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Navy Secretary Believes Combat Positions Should Be Open To Qualified Women


The Marines, of course, are under the authority of the Navy, which means that Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, is their boss. As recently as last week, well before the findings of this study were public, he flatly was saying that combat positions should be open to women who meet grueling standards. The way Mabus sees it, the military stands to benefit from an integrated force.


RAY MABUS: A more diverse force is a stronger force. A more diverse mindset makes you a stronger force. If you have the same outlook, if you have the same mindset, you don't get much innovation.

INSKEEP: Sounds great, but now there's this study. So our own David Greene called up Secretary Mabus, who says he has problems with the study.

MABUS: It started out with a fairly large component of the men thinking this is not a good idea and women will never be able to do this. When you start out with that mindset you're almost presupposing the outcome.


Are you saying this was a flawed study?

MABUS: I'm saying that I think that when you call it empirical standards, that it depends on what you put in. And if you look at some of the analysis - some of the outside analysis of this - from Center for Naval Analyses, they've looked at these and they said there are ways to mitigate this so you can have the same combat effectiveness, the same lethality, which is crucial.

GREENE: Well, what's a specific? I mean, what is a specific idea you might have that would ensure that a mixed-gender unit would have the same level of combat effectiveness?

MABUS: Well, for example, part of the study said women tend to not be able to carry as heavy a load for as long. But there were women that went through the study that could. And part of the study said we're afraid because women get injured more frequently, that over time, women will break down more, that you'll begin to lose your combat effectiveness over time. That was not shown in this study. That was an extrapolation based on injury rates. I'm not sure that's right. But it is something that you can set a standard for. But to make that sort of generalization - there were individual women who could meet this standard.

GREENE: Well, so if the standards for this experiment didn't satisfy you are you going to reconsider what it takes, what the standards are for men and women to be in these combat roles?

MABUS: Well, I think that the one thing this experiment did show is here's what it takes, here's what it takes to be in the infantry, here's what it takes to be in the artillery, here's what it takes to be in armor, and there are these standards now. In the past, we've sent men into the infantry that couldn't meet the standards. They were assumed to be able to meet them. There weren't any standards. They would just assume, since they'd been through basic training, they must be able to meet them.

GREENE: But let me just make sure to clarify on what you've said here because, you know, to get into these units that were in this experiment, I mean, there was a very bare minimum of standards that women had to do, you know, a certain number of pullups. Are you suggesting that one thing you learned from this is that the standards for a lot of these combat roles we're talking about - for everyone -

need to be higher?

MABUS: No, they need to be set, which they have been now, not necessarily higher. I mean, in terms of the women that volunteered, probably should've been a higher bar to cross to get into the experiment. But in terms of the overall population, men or women, there were simply no standards.

GREENE: Well, what is an example of a standard that has now been set that was not there in the past?

MABUS: Well, for artillery, in terms of the rounds you have to lift, in terms of the numbers you have to do, in terms of the firing rates you have to maintain. In terms of armor, it's the same thing with rounds in a tank. None of those existed before. You would just say, here you go. You're a - you know, you're an artillery man.

GREENE: So you're basically saying if men and women meet these standards that have now been set, a lot of sort of the gaps in gender that we saw in the study will not exist, I mean, that everyone will be forced to be at a higher level to get into these roles? And you're not worried that these gender gaps will exist?

MABUS: I think that everybody will have to be at the same level. They will have to meet these standards that have now been set that simply didn't exist before. Once you do that, there shouldn't be these gaps.

GREENE: Secretary Mabus, thank you so much for the time. We really appreciate it. It was really nice talking to you.

MABUS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Ray Mabus, secretary of the Navy, talking with our own David Greene. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.