US Marines delay women fitness test as half fail
WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half of female U.S. Marines in training can’t do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect with the new year. That has led the Marine Corps to delay the requirement that’s part of the process of integrating women into combat jobs.
The delay has led to sharp debate in the military over whether women have the physical strength for some military jobs, as service branches move toward opening thousands of combat roles to them in 2016.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos wants training officials to “continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed,” Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine spokeswoman, said Thursday.
Starting with the new year, all female Marines were supposed to be able to do at least three pullups on their annual physical fitness test and eight for a perfect score. The requirement was tested in 2013 on female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot in South Carolina, but only 45 percent of women met the minimum, Krebs said.
The belief is that pullups require the muscular strength necessary to perform common military tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing up a rope or lifting and carrying heavy munitions.
Officials felt there wasn’t a medical risk to putting the new standard into effect as planned across the service, but the risk of losing recruits and hurting retention of women already in the service was unacceptably high, Krebs said.
The decision to suspend the scheduled pull-up requirement “is a clear indication” that plans to move women into direct ground combat fighting teams will not work, said Elaine Donnelly, president of the conservative Center for Military Readiness and a critic of allowing women into infantry jobs.
“Awarding gender-normed scores so that women can succeed lowers standards for all,” Donnelly wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Women will suffer more injuries and resentment they do not deserve, and men will be less prepared for the demands of direct ground combat.”
The military services must open as many jobs to women as possible. If they decide to keep some closed, they must explain why.
Military leaders have said repeatedly that physical standards won’t be lowered to accommodate female applicants.
In fall 2012, only two female Marines volunteered for the 13-week infantry officers training course at Quantico, Virginia, and both failed to complete it.
But the following fall, three Marines became the first women to graduate from the Corps’ enlisted infantry training school in North Carolina. They completed the same test standards as the men in the course, which included a 12-mile (19-kilometer) march with an 80-pound (36-kilogram) pack.
Military testing for physical skill and stamina has changed over the decades with needs of the armed forces. Officials say the first recorded history of Marine Corps physical fitness tests, for example, was 1908 when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered that staff officers must ride horseback 90 miles (144 kilometers) and line officers walk 50 miles (80 kilometers) over a three-day period to pass.
The first test for women was started in 1969: A 120-yard (meter) shuttle run, vertical jump, knee pushups, 600-yard (meter) run/walk and situps.
Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.