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Col. Robin Gallant, commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico, addresses more than 50 Marines about the history and future of women’s equality in the Marine Corps on Monday. The battalion celebrated Women’s Equality Day by hosting the Women’s Mentorship Golf Tournament at the Medal of Honor Golf Course.

Photo by Ameesha Felton

Women’s Equality Day reflects Marine Corps progress

27 Aug 2013 | Ameesha Felton

During this year alone, U.S. military leaders have made transforming, and at times, controversial strides toward women’s equality within their branches.

In January, former defense secretary, Leon Panetta, lifted the ban on women in combat roles and the Marine Corps announced that, like men, female Marines will have to perform pull-ups instead of the flexed arm hang.

As the nation honored Women’s Equality Day on Monday, a day commemorating the 19th Amendment that granted women a right to vote, it also offered a chance to reflect on the Corps’ recent steps toward fostering a more equal environment for women in uniform.

For Col. Robin Gallant, commanding officer of Headquarters and Service Battalion, Marine Corps Base Quantico, the evolution of women’s role in the Corps is a far cry from when she enlisted in 1979.

“The Corps was hugely different when I joined; we had to take makeup classes; we weren’t allowed to shoot weapons and we had social tea sessions with our senior officers,” Gallant said. “Now, we pretty much do all of the same [training as men].”

The current Physical Fitness Test requires all Marines to perform a three-mile run and crunches, and soon, female Marines will add pull-ups by the beginning of next year. It’s a standard that narrows the gap between male and female Marines in training and on the field. Although some changes have been controversial, Gallant said

a coequal environment only strengthens a Marine and the Corps.

“In the words of Rudyard Kipling, ‘the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack,’” Gallant said in the Commanding Officer’s Equal Opportunity Policy statement. “Just like the wolf pack, our Marine Corps mission requires that we trust each other to work together toward common goals in order to bring our Corps to the next level.”

This is a belief that is shared by Gen. James Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps who said, “All in our Corps deserve an opportunity to achieve their full potential,” in his policy statement on equal opportunity.

With stricter physical training requirements and the new combat ruling, women now have an opportunity to reach their potential physically and professionally. The end of the direct combat exclusion rule opens around 237,000 positions, 184,000 of which are in combat arms professions throughout all branches of the U.S. Military, according to the Department of Defense.

As Marines are trained to adapt, Gunnery Sgt. Reginald Bradford, equal opportunity representative and assistant operations chief at H&SBn., said women in uniform are no different.

“I think five or 10 years down the line, the thinking of [changes in women’s roles and requirements within the military] will be a thing of the past,” Bradford said. “We’re all on the same team; we all have the same goal, as in mission accomplishment and taking care of our Marines, and it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.”

According to the Department of Defense website, military services have until May 15, 2014, to assess all occupational performance standards to make sure they are updated and gender-neutral. As for the Marine Corps, female Marines have until Jan. 1 to prepare for the PFT pull-up requirement.

The change isn’t merely to level the playing field, but to allow the most capable service member, regardless of gender, carry out the mission. Though Gallant admits there are some physiological differences between men and women, she believes defense leaders have the right outlook for the future.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction because diversity is hugely important in every way, shape

or form,” Gallant said. “When we discriminate against one person or one group of people whether because

of race, age, nationality, gender or religion, we have weakened the institution as a whole by making it decay from within.”

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico