Ernst Discusses the Military’s Gender Integration Implementation Strategy

“I fully support providing women the opportunity to serve in any military capacity, as long as standards are not lowered [and] our combat effectiveness is maintained…implementation strategy must be fully developed, and methodically and deliberately carried out.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – At a Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing entitled “Implementation of the Decision to Open All Ground Combat Units to Women”, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) raised important questions to defense officials on the military’s implementation strategy and timetable of their recently announced gender integration strategy to open all military occupations and positions, including combat roles, to women without any exception.

Witnesses included Honorable Raymond E. Mabus, Jr. (Secretary of the Navy), Honorable Patrick J. Murphy (Under Secretary of the Army), General Mark A. Milley, USA (Chief of Staff of The United States Army), and General Robert B. Neller, USMC (Commandant of The United States Marine Corps).

Senator Ernst, a combat veteran, made clear that she “fully support[s] providing women the opportunity to serve in any military capacity. As long as standards are not lowered, [and] our combat effectiveness is maintained. But in order to ensure women are fully integrated into these previously closed positions, the implementation strategy must be fully developed and methodically and deliberately carried out.”

Ernst added, “These are the men, and will be, the women who meet our enemies in close combat. Their lives depend on it. That is why over the past few weeks I have visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Marine Core Base Quantico, Virginia to speak directly with Army and Marine infantrymen about this topic.”

Senator Ernst shared some of the concerns from Marines and asked whether the panelist share these concerns. She said, in part: “As you know, some of our female Marines have voiced concerns that they anticipate there will be pressure to lower standards if not enough of them are able to qualify to serve in combat positions. While I’m glad that lowering the standards for greater female participation is against your best military advice, I agree with these women that pressure may come, likely from civilian leadership who may have motives other than supporting gender integration to enhance our nation’s ability to destroy our enemies on the battlefield. Also, in order to boost participation, some female Marines have voiced that leadership and training will not solve physiological differences between men and women, and some are worried that they will be involuntary assigned to combat MOS’s or even assigned to an infantry unit in a support position which would require them to meet the higher physical standards for infantry units. Do you share these concerns, sir, and what concerns do you have regarding the retention of our best female marines who may now be assigned to combat arms, MOS, or units?”

Ernst encouraged “all of the members of this panel - and our witnesses - to go talk to our servicemembers, hear for yourselves what their concerns are, and help ensure we ultimately get this right.”

Click here to read Senator Ernst’s statement for the record.

In addition, Senator Ernst also asked Secretary Mabus, about recent reports that the Director of Naval Intelligence has not had an active clearance for over two years.

Click here or on the image below to watch.
2/2/16 SASC Gneder Integration Hearing

TRANSCRIPT:

SEN. ERNST: Thank you, Mr. Chair. Let me be clear: I fully support providing women the opportunity to serve in any military capacity. As long as standards are not lowered, our combat effectiveness is maintained. But in order to ensure women are fully integrated into these previously closed positions, the implementation strategy must be fully developed and methodically and deliberately carried out. It must include an understanding of second and third order effects to ensure that we do not set women or men up for failure. These are the men, and will be the women, who meet our enemies in close combat. Their lives depend on it. That is why over the past few weeks I have visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina and Marine Core Base Quantico, Virginia to speak directly with Army and Marine infantrymen about this topic. I spoke with groups comprised mostly of mid to senior level NCOs and Junior Officers, the servicemembers who over the past 14 years of war, have met the enemy in close combat, and who will do so again in the future with their female counterparts. After those conversations, it is clear that we need to ensure that we are taking into account the impacts on women’s health, lodging, physiological differences between men and women which could lead to female physical fitness test scores on average being lower than their male counterparts, and how that could affect their ability to compete for promotions, schools, and senior command positions. I would encourage all of the members of this panel, and our witnesses, to go talk to our servicemembers, hear for yourselves what their concerns are, and help ensure we ultimately get this right. Our combat arm soldiers and Marines are the best we have. They have taken the majority of causalities since the founding of our nation, and on battlefields from Yorktown, Gettysburg, Iwo Jima, and Normandy. They have made the difference between Americans enjoying life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, or being subjugated by foreign powers. Their lives mostly involve suffering and hardship, and they honorably carry that physical and mental burden not only in service, but afterwards as well. We must honor them by ensuring this process moves forward in a thoughtful and methodical way. General Neller, I‘d like to start with you, sir. As you know, some of our female Marines have voiced concerns that they anticipate there will be pressure to lower standards if not enough of them are able to qualify to serve in combat positions. While I’m glad that lowering the standards for greater female participation is against your best military advice, I agree with these women that pressure may come, likely from civilian leadership who may have motives other than supporting gender integration to enhance our nation’s ability to destroy our enemies on the battlefield. Also, in order to boost participation, some female Marines have voiced that leadership and training will not solve physiological differences between men and women, and some are worried that they will be involuntary assigned to combat MOS’s or even assigned to an infantry unit in a support position which would require them to meet the higher physical standards for infantry units. Do you share these concerns, sir, and what concerns do you have regarding the retention of our best female marines who may now be assigned to combat arms, MOS, or units?

GEN. NELLER: Well, Senator, as the committee members in unanimity have talked about today, we have to do everything possible to not lower standards. In fact, we should be looking at how we can raise the standards to improve our capability. Right now, there is no intent to involuntarily assign anybody who wants to compete in these MOS’s. A little more problematic is the assignment of a Marine in a non-combat MOS, but assigned to one of these units, because in the past, because it was restricted to men, we didn’t ask a communicator or a supply Marine if they wanted to go to an infantry battalion. So we have established an assignment policy, which has a minimum physical standard, before we would do that. So we’re working our way through that, and that’s part of the implementation process, but we’re aware of that, that that’s kind of an outlier that wasn’t considered as part of this decision. As far as career progression, there are a lot of things we don’t know, and we’re going to find out and we will have to continue to monitor. We’re looking at this as a decade minimum long study to see how this all turns out, what effect is there on propensity to enlist? Propensity to reenlist? What is the competiveness for promotion? What’s the injury rate? Not just for all marines, because we really haven’t looked at this in the past, because there were enough people, and there are still enough people. So, those are concerns, but they’re concerns about something we don’t know the answer to. So there are a lot of different views as you found when you talked to people. So we’re taking all this into consideration. We’re going to try to mitigate as much of this as we can, and then we’ll come back and report and we’ll keep the data and we’ll be able to have a better analytical view on how this is all working as we go through this in a very methodical, objective way. But, the three lenses we’re looking at through this whole process is the mission, you know the effectiveness and readiness of the unit, the health and welfare of all the Marines, and the ability to manage the talent. I think one of the things that I’m confident is going to be, in fact I know it’s already happened, is the assignment of female marines to previously restricted units and the MOS’s that they have. In the past, if you were an infantry Armor Battalion Commander in the best pick an MOS, Intelligence Officer, Communications Officer, Motor Transport Officer, in the division was a women, she couldn’t work in your unit. So now you actually have the opportunity to have her serve with you. The talent pool has expanded and that should make the unit better.

SEN. ERNST: Very good. Thank you, General. General Milley, many of the command positions with those positions, most of our army senior leaders have served in various elite units, yourself included, you have served in Special Forces capacity, many of those advancing to very high levels within the Army have served in Ranger Regiment and other high-performing infantry-type units. While there have been three female graduates of Ranger School in the Army, which I applaud, I think that’s tremendous, the unfortunate truth is an infantry officer without a ranger tab is often looked down upon by their fellow infantry men, and tab-less infantry officers are often not as competitive for senior leadership positions, just like many of those that will serve in these elite type units with very, very high standards. So as you branch female officers to infantry, and potentially accept branch transfers for captains and field grade officers, how will this affect their ability to integrate into the infantry community and be competitive for those higher levels of command?

GEN. MILLEY: Couple of points, Senator. One, is you’re correct, there’s an institutional bias, especially in the infantry if you don’t have a ranger tab on career progression. So we encourage all infantry officers to attend Ranger school, very demanding school, as you well know. For women, it’d be the same thing, if they go in the infantry, we’d encourage them to go to Ranger School, because it does enhance your performance and skills, but it also enhances your credibility with peers, superiors, and your subordinates as well. So Ranger School is a very important school, especially for the infantry. As far as long-term career progression goes, the core business, the C-O-R-E business of the United States Army, is to close with and destroy the enemies of our country in close combat, and that means infantry and armor supported by attack aviation and aviation incumbent engineers. But infantry and armor is the very essence of the United States Army, and those, as we know and we’re here discussing, those have been previously closed. So as the senior officers of the Army over many, many years have been infantry and armor officers, because that’s the essence of the business so to speak. So I would expect over time, 25 -35 years sort of time, we’ll see women in infantry and armor units eventually rise to command. We opened up Apache helicopters 25 years ago, and recently we now have Apache battalion commanders that are female. So I think the same phenomena will occur over an extended period of time.

SEN.ERNST: Very good, gentleman. I appreciate that. I do have one question, and I would just like a response for the record follow up. But, Secretary Mabus, I was disturbed to read that the Director of Naval Intelligence has not had an active clearance for over two years. Your decision to keep him in a position with such great responsibility without access to critical information sets a terrible example for our sailors and makes a travesty out of naval intelligence and our national security. And, for the record, I’d like to know what is preventing you from having a sailor with an active security clearance in this position today, and I would like a follow up on that, sir. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

SEN. MCCAIN: You want to respond now?

SEC. MABUS: Senator, I’m as frustrated as you are about this particular individual. There have been, there is an investigation ongoing, we have no information one way or the other as to whether anything improper happened, but because of the sensitive place that he occupied, I felt that I had to withdraw his access to classified information until the investigation was finished. The investigation has drug on and on and on, and we are in the process of putting up another officer to take that person’s place.

SEN. ERNST: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Two years is a very long time not to have access, and I do believe there should have been another officer assigned to that billet.

SEC. MABUS: Senator, I agree with you, this has been a very long, very drawn out process and it has been frustrating for everybody involved.

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