with Marines demonstrating grit and physical toughness throughout these shifts. For example, two seminal battles of Marine Corps lore—the 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood and the 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir—occurred during a period where the Marines had no physical fitness test. While there has been a resurgence of adjustments to testing standards stimulated by the Department of Defense’s demand for gender-neutral testing, the subsequent changes are designed to offer equal opportunity.
Compared to the other services, the Marine Corps has struggled to integrate women in combat arms. A popular narrative holds that efforts to improve training success and prevent injury following gender-integration lower standards and enable women entry to combat arms. This gendered lens ensures female Marines will not be assessed for their successes but questioned for their opportunity.
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