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Congressman Reacts To Marine Corps Report On Women In Combat


Today is the Pentagon's deadline for recommendations on what ground combat jobs should be opened to women. And a defense official has told NPR that the Marine Corps is seeking to bar female Marines from some ground combat jobs. That decision would be in keeping with the results of a year-long study the Marines conducted. It found mixed-gender units were less effective than all-male ones. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts is a member of the House Armed Services Committee. He's a Democratic congressman, also a Marine veteran who served in Iraq. Congressman Moulton, welcome to the program once again.

SETH MOULTON: It's great to be back. Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: The study that I mentioned would apparently be the basis of today's recommendation by the Marine Corps. You were briefed on the methodology of that study. Do you have any problems with it, or does it strike you as a legitimate and authoritative study of mixed-gender units in the Marine Corps?

MOULTON: So I was impressed by the approach that they have taken, but we really need to see the results of the study, which is why I've called on the secretary of defense to release the study so we can examine this in the most transparent way possible.

SIEGEL: What's your reaction to the secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, who would be the service secretary receiving the recommendation from the Marine Corps - his statements that he has problems with the methodology of the Marine Corps study.

MOULTON: Well, I understand he said that without even having read the study. So again, we all need to read the study. We need to see what the data say.

SIEGEL: But how do you regard the virtue of having women in those combat roles? That is, is that a value in itself that is positive, or should the course simply be gender-blind when it comes to who's serving where?

MOULTON: Well, I served four tours in Iraq, two on a small male-female team working with the Iraqi security forces and two in an all-male infantry combat unit. On the small team, we survived because we learned how to build cross-culture relationships and get the best intel on whom to trust. And my teammate Anne (ph), who's one of the best Marines I know, made us safer and more combat effective because she gave us access to half of the Iraqi population whom we otherwise weren't even allowed to talk to as males.

Now, in the front-line infantry platoon, we were breaking down doors, living in foxholes, facing mortar and machine gun fire head on. We survived by working hard to be the best-trained, most physically fit combat unit we could be. Now the Marine Corps is looking at whether women in the infantry will make our military more combat effective. And for any issue that affects our national security and the lives of young Americans on the front lines, we have to make an unbiased data-driven decision.

SIEGEL: Do you sympathize at all with those who say that this is a political end that's being forced upon the services and that it's not about combat effectiveness; it's first about becoming gender-neutral?

MOULTON: Well, I have heard that, and I think it's very important that we hold the line. You know, when I went down to Fort Benning to watch the first women go into Ranger School, that's something I heard consistently from all the women. They said don't change the standards. They don't ever want to be in a combat unit and have their fellow soldiers think they got there because they met lower standards than everybody else.

SIEGEL: They don't want to be seen as symbols. They want to be seen as regular Rangers, is what you're saying.

MOULTON: That's right. They want to have earned the Ranger tab like everybody else and know that they can rely on the soldiers next to them and that the soldiers next to them can rely on them.

SIEGEL: Congressman Moulton, thank you very much for talking with us today.

MOULTON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Representative Seth Moulton, Democrat of Massachusetts, Marine veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.