Navy Secretary Ray Mabus took to the Washington Post this weekend to attack the use of averages as a justification for excluding women from combat roles.
First, Mabus emphasized that he makes decisions based on their positive contribution to combat effectiveness, and second, he noted that the real debate should be about standards, rather than gender, when it comes to serving in combat roles which have traditionally excluded women.
In August, the Marine Corps released a partial summary of results from the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force. The report showed that all-male units outperformed mixed units on 69 percent of combat tasks. But according to Mabus, the study is flawed because it relies on averages, rather than a close analysis of individual performance.
“Averages have no relevance to the abilities and performance of individual Marines,” Mabus noted.
Unlike the other services, the Marine Corps intends to keep some combat roles closed to women, an intention Mabus claims does not meet the standards set by then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2013. The standards from 2013 require a compelling reason, with data in hand, why some roles should remain closed. The burden of proof is on the service to demonstrate the need for all-male units, else the long-standing tradition of all-male combat roles will automatically expire.
David French, a writer for National Review, argued Monday that Mabus’ take on averages is fanciful because it’s impossible to adequately take individual performance into consideration in every conceivable instance due to limits of time and resources.
“When dealing with matters of scale, averages are incredibly relevant,” French wrote. “Is it rational to create teams with the full knowledge that key members are between two and six times more likely to be injured? Is Mabus also Nostradamus, capable of discerning which women can thrive not only in training but also in the infinitely more demanding and enduring crucible of combat?”
Despite the focus on gender-neutral standards, Navy commander Brian Losey recently admitted that allowing women into combat roles will result in downward pressure on standards. Losey, however, is confident that the pressure will not succeed. (RELATED: Admiral: SEALs Should Open Up To Women, But There Will Be Pressure To Lower Standards)
Oct. 1 is the deadline for submitting exemptions. January 1 is when Defense Secretary Ash Carter will issue a final determination.
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