Well, it appears that the requirement for ALL Marines to do pull-ups as a part of the USMC Physical Fitness Test has been postponed. No word on when such a requirement would be implemented. The reason? Female Marines could not do pull-ups. The story was covered by NPR. More than half the female Marines, fifty-five percent, were reportedly unable to complete the three pull-up minimum the new standard would call for. Ann Althouse, in the last line of her blog post on the subject, tries to strike a hopeful tone by asserting that a 45% passing rate of the minimum standard is a a surprisingly high number. On this, at least, I agree with her. But I am quite skeptical of that 45% figure.
My guess with this latest instance is that the sample was quite carefully chosen, and a fair number of that supposed 45% did ALMOST three pull-ups, but were gun-decked into being counted as three. Evolution probably hasn’t had much effect in the two decades since I was at Parris Island. You see, women trying pull-ups not a new topic, nor is trying to train women to male standards a new line of thinking. When I was in the Recruit Training Regiment at Parris Island in the late 80s and early 90s, various attempts were made to see if women could do pull-ups. The answer, largely, was a negative. Even among female Drill Instructors, the numbers who could do a single pull-up were quite low. I had a number of female DIs work for me in the medical rehab platoon, and they volunteered to try. Most couldn’t do any pull-ups. Only two could do more than one pull-up, and just one, a gymnast and 300-PFT Marine who was also a body builder, did more than 3. She managed eleven, if I recall correctly, and that was the talk of the DI circles for weeks. Other attempts to increase upper-body and running requirements in the female curriculum in order to get closer to male standards resulted invariably in an injury rate that was unacceptably high.
Which brings us to the minimum standard of three pull-ups. I don’t ever remember a single male Marine in the fleet or support unit who could only do three pull-ups. I dug through my old Recruit Series records from 1991 and 1992, and the average number of pull-ups by a male recruit for two series on the final PFT were 18.7 and 18.1 pull-ups, respectively. One platoon, Platoon 3088, had every recruit do 20 pull-ups. The physical disparity between an average male Marine and female Marine is gigantic. When one examines the Marines in Combat Arms MOSs, infantry and artillery and armor, the disparity is even more pronounced. Because ground combat requires every last bit of strength and physical conditioning and endurance that can be mustered. It is, even before introducing all the other very significant problems with females in ground combat units, a matter of life or death for the unit and the individuals in it. Whether DACOWITS or women’s advocates and activists like it or not.
Just to be clear in my assertions, I am not questioning the courage or patriotism of female Marines. Nor am I saying they should not be trained in combat skills. Nor will I assert they will not see some combat. We already to train them to fight, and I have served in combat alongside a few, and for the most part, they did just fine. But there is a wide chasm between the incidental combat we were engaged in, even if it was a frequent occurrence, and being in the sustained ground combat of the type an infantry, artillery, or armored unit is expected to face. (Those projectiles being unloaded weigh 95 pounds each, by the way. Ammo trucks often have to be unloaded several times a day, in all weather, with projectiles being carried for several hundred yards each trip.)
While there are a small handful of females who could pass basic infantry training, the effect of sustained physical hardship, heat, cold, lack of sleep, carrying heavy loads day after day for weeks, requirements for exhausting physical labor, challenges of hygiene and diet, are sure to physically break those females. And long before it breaks them, it renders them combat ineffective, with the concomitant loss of unit cohesion and effectiveness. Captain Kate Petronio was not whistling dixie. And, it seems, the Marine Corps is forced to admit she was right.
Who is driving this agenda? I am not personally hearing female Marines, enlisted or officer, pounding on the doors of Congress claiming that their inability to serve in the infantry violates their right to equality. Shockingly, this isn’t even a congressional agenda. This issue is being pushed by several groups, one of which is a small committee of civilians appointed by the Secretary of Defense called the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS).