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Opinion March 2013

I Love Women, But...

By Jim Cotsana

During my long career with the federal government, I worked with, for, and supervised many extremely talented and competent women with extraordinary leadership skills. I firmly believe they should be given the opportunity to prove themselves alongside their male counterparts regardless of the endeavor.

Very recently, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced he will allow women, for the first time, to serve in the infantry and commando units. Since this announcement, there has been a great deal of debate raising issues such as privacy and hygiene on the front lines, strength, stamina, endurance, etc. This groundbreaking move could open thousands of frontline positions and could see women in Special Forces units. I have no problem with this if, and it’s a BIG IF, the standards for successful completion of ALL the requirements are not in the least bit lowered.

Two female lieutenants volunteered for the 26 week Marine Corps’ Infantry Officers Course (The Basic School) at Quantico, Virginia. The first woman did not finish the combat endurance test at the beginning of the course and, if the media reports are correct, this occurred on the very first day. I must also add that 26 of the 107 male Marines failed this endurance test as well which is not surprising. The second woman could not complete two required training events “due to some medical reasons.”

In 1970, I was accepted to the USMC Officers Candidate School and completed the 12- week course before getting commissioned (your typical “90 day wonder”). Even during this course, which is primarily physical training along very basic and elementary military knowledge and protocol, a number of men still washed out. Those of us who attended OCS will never forget the infamous and extremely grueling “Hill Trail” march which separated the men from the boys. I suspect we all wanted to quit but most of us refused to give up.

The 26 weeks at The Basic School is where we got down to business learning the leadership skills and tactics we would need to keep us and the Marines we would ultimately be responsible for alive. Even though we were now newly minted officers and would be in charge, the smart ones, and I include myself here, understood the need to listen very carefully to the experienced wartime NCOs and Staff NCOs and learn: they ”had been there and done that.”

During my time in OCS and The Basic School, the ones that washed out of infantry training I would put in two categories. The first group was those who did not have physical and leadership skills required and, unfortunately, never would. The second group I would classify as very physical in the sense they were the ones with no necks along with arms and legs like tree trunks.

They could walk through a brick wall but then had no gas left; they lacked the endurance and stamina required to continue. Regardless of the obstacles faced, a Marine infantry officer had to continue and lead the way.

If women successfully complete the entire training syllabus, at the same level as their male counterparts, then more power to them. The privacy, modesty, and hygiene issues that have been bandied about that will necessarily come up on the front lines can be overcome. It was not pretty in an all-male unit, but they proved this is where they wanted to be so these issues will need to be dealt with and set aside.

During my long career with the federal government, I worked with, for, and supervised many extremely talented and competent women with extraordinary leadership skills. I firmly believe they should be given the opportunity to prove themselves alongside their male counterparts regardless of the endeavor. I love women, and consider myself very anti-misogynistic. But they must compete at the same level as men. This is paramount in order for them to earn the trust and respect of not only their fellow officers, but more importantly, the Marines (male and female) they will lead.

Go for it and GOOD LUCK (and I mean it)!

 

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