First and foremost, if you’ve spent more than a decade in service, you have a certain amount of street cred with me. Officer or enlisted, odds are very good that you have been around and at least seen the ramifications of good leadership, bad leadership, and the effects of combat. I’m not saying you’ve been to combat, as for some jobs, that’s less of a guarantee and more of a question of time and place. So, Col. Ellen Haring of the U.S. Army, for your experience, your higher education, and your service, you have a little leeway with me. I will thoroughly listen to your argument that the Marine Infantry Officer’s Course (IOC) asks too much in terms of humping weight, but you don’t have an open door to be illogical.
The military, especially the infantry, runs on cold, hard math. If a Marine can’t hack it in his current billet, he or she is relocated (fired). If a particular Marine is a better shot than their peers, he or she will go on to advanced marksmanship training, or a designated marksman course when it comes down the pike. It is a meritocracy in the strictest sense.
I found myself on the receiving end of that meritocracy when I wished to join a sniper platoon. For 96 hours I ran a lot, slept a little, ate a little, had little warmth, and carried a lot of weight. Twenty of us started, and three finished. Meritocracy in action, we were given a kind word by the battalion commander: “You guys are the hardest dicks out here today.” Of those three, one went on to sniper school and passed. It was not me. He was a good deal shorter than me and skinny, but could still carry the 90+ pound rucks necessary for missions.
That ruck rose up to 120 pounds from time to time when we had longer missions to conduct, requiring more supplies. I remember having to lie on my back and strap into it, then roll over and do a push-up to start getting up. Those weren’t the best days, but we did all right. When called for, we brought a SASR (Special Applications Scoped Rifle) along…broken down in a pack. That puts the weight right around 150 pounds, on uneven terrain—not the gravel roads taken during IOC.
Some time later, I was ‘relocated’ to a line platoon. I was thrilled to find that I carried an M16. The luxury of not carrying a SAW like I had in SOI (School of Infantry) was a bonus. But I was amazed at how I ended up carrying extra gear: batteries, radios, odds and ends, mortar rounds, a SAW or M240b every now and then. Occasionally when someone fell out, I carried their weapon and pack (60-70 pound pack doubled). I was taxed on those days. But I’m tall. I’m built for humping gear 12-25 miles. I would have been derelict in my duty if I hadn’t stepped up and volunteered to carry the extra gear.
I did this under two different lieutenants. One seemingly lost interest in fitness or didn’t particularly care how his men viewed him. He’d tell me “good job” after a hump, but carried no extra gear himself. Our next lieutenant would walk to the back of the formation to find me with what was often termed a “fire team of one” load. He would check on me. If I had more than one weapon, he took one. If I had more than one pack, he’d trade off with me until someone else fell out and we both humped double the gear, full time.
Back to your claims that 153 pounds for nine miles is unrealistic, that no infantry platoon at Camp Pendleton could possibly live up to it: You may be right. Some Marines might not be up to the task, facing the 15-plus miles that we are used to in Pendleton hills bordering on mountains. For 9.3 miles in the gentle rolling knolls of Quantico, the odds are in our favor. Additionally, I can promise you that every recon and sniper platoon aboard Camp Pendleton would meet the standard to a man. Now why might the officers be held to that standard straight out of the gate? Take my two lieutenants. Now say that they didn’t have to be up to the standard. Say they could graduate by barely getting through with an average 70-pound ruck. What would happen to their ability to lead if they got to the fleet and fell out on a heavily loaded hump in front of their men? Now ask what would happen in combat?
These are things to consider. These are things that many among us have considered as it is our chosen profession. Some of us were relieved to hear you say that upholding the standard was important.
Nobody ever asked for special considerations or reduced standards; just let us compete at the standards as they exist.”
But now things don’t look so easy after a $36 million integrated task force showed decreased performance for squads with females attached, and not a single female officer—handpicked to have the best chance—have made it through IOC.
So is the fallback for the female colonel who filed the lawsuit that started all of this going to be the much-maligned Dempsey Rule? “If it’s too hard for women, then it’s probably too hard.”
Featured image courtesy of USA Today