Marine retired Lt. Col. isn’t totally sold on boot camp integration

Kaylah Jackson
January 11, 2019 - 11:57 am

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Kate Busto/Released)

Lots of news regarding gender in the Marine Corps has been swirling across the internet as of late. The USMC recently announced they joined a female platoon with a male platoon, integrating trainees in boot camp for the first time—ever. Sgt. Tara-Lyn Baker just became the first female Marine to graduate from Winter Mountain Leaders Course, and if you happen to scroll through the USMC social media pages, there seems to be a celebratory tone of young women joining the ranks of the Marine Corps.

With all these announcements, it seems like the branch that boasts the smallest population of women is celebrating the accomplishments of its female Marines, but what does this mean long-term?

We talked to retired Lt. Col. Kate Germano, a Marine Corps veteran who spent the better part of her 20 years in uniform fighting gender bias within the Marine Corps.

Connecting Vets (CV): There’s been so much news regarding the Marine Corps recently with gender integration, like women graduating from challenging schools. How are you feeling hearing this from the USMC community?

Kate Germano (KG): “The graduation of Sgt. Baker from Bridgeport is an amazing accomplishment primarily because the fallback argument to prevent women from going into these ground combat roles has always been that somehow because women are not physically and mentally capable, the standards will be lowered. And she’s proven that more women will be able to complete that course to the same standards and training as the men and I think that’s a great achievement.”

Related: First female Marine graduates from rigorous Winter Mountain Leaders Course

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Kerstin Roberts)

CV: Talking about standards for male and female recruits in training has always been a point of discussion in the military community. Recently, a female platoon integrated with a male platoon in boot camp. Do you think this was a good decision?

KG: “I feel very positive about the changes to recruit training but there’s a lot of work that remains to be done because none of those changes have been codified in policy. The Marine Corps is saying this isn’t a permanent change, that it is temporary and so we want to make sure we continue to see progress in the area of making sure women and men are trained to the same standard and are integrated as early as possible in their careers.”

Related: Male and female Marine platoons train together in boot camp for the first time

CV: I think many people were overly excited hearing the news of “integration” but then upon finding out it wasn’t permanent, one could argue the Marine Corps is almost dipping its toes to see how this fares out.

KG: “I would be interested in learning about the Marine Corps approach. In other words, this seems to be a spur of the moment type of experiment as opposed to a well-thought-out campaign plan and that’s kind of disappointing to me. I do know that there are a lot of eyes on the service and there has also been in the past year a lot of evidence that indicates that integration really does improve trust and cohesion and I think that will make a difference for this class, in particular.”

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Joshua C. Benson/ Released)

CV: In your book, Fight Like A Girl: the truth behind how female Marines are trained, you recalled many times how you used studies to advocate against the system that separates male and female Marines in training. Do you think this class of trainees will be a marker that’s used in the future?

KG: “The interesting thing is the Marine Corps has 40 years of data from Parris Island to demonstrate the way that they are doing training by segregating women has not made them better Marines and more confident recruits so it will be interesting to see the Marine Corps take one platoon and use that as the justification for why training shouldn’t be integrated. My hope is that it’s a step in the right direction and we continue to see growth. My fear is the Marine Corps will use this one class to justify why segregation is important."

CV: In the meantime, these women are going through training if you take a cursory look at the USMC social media accounts and you see all kinds of posts and videos highlighting women in the service. Does this go against what happens in the ranks of the Marine Corps?

KG: “I think the challenge is that a lot of those videos are internally focused. In other words, the Marine Corps is really good at telling its story to people who are already in the Marine Corps and to people on the hill.

What it isn’t good at necessarily is figuring how to put a campaign in the works that reach women on the outside in high school: the sports team players, the smart team players, aggressive team players who are going to go to boot camp and be successful. The only way to change the recruiting practices and the quantity of women going to training is the outreach campaign…We need to hear the story if we're not in the Marine Corps, we need to know that there’s a place for us.

Related: Medal of Honor recipient on women in combat: ‘The standard is the standard”

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley)

CV: So, you’re saying the Marine Corps social media campaign isn’t actually for civilians.

KG: “Recently, my husband and I were driving around in our area and I happened to notice there was a bus, two trucks, and a billboard for the Marine Corps and every single one of them was men only. So, if I’m a 17-year-old woman and I’m trying to figure out what I want to do with my life and I’m not seeing a place for me in those billboards and I know nothing about the Marine Corps, the chances are, I’m not going to the recruiting station office and saying ‘Hey, I’m very interested in learning more.’”

CV: On the other half of that, looking at the comments on any Marine Corps social media post highlighting women is astonishing. There’s a consistent number of discriminatory and sexist comments. Is there a responsibility there, even on the internet, to police up these people?

KG: “At every opportunity, leadership needs to be on the forefront speaking publicly on why harassment and discrimination are wrong. I think the problem we have in the veteran world is the military has fallen back on ‘well they’re out, there is nothing we can do,' but there’s always something a leader can do. Sometimes that’s as simple as coming forward and putting out a statement and saying, ‘This isn’t acceptable. As veterans in this community, I expect more from you.' Put that type of pressure on. We're not seeing that in particular in the Marine Corps. There’s a strict line of demarcation between the veteran and civilian community."

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