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Military closing gender gap in fitness requirements

January 28, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ When the drill sergeant yells, ``Drop and give me 20!″ women as well as men are expected to respond. But in most of the services women do not have to do as many.

Updated fitness requirements have closed the gender gap, though not all the way.

Gone are the days when female Marines ran 1.5 miles while their male counterparts ran twice as far. As of this month, all Marines run three miles. Women can run a slightly slower time and still rate a perfect score.

Before the new rules took effect, women in the Marine Corps had to do 50 sit-ups in two minutes as part of their standard fitness test. Now they do 80 as do the men.

``I’m glad we’re getting more on equal terms. It’s long overdue,″ said Gunnery Sgt. Karen Imhoff, an 18-year veteran of the Corps. ``The transition wasn’t difficult at all because I’d always done more than what the minimum requirements were for us.″

The Army likewise has closed the gap on sit-ups, and all soldiers run two miles. Female soldiers, however, can run a slower time and can do fewer push-ups than the men and still pass. The Navy’s rules are similar. The Air Force administers a stationary cycle stress test, with some differences in severity based on gender.

At a time when women make up only 13.2 percent of the active-duty force _ up slightly from 11 percent in 1990 _ and recruiters encounter difficulty attracting women into the military, officers explain the equalized fitness rules as a morale booster.

Marine Corps Gen. Charles Krulak, the service’s top officer, started the move toward equalized fitness rules two years ago.

``What signal do we send to the Corps when at the end of a mile and a half, all the women drop off to the side and the men keep running?″ Krulak said.

Not everyone is satisfied with the results.

When Army drill sergeants at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., were accused of widespread consentual and nonconsentual sex with subordinates, James Webb, former Navy secretary and a Marine twice wounded in Vietnam, took a different view. He suggested the problem may stem from forcing young men and women together in units that depend on equality in discipline, recognition and exposure to danger.

``When double standards are introduced in matters of physical training and performance, they work against these very criteria,″ Webb wrote.

Three female Marine sergeants said in an interview that grumbling from men about lighter fitness requirements for women occurs only when women do only the bare minimum of what is required. In most cases, they say, women do more.

``Women would always try to keep up with the men in the run,″ said Gunnery Sgt. Melissa Crane. ``Then when we would finish the run we would always try to do as many sit-ups.″

The Marines still make a concession on upper body strength, recognizing basic physiological differences between the male and female body. Thus women do a ``flexed arm hang″ _ hanging from an overhead bar with arms bent _ while the men do between three and 20 pull-ups. Failure in any of the three exercise categories _ running, sit-ups and pull-ups _ means a failing overall grade.

``It’s a burner,″ said Maj. Leon Pappa, head of ground training at the U.S. Marine Corps base at Quantico, Va. ``We no longer have a male or female sit-up. We have a Marine Corps sit-up test. The run is the same.″

Combat and specialty training, as opposed to fitness testing, is the same regardless of gender.

In the Army, a male soldier in the 17-21 age group must do between 42 and 82 push-ups, 52 and 92 sit-ups, and run two miles in no more than 15:54. A female in the same age group must do between 18 and 58 push-ups, 50 and 90 sit-ups, and the two-mile run in at no more than 18:54.

``There are physiological differences that are taken into account. Women will never be able to do as many push-ups as males do,″ said Frank Palkoska, chief of doctrine at the Army physical fitness center at Fort Benning, Ga.

On the other hand, the Army has toughened the sit-up requirements for women after its fitness experts concluded that the typically lighter upper body weight of women made this exercise easier for them than for men.

The problem the Army notices is not an inability of women to pass fitness tests but poor overall results for all its young recruits.

``They have the highest failure rate,″ Palkoska said of the youngest soldiers. Societal changes, the growing ranks of couch potatoes, are contributing factors. ``Most have never had the opportunity to go out and basically sweat. They’ve never run more than a quarter mile in their life.″

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