A more diverse Marine Corps will be a stronger Marine Corps, the U.S. Navy’s top official told Marines on Thursday.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has been at the center of the debate about women in combat. He pushed back against a Marines’ study last year that said women performed worse than men in combat roles and supported gender-integrated boot camp and more gender-neutral job titles and uniforms.
At a packed Lasseter Theater on Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Mabus said those who meet the same set of standards should be able to do the same jobs.
“Stuff like gender and color and who you love shouldn’t matter,” said Mabus, the former Democratic governor of Mississippi and the longest to lead the Navy in his position since World War I.
Mabus, appointed by President Barack Obama in 2009, told a congressional panel this week he will step down within a year. He offered no date for his departure Thursday, saying only that he was a political appointee and the news shouldn’t be a surprise.
He addressed a number of issues, including questions about the Marines’ evolving tattoo policy, Navy spending, and maternity and paternity leave for service members.
His comments on women in fighting roles proved the most lively. At the town-hall style talk, Mabus sparred with retired Col. Pat Garrett, who told Mabus a woman could have not fought alongside Garrett in Vietnam.
A 110-pound woman couldn’t pull a 200-pound man from the battlefield, Garrett told Mabus.
“She’s going to get killed,” said Garrett, who also questioned what women would do in war if they were without access to showers and bathrooms for extended time. “We’re going to have to buy a lot more body bags because of this decision.”
The woman in Garrett’s example would not have met fighting standards and not many can, Mabus said, but the ones who do shouldn’t be kept from combat roles.
Mabus likened Garrett’s argument to the debate over African-Americans enlisting in the Marines during the 1940s.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller doesn’t agree with Mabus’ position on women in combat, the secretary noted. Past commandants didn’t agree with lifting the ban on openly gay service members or allowing African-Americans to enlist, he noted.
But in 10 years, people will wonder why this was an issue, Mabus told The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet after his talk.
“A more diverse force is a stronger force,” Mabus told the Marines, “because of diversity of thought.”
A more diverse force is a stronger force.
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, speaking at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort
Mabus answered questions on a number of other topics.
▪ On the updated Marine Corps tattoo policy, which is expected to be more flexible: “You’re Marines. You’re sailors — there are going to be standards. But they’re going to be more relaxed.”
▪ On whether there are any plans to extend paternity leave, Mabus noted that law allows 10 days. Paternity and adoptive leave should both be extended, he said.
▪ On safety measures in the wake of four Marines and a sailor being shot and killed last year in Chattanooga, Tenn., Mabus said more security guards are in place throughout the country and that recruiting stations, support centers and bases are being hardened. “We’re never going to make everybody 100 percent safe, but we can take some measures,” Mabus said, citing more thorough background checks.
In January, Mabus told the Marines to develop a plan for male and female Marine recruits to train together. The request angered Neller, the Associated Press reported.
Mabus has since backed off of the boot camp requirement. He visited Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on Wednesday before visiting the air base, watching recruits and meeting with leaders.
Neller has made a convincing case for men and women to continue training separately, Mabus said Wednesday. Female recruits need women around them as role models, Mabus added, noting that men and women train together after boot camp.
But he said he believes the transition to a completely gender-integrated process will continue.
“I’m absolutely convinced that, a decade from now, looking back, people will say ‘What was the big deal?’ ” Mabus said. “The same way it was with racial integration, the same way it has been with ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ ”