2,600 new combat positions open to female Marines

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Gunnery Sgt. Katesha Washington)

New training will ask Marines to question their unconscious gender biases as the Marine Corps opens thousands of new positions to women.

Marine officials announced in a Nov. 12 administrative message that female Marines in the ranks of corporal and above were now eligible to fill some 2,600 previously closed jobs in active and Reserve units as the Corps continues to study the integration of women in combat units. This effort is driven by a Pentagon directive to the services to open all military jobs to women by 2016, or be prepared to seek specific exceptions.

To prepare Marines for ongoing unit integration, officials with the Corps’ Force Innovation Office created a “commander’s tool kit” of six classes covering topics including unconscious bias and organizational change, as well as a primer for the Marines’ force integration plan.

Designed to be administered at a unit commander’s discretion, the class kits avoid PowerPoint presentations in favor of discussion guides and recommended reading lists, said Maj. Marta Sullivan, assistant operations officer for the office.

The classes will also make use of interactive scenarios and exercises. For the unconscious bias class, Sullivan said in one exercise Marines are all given the same resume, but for some it uses female pronouns and for some male. They’re then asked to describe how they feel about the person described in the resume based on the information provided as a way of showing Marines how gender might inform their thinking.

But Sullivan said the class format is flexible and designed to cover broader issues than gender integration, at the commander’s discretion.

“All of these topics have to do with leadership and the way Marine Corps leaders guide and mentor all of their Marines, not just women,” Sullivan said. “[The unconscious bias class is] a great class if I wanted to take my unit in a different direction.”

Sullivan said the Force Innovation Office studied the training approach the Marine Corps took with the 2010 repeal of the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ prohibition on gay troops serving openly, which included a mandatory, identical briefing for all troops, but officials ultimately decided on another approach.

“Studies have shown when you make this type of training mandatory, Marines don’t necessarily take to it as openly as they would as if it were optional and used at their own discretion,” she said.

Marine officials also announced they would be offering a survey to male and female members of newly integrated units asking their perspectives on topics relating to unit cohesion, morale, and readiness. The survey will be administered in two waves, according to the message: from Nov. 3 through Dec. 15, and from April 1 through May 30.

The results of the survey will be used to inform the commandant’s recommendations to the Defense Department regarding gender integration in combat units, and will also help officials at the Force Innovation office understand how ongoing changes are being perceived.

“It’s part of a collective data point that we’re receiving from the various research efforts that will inform the commandant’s decision,” Sullivan said. “It certainly is not the only part of the decision-making process.”

The new wave of job openings means female Marines in active-duty artillery, tank, assault amphibian, combat engineer, combat assault, and low-altitude air defense battalions and an array of selected reserve units can now fill jobs at the company and battery level, in additional to higher-ranking staff jobs. The Corps first opened a number of previously closed positions in these ground combat units to women in April 2012, allowing female Marine company grade officers, staff sergeants and gunnery sergeants to serve in specific positions within their primary military occupational specialty.

This latest slate of changes is the first part of a four-step plan to integrate female Marines into combat roles announced by then-commandant Gen. Jim Amos in March. That strategy also created an integrated task force to develop gender-neutral standards for combat positions, which is currently conducting training aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

The job opening announcement comes with one exception: Female combat engineers will not be assigned to combat assault or combat engineer battalions, as the requirements for those positions are still being studied, officials said.

For now, all jobs at Marine infantry, reconnaissance, and special operations units will remain closed to women. And the Marines won’t make any staffing changes to fill the newly opened positions with female troops.

“The Marine Corps will not artificially create gaps in order to move female Marines into positions but will allow the natural manpower process to proceed,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs said.

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