As the Pentagon grapples with how to integrate women into all jobs in combat, the Marine Corps is considering something new: Boosting how heavy it allows women to be so that they are able to bulk up in the gym to carry heavy loads more easily.
Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, the service’s top officer, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that female Marines have told him recently that they are lifting weights to boost their strength. Doing so, however, has pushed some of them outside the service’s limits for how much they are allowed to weigh, he said.
“Being big, strong, having a certain body mass, gives you an advantage,” Neller testified. “One of the things I’ve heard as I’ve gone around and talked to female Marines is, ‘Hey, I’m out working out. I’m lifting weights. I’m getting bigger. And now I’m outside the height-and-weight standards. Are you going to change the height-and-weight standards?'”
In a brief interview afterward, Neller told reporters that he called for a review of male and female standards that will be completed by July 1 and assess a variety of related criteria, including the service’s height-and-weight standards and how it scores Marines on its two fitness tests. It’s important, Neller said, to make sure that fit Marines are not penalized.
“I think people are just bigger” than they used to be, he said. “And I think part of it is the exercise, whether it be CrossFit or weight-lifting or just general fitness. I think people in this country are just bigger, and I think fortunately we’ve got big, strong Marines.”
The comments came following Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision in December to open all jobs to women. He did so despite the Marine Corps lobbying to keep closed some physically demanding jobs, like machine gunner and reconnaissance man.
The service did so citing a nine-month study it carried out last year at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and Twentynine Palms, Calif., to assess how women perform when integrated into units that are typically all men. It found that, on average, women who participated were injured twice as often as men, less accurate with infantry weapons and not as good at removing wounded troops from the battlefield.
The newly opened jobs, like infantryman, regularly call for Marines to carry in excess of 100 pounds on their back. Other jobs, like tank crewman, require them to load rounds of ammunition or weapons that can weigh dozens of pounds each.
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