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Female Marine recruits train on the rifle
range during boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., on Feb. 25. The Marine
Corps said it has postponed new physical standards that would require
women to do three pullups, noting that many female recruits were not yet
able to do so.
Starting Jan. 1, every woman in the Marines Corps was supposed to
meet a new physical standard by performing three pullups. But that has
been put off.
The Marine Corps announced it quietly. There was no news conference — just a notice on and an item on its own TV show, .
Cpl. Ally Beiswanger explained that the pullup test had been put off
until sometime next year, to gather more data and "ensure all female
Marines are given the best opportunity to succeed."
female Marines are not succeeding. Fifty-five percent of female recruits
tested at the end of boot camp were doing fewer than three pullups;
only 1 percent of male recruits failed the test.
pullups is already the minimum required for all male Marines. Now the
Marine Corps has postponed the plan, and that's raising questions about
whether women have the physical strength to handle ground combat, which
they'll be allowed to do beginning in 2016.
would not talk to NPR on tape. They said they delayed the pullup
requirement to avoid losing not only recruits but also current female
Marines who can't pass the test.
The Marine Corps has been
using it to test upper body strength for men for more than 40 years. And
that upper body strength, they say, is necessary to serve in ground
combat: to pull yourself out of a canal in Afghanistan, to climb over a
mud wall, to carry an ammunition box.
Setting A Tougher Standard
For years, female Marines have had to meet a different standard —
an exercise called the "flexed arm hang" (holding one's chin above the
pullup bar for at least 15 seconds).
But beginning in 2016,
women in the Marine Corps and Army will be allowed to serve in infantry,
armor and artillery units. And they'll need to be strong enough to
climb those mud walls and carry ammunition.
Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, says the delay shows that women just can't meet the same standards.
women, in spite of all the training and all the best intentions, are
not going to be the equal of young men in terms of upper body strength,"
Maginnis says. "You've got to have a lot of upper body strength to lift
the stuff. Been there, done that."
Maginnis just wrote a book called Deadly Consequences: How Cowards are Pushing Women into Combat. He says the issue has more to do with politics than protecting the nation.
A Former Marine Says It's Possible
However, Greg Jacob, a former Marine, says women can build the strength they need for pullups, and he has seen it done.
served as a Marine infantry officer in the Balkans and Africa, and now
he works for the Service Women's Action Network, a group that advocates
for military women. When he was a Marine trainer in North Carolina, he
required his female instructors to knock out pullups just like the guys.
first, a lot of women weren't able to do it," Jacob says. "They were
able to do one, some were able to do two, but what happened was by
having that standard and enforcing that standard, it made my Marines, it
made the troops go to the gym and train to that standard."
Within six months, all of the women in his company were doing eight to 12 pullups, he says.
says the Marine Corps must do a better job of training women to reach
the same standard as men. A small number of female Marines already have
made it: So far, 13 women have passed advanced combat training. One of
the requirements is three pullups.
"It's a squad-sized unit
that's ready to go, and they're not sending them to their infantry unit
simply because they're women," Jacob says.
Some Marine officers privately say only a handful of Marine women will show interest in combat or be able to pass the course.
Corps Report TV anchor Lance Cpl. Ally Beiswanger wants to see if she
can get over the first physical hurdle and do those pullups.
She admitted to her audience that she could only do one pullup last year.
"Now I'm up to eight, so I'm taking advantage of the extra time to complete my goal of 12 pullups," she said on the show.
And what about the larger goal of women in ground combat? That's still two years away.