First female Marines officer makes history

A man's world: The Marines Corps is the most male-dominated part of the military. © Getty

Should the military recruit more women? The US Marine Corps has just appointed its first ever female officer, after she completed 13 weeks of gruelling training to become a lieutenant.

Joan of Arc led an army to save the French city of Orléans from an English siege in 1429. Grace O’Malley’s pirate fleet dominated the Irish Sea during the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Nakano Takeko formed a combat unit to fight against the Imperial Japanese Army.

And now an American soldier has joined the ranks of these pioneering women by becoming the first female officer in the US Marine Corps.

Officer training is tough. Marines are made to carry packs equivalent to their own body weight, gassed without wearing gas masks and deprived of sleep. On average, 10% fail on the first day.

The lieutenant’s success comes nearly two years after President Obama's decision in December 2015 to open up all combat roles to women. Around 15% of active duty troops in the USA are female, compared with 10.2% in the UK.

One member of Norway’s elite Jegertroppen, an all-female special forces unit, thinks that women can bring a different approach to the military. “Women think outside the box,” she said. “Men just do what they are supposed to do.”

What’s more, it is easier for women to gain access to private spaces and interact with women to gather information. Men are often limited by local customs in conflict zones which enforce gender separation.

Yet former British Army Reserves officer Kate Medina fears that capturing female soldiers will be of particular interest to enemy troops. Are we really ready for our daughters to be “raped, tortured and decapitated?” asked Medina last year.

A 2012 study by think tank CNA showed that 76.5% of male US marines in combat units were opposed to women in the same role. They expressed concerns that female soldiers would not integrate into the camaraderie of military culture.

But that was in 2012. Now, as former marine captain Teresa Fazio points out in The New York Times: “None of the infantrymen had ever seen female marines meeting the same physical standards as them. Now they have.”

The debate continues: should more women serve in the military?

Fighting talk

“It is time to open up our views on what women can do,” say some. This marine and the Jegertroppen prove that women are capable of performing the same roles as men. What’s more, female troops could help armies gather vital intelligence, which could end up saving lives. The year is 2017: it is ridiculous that women are still barred entry to some jobs.

“Enough is enough,” reply others. The fact is that women are physically weaker than men. This puts them at huge risk when fighting on the front line against enemy male soldiers. Governments have pandered to calls to treat women and men in exactly the same way, but that is irresponsible when it comes to life or death situations.

You Decide

  1. Does “gender equality” mean that men and women should be treated exactly the same?
  2. Ten countries around the world still require their citizens to do “national service” in the military. Is this right?

Activities

  1. The US marine officer training is one of the toughest in the world. Life as a marine is not exactly a walk in the park either. How would you convince someone to do it? Write an advert for a job website of no more than 100 words.
  2. Thousands of women throughout history have fought in battles. Research one and give a presentation of no more than five minutes to the class.

Some People Say...

“Men and women: separate but equal.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
The training to become an officer in the US marines lasts 13 weeks. Out of the 131 recruits who began alongside the first successful female officer, only 88 graduated. Marine Corps commander General Robert Neller tweeted a picture of the woman, saying that he was "proud of this officer and her fellow leaders".
What do we not know?
The new lieutenant will soon be joining her 40-strong platoon. We do not yet know whether they will respect her as their commander. The marines’ reputation for gender equality suffered when it emerged that a Facebook group called “Marines United” was circulating pornographic images of female marines.

Word Watch

Combat unit
A military unit whose training and equipment are designed to ensure it is battle-ready, or fit for for combat (ie, fighting).
Jegertroppen
The Norwegian government set up the world’s first all-female special forces unit in 2014. The recruits have to complete a series of mental and physical challenges, including a nine-mile march in full kit (with a 22kg backpack and a weapon) in under two hours and 15 minutes.
Last year
David Cameron took the decision to lift the ban on female soldiers fighting in close combat units in 2016.
Camaraderie
It is crucial that soldiers form strong bonds so that they are an effective unit in a war zone, according to Colonel Richard Kemp, the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.
2012
The US Marine Corps opened the officer training course to women for a three year trial. None of the 32 women who started the course between 2012 and 2015 completed it.
Physically weaker
The average woman has a third less body strength than a man.

Subjects

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