The recent relief of LtCol Kate Germano, CO of 4th RTBn at Parris Island, is an event that I have been following with some interest. Quite frankly, I don’t know quite what to make of it. I have largely refrained from commentary for that reason. But let me put forth some thoughts.
The announcement that she was relieved because she “created a toxic work environment” smacks of whining about hurt feelings and people being offended. The Depot Chief of Staff, Col Jeff Fultz, commented “She was telling them their male counterparts will never respect them if they don’t get good physical scores. You just don’t do that.” Actually, Colonel, you do. Marines who are physically marginal to substandard, regardless of gender, do not inspire the respect and confidence of seniors, peers, or juniors, especially when compared to those capable of leading by physical example. If that was the case, LtCol Germano was speaking an immutable truth of leadership.
However, there are also allegations that LtCol Germano disobeyed her chain of command, which is a serious matter. I can also imagine, having been at the periphery of zealous activism on the part of feminists, that she might have done and said things that she should not have, that indeed were abusive, and did undermine her boss’s authority. I happen to know Dan Haas, the Recruit Training Regimental Commander, having served with him in 10th Marines a number of years ago. And I think a lot of his talent and professionalism. What seems very possible is that LtCol Germano said some magic words to or about the wrong person about a subject she was passionate about, likely more than once, and she got fired for it. Her complaints, however, deserve examination in whole and in part. Other than what she has written publicly, I know little about her personal views or why she holds them.
On the whole, however, LtCol Germano is witnessing the head-on collision between two mutually exclusive interests. The advocacy for women, the accommodation made for them, the emphasis put on their importance, their empowerment to destroy careers and lives of male service members with an unfounded accusation, have caused women to serve in an environment where they are often not held to task or standard, and where they are not expected to perform. No amount of feminist outrage can take the truth from that statement. Women are seen, and not unreasonably, as dangerous to one’s career. Hell hath no fury like a woman with an EEO complaint. What LtCol Germano identifies is the predictable residue of favoritism.
That favoritism is also the cause of not a little resentment among male service members. While they are TOLD that women are their equal at all things military (and disagreement a punishable offense, regardless of evidence to the contrary), what they really see is the dichotomy where their female comrade is portrayed as a helpless victim of unwanted sexual advances by evil men, while somehow at the same time being a fearsome she-warrior of the Ziva David variety, kicking male ass at every turn. The truth was quite a bit different, as you can imagine. As an example, when I was with 2nd SRIG in 1993-94, it was a staple of every quarterly conditioning hike to have to take note of the gender of the hike drops. These were pretty mild affairs, as we carried a mere basic load for about 12 miles, and there are virtually no hills at Camp Lejeune. From a unit of about 400 Marines (HQBn), it was not uncommon to have 30 hike drops, which would almost inevitably include every female in the battalion, of which there were between 24 and 28. Hike after hike, not a single female could complete the event. We were warned, however, that mentioning that fact was tantamount to sexual harassment, and we would be held accountable. Once, one of the female Marines from 2nd UAV Company actually made the hike, and the SRIG SgtMaj wanted her to get special recognition. If Kate Germano is looking for causes of low expectations, the climate created that would allow such a thing is a great place to start.
In detail, however, LtCol Germano’s assertions also bear some examination. I spent three years on the Drill Field at Parris Island, graduating eleven cycles, with time thrown in as OIC of Academics and Close Combat. My position was as a series and company commander, significantly closer to the training than Kate Germano was likely to be on a daily basis. Though I left Parris Island before LtCol Germano was commissioned (gaaah!), some things likely still haven’t changed. The problems she identifies regarding female marksmanship and physical fitness are not new.
First, marksmanship. Marines, as we know, love our marksmanship. Every Marine a rifleman, even the females. Female recruits struggle to qualify at the same rate as males. We explored that answer in detail some years ago, and what we found had little to do with expectations or instruction or emphasis. It was the raw material. Primary Marksmanship Instructors (PMIs), coaches, Drill Instructors, Series Officers, and Range Officers all came to the same conclusion, that relative to their male counterparts, far fewer female recruits had any experience handling or firing weapons. When the PMIs would ask a recruit platoon how many had ever fired a rifle before, about a third of the male hands would go up. On the female side, sometimes none would. The entire concept, language, handling, and operation of the service rifle was completely foreign. The amount of new information they have to process in comparison to their male counterparts is far greater over the same period of instruction. (Anecdotally, the females who had fired a weapon tended to do far better than those who’d never handled one before.) One proposal was to lengthen basic training for females by a week to give them an extra “grass week” to work on fundamentals, but with the requirements of service and cost, this was an impossibility. While LtCol Germano may be able to work some significant improvement into female rifle scores, an effort which I loudly applaud, I believe it is the starting point of female versus male recruits that more than anything determines qualification results.
(I hate to bring this up, but LtCol Germano wears two Marksman badges, the lowest classification of qual for rifle and pistol. What is true of physical fitness is also true of weapons proficiency. Practicing what you preach and shooting expert would help a great deal with credibility…)
In the physical realm, we experimented back in the late 80s/early 90s with increasing female running and hiking requirements to approximate male standards. What we wound up doing was injuring female recruits in large numbers. Here is where Mother Nature was most unfair. The injuries to the female recruits were far more serious than to their male counterparts. Males would suffer stress fractures in their shins, below the knee. Painful, for sure, but when healed, not debilitating. Female recruits would suffer their stress fractures in the femur and pelvis. Often those injuries did permanent damage. We were breaking female recruits at an alarming rate, so the experiment was stopped. I don’t know if the prevalence of girls and young women on the sports field will eventually have some impact on the disparity, but I would caution that we would continue to break females at an unacceptably high rate, with serious injuries, by implementing male standards for female recruits.
I didn’t see where LtCol Germano advocated for integration of male and female platoons. If she did, I missed it. I hope she does not. Such would be a catastrophe, destroying the character of both male and female training. The reasons are legion, and I will not explore them here. Perhaps in another post. But her lament about being “away from male training” doesn’t really hold water. When I was at Parris Island, Third Recruit Training Battalion was farther from the main parade deck than Fourth Recruit Training Battalion was/is. “Where nobody can hear your pleas for mercy”, as one of my favorite Senior Drill Instructors was fond of saying. 4th Bn should embrace being “away from the flagpole”, as we did out in the woods with 3rd Bn.
So, I cannot get a feel whether I find LtCol Germano’s relief justified. I can empathize with and agree with some of her assertions. I can applaud her zeal in trying to ensure her Marines are trained to the sharpest edge. I also cannot tell whether I would agree with her in a sit-down regarding the training and leadership of Marines. She does not come across as a girl-power feminist whose cause comes before Corps. But again, I don’t know. I would be disappointed if she were. What I do surmise is that her relief had little to do with “integration of women in the Marine Corps”, as both sides of the discussion seem to want to make it.
But what we definitely saw was the head-on collision between special treatment and high expectations. They are mutually exclusive.