By Nick Layon
On November 27, 2012, the Marine Corps outlined a program that would effectively change the flexed arm hang portion of the female Marine physical fitness test (PFT) to pull ups. This change comes amidst much fanfare after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the Marine Corps to address potential changes within front line companies, officially allowing woman to serve in combat units. In fact, just recently, several female Marines were allowed to participate in the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, although all of those women participating dropped out.
So why all of the hullabaloo about female Marines in combat units as well as the changes to their PFT standards ? First of all, let me be clear: I personally support our Marine Corps taking and training the best candidates our country has to offer – male, female, gay, straight. But, the female Marines have, for some time, been held to a different standard than their male counterparts in PFT.
Women in the same age group as men can run a slower time then male Marines and still receive a comparable score: on the run portion of a PFT, a woman candidate may receive 100 points (maximum) for running 3 miles in 21 minutes, whereas a male candidate must run 3 miles in 18 minutes in order to receive the maximum of 100 points.
While everything about combat excellence cannot be conflated into the PFT, this lower PFT standard for women may lessen their experience and, in combat, could cost lives due to these different physical standards. Were the consequences of a poorly / differently physically conditioned Marine not so potentially dire, the double standard might be acceptable. However, considering female Marines have for some time now been serving in combat zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the famed “Lioness” program, the Marine Corps should take the final step holding female Marines to the same standard as their male counterparts.
For over 20 years male and female firefighters have battled fires and saved lives together. Until approximately ten years ago, there were two standards for the firefighter PFT ; this has since been eliminated. Prior to the unification of male and female PFT standards, there were complaints of double standards. While combat and firefighting are not precisely the same, the PFT parallel holds. We must scientifically determine what makes up the optimal PFT. Once determined, there must be one standard. To argue this is not to be anti-woman; quite the opposite.
Female Marines should be allowed the privilege to serve in a combat MOS; they must be held to the same standards as their male counterparts. A separate set of standards for female Marines effectively creates a second class Marine, and as an institution that holds itself to the highest standards across the board, the Marine Corps will serve the best interests of all Marines, as well as the Corps, by holding female Marines to the same standard as their male peers.