From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Integrity Surrender For The U.S. Marines”

Frequent commenter Steve (not to be confused with Steve-O-in-NJ or Steve Withspoon, also veteran combatants here) asked my opinion about an article titled “Marines’ Obsession with Pull-Ups May Be Hurting the Corps, Study Finds.”

To begin with, it’s a  misleading headline. The real subject of the piece, in Military.com, is the alleged hostility being fostered toward female recruits because of their disparate and less demanding physical requirements, including pull-ups. I was sure that I had written about the Marine pull-up controversy before, and sure enough I had, in 2013, (My, how time flies.) Re-reading it now, I felt that the Ethics Alarms post was relevant background to evaluating the article, which includes this…

The idea that female Marines can do fewer pull-ups than their male counterparts and get an equal score “did not sit well” with men, researchers wrote. “Are [women] required to meet equal physical standards? No, it doesn’t take a scientist to study that,” one gunnery sergeant said. “They need to do this many pull-ups, and I need to do this many. Is that equal? No. Four and four is equal. 20 and 20 is equal. That’s equal. So either we’re equal, or we’re not.”

Somehow, the author spins the findings into a rationalization for allowing the unequal standards to continue, writing at the beginning of the article,

Marines are putting an “extreme emphasis” on the number of pull-ups leathernecks can do, a recently published internal study found. And that, some fear, could result in other important qualities that are vital to the Corps’ mission being overlooked. Participants in a study on Marine Corps culture were often focused on pull-ups as a best measure of a person’s value and worth, researchers found. Marines’ ability to lift their own body weight on a pull-up bar was “routinely what Marines referenced when discussing physical standards, a Marine’s value, and physical readiness,” the report’s authors wrote.

I hadn’t checked the name of the author until after I read the article and was struck by how the title and first paragraphs attempted to ignore the ethics issue involved. Guess the writer’s gender. Yup, you’re right.

Here was my article in 2013, (and I wouldn’t change a word); I’ll have some final comments at the end:

Integrity Surrender For The U.S. Marines

Among the core values of the U.S. Marine Corps is Honor:

“Honor guides Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior; to never lie cheat or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; respect human dignity; and respect others. The quality of maturity, dedication, trust and dependability commit Marines to act responsibly; to be accountable for their actions; to fulfill their obligations; and to hold others accountable for their actions. “

According to NPR, the USMC has quietly postponed the requirement for all its female recruits to be able to do three pull-ups. The standard, which was to go into effect on January 1, 2014 for all women in the Marines, just as it has long been the upper-body strength requirement for men, has put back at least a year for “further study.” Marine women have not yet had to meet the same upper-body strength test as males because they were not permitted onto the battlefield. Beginning in 2016,  in response to the calls of feminists and women’s rights advocates, females in the Marine Corps and Army will be able, well, allowed, to serve in infantry, armor and artillery units, where the lack of sufficient physical ability can cost lives and result in military failure.

Why is the standard being changed? Simple: so far, women have not been able to make the grade. Only 45 % of female recruits tested at the end of boot camp were able to complete three pull-ups; 99 % of male recruits pass the test. Lance Cpl. Ally Beiswanger told NPR that the decision to postpone the pull-ups requirement had been made “ensure all female Marines are given the best opportunity to succeed.”

Is such a decision consistent with the an “uncompromising code of integrity”? No. Of course it isn’t. Integrity precludes double standards in any context. Integrity demands that the standards be the same for all recruits, that would-be Marines of any race, creed, age, size or gender than fail those standards ne deemed unfit to serve, and that no manipulations, postponements or alterations in the standards be made to help any particular Marine or class of Marine have “the best opportunity to succeed.” Indeed, any other course not only mocks the concept of integrity, it also undermines the Corps commitment to integrity at all.

This isn’t equality, or fairness, or responsibility, or consistency, or equity, justice, prudence, respect or common sense. It is pure politics.

And we all know how much integrity there is in politics.

From the USMC website:

Semper Fidelis distinguishes the Marine Corps bond from any other. It goes beyond teamwork—it is a brotherhood that can always be counted on. Latin for “always faithful,” Semper Fidelis became the Marine Corps motto in 1883. It guides Marines to remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps and to country, no matter what. Becoming a Marine is a transformation that cannot be undone, and Semper Fidelis is a permanent reminder of that. Once made, a Marine will forever live by the ethics and values of the Corps.

Right.

***

Having said all of that, twice, I should mention that pull-ups are a ridiculous exercise on which to base standards of fitness. There are pro football players who can’t do pull-ups. I know the cliche of being able to “pull your weight” is still current, but someone who can pull a body weighing 200 pounds up to a bar only twice is still not necessarily “less fit” than someone who can do 30 pull-ups with a 150 pound physique. My late father, who marched all over Europe in World War II and was fit enough to pull two GI’s out of submerged Jeep under fire, told me he never was able to do a pull-up in his life.

Still, standards are standards. What is weird about this controversy is that a fit woman should be able to do more pull-ups than the average male Marine, not fewer, because she weighs so much less.  Eva Clarke, an Australian,  set a record with 3,737 pull-ups.  – and snapped up the one hour (725) and 12 hour (2,740) records in the process. (The male record is still twice that,  the  7,600 reps performed by American John Orth.)

6 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Integrity Surrender For The U.S. Marines”

  1. Marines are putting an “extreme emphasis” on the number of pull-ups leathernecks can do, a recently published internal study found. And that, some fear, could result in other important qualities that are vital to the Corps’ mission being overlooked.

    I read this and laughed.

    Riddle me this, Military.com writer — Can you make even a superficial case that a Marine Corps without women is inferior to one with women at any level? I contend they cannot, and wouldn’t dare try. They just state it in a paragraph as an assumed fact by couching it as a “fear.”

    No fighting force where physical fitness is required for success is better by including members of inferior physical capability and no demonstrable compensating mental or leadership ability. I reject the idea that women, in general, are mentally superior to men, or inherently capable of any other quality that renders their presence in a combat unit a necessity. There may be exceptions, but I contend that they are likely to be so rare as to be negligible.

  2. Sorry, What? THREE pull-ups? Surely that’s a mistake? Only 99% of males can at the end of training? I’m 65, never been a physical fitness freak, and I can do THREE pull-ups!

    Do they have to do it whilst kitted out for battle and wearing a full pack. THAT I couldn’t begin to do!

  3. Wasn’t one of the rationales for allowing women into combat roles the claim that there weren’t enough male recruits who were physically fit enough for those jobs? If that’s true, then how are lower fitness standards for women a solution to that problem?

    If the fitness standards are too restrictive, and are chasing out candidates who are otherwise superior recruits (a dubious assertion at best), then why not lower the standards across the board? Wouldn’t that result in a better crop of recruits, since presumably both men and women wash out on the physical fitness requirements all the time, right?

    I mean, what harm could come from a front-line fighting force like the USMC dropping its standards and allowing people with less strength and endurance to become Marines? What could possibly go wrong?

  4. To be fair, this isn’t news to anyone in the USMC or those who pay attention to USMC culture. The professional brotherhood that USMC portrays itself as is closer to a semi united tribal confederacy. It’s very very much a model of false advertising. I can’t link to it directly but a quick summation of the top 10 comics from 2017 by the unofficial poet laureate of the Marine Corp, the Terminal Lance himself, Maximilian Uriarte. Search “top 10 comics terminal lance”.

    10 – the unprofessional sense of humor of the marine corp and military at large (you can shoot people and not be obsessed with drawing dicks in rocks, jet trails, or porta shitters)
    9 – the love and respect paid to Mattis, and maybe a bit of shade thrown at military planning
    8 – how the USMC’s tendency to screw you over can sometimes be hacked
    7 – the absolute idiocy of officer selection
    6 – commentary on how the news media sensationalizes current events
    5 – the unprofessional and careless behavior of many marines, and an indirect condemnation of the many vol-untold events that the USMC forces it’s members to participate in
    4 – criticizing both the divide between how the USMC portrays infantry life and how it actually is, and the poor behavior and adherence of state side barracks standards that Marines have
    3 – the true and deep inability of the USMC to do things in a timely manner (dont get me started on checking in weapons) and the adherence of upper command to tradition despite changing ground realities
    2 – how the careerist nature of senior enlisted ultimately produces selectively blind and predatory leaders
    1 – the artisinal quality of drill instructor degradation

    To say it briefly, the Marine Corps has a cyclical problem where poor leadership creates and sustains a culture of casual cruelty and callous disregard for the quality of life of the Marine lower enlisted. This in turn drives out much of the talent inherent in the Marine Corps and the only thing left to train as leaders for the next generation are those who are so motivated and excited to be in the Marine Corps that they don’t see the cultural problems as problems (motards, as they’re called), or those without the ability to succeed in the exterior economy’s free market meritocracy. To illustrate the problem we have two examples. Of the Fortune 500 companies, nearly 1/3 have former Marine CEOs and most of them were enlisted – this is clear evidence of brain drain. Moreover, the USMC has the absolute worst first term enlistment rate. Depending on the source (which for security reasons rarely discloses a hard number) the year to year reenlistment rate is between 14 and 33 percent with only a tiny fraction serving a full 20. From fanatical weeping-at-the-EGA baby Marine to burned out and dejected in less than four years.

    They lie through their teeth about equality and professional standards? I’d be more surprised if they didn’t.

  5. You should have brought this to the top. BLUF: To say it briefly, the Marine Corps has a cyclical problem where poor leadership creates and sustains a culture of casual cruelty and callous disregard for the quality of life of the Marine lower enlisted.

    I think any large organization goes through periods where discipline and adherence to standards get tested and evaluated, often through bad characters. There are always a million “I was fucked because XYZ or I was going to be a Marine but” excuses for failure, inability to adapt or sometimes were actually fucked over. You sound like an Air Force Officer with your “callous disregard for the quality of life of the Marine lower enlisted”. The argument and the anger is over the double standards and the artificial adjustment of female performance evaluations because of it. Physical capacity, endurance and maintaining such standards is part of the job and is often one of the deciding factors, like marksmanship and continuing education that gets you promoted over others. It is your job to get and stay as physically fit as possible. The Marine Corps is supposed to be the lean force, with the quadruple bureaucracies the other services never to be allowed to grow. We do not need a bloated force of cyber geniuses, the other services can have them and farm them out to us like what we do with Navy Medical. Primary focus is to field a lethal combined force, a force that has the same ethos, one that can anticipate and rapidly respond to changes and opportunities on the battle. In other words, dare I say, a uniform force, not diverse. I am sure you know what I mean by uniform, the same ethos. Professional volunteer military forces always perform better than others, in lowering the standards it builds artificial pressures that lowers the entire organization’s moral, loyalty, efficiency and effectiveness. The professional voluntary military outperforms through standards and then allowing the the population to self select.

    This in turn drives out much of the talent inherent in the Marine Corps and the only thing left to train as leaders for the next generation are those who are so motivated and excited to be in the Marine Corps that they don’t see the cultural problems as problems (motards, as they’re called), or those without the ability to succeed in the exterior economy’s free market meritocracy. To illustrate the problem we have two examples. Of the Fortune 500 companies, nearly 1/3 have former Marine CEOs and most of them were enlisted – this is clear evidence of brain drain. I am really not sure this point is defensible, you are assuming that many of those 1/3 were the the cream of the crop and those who remained were lower performers, without considering individuality. Many people join the Marines as a way to develop themselves or even use it as a stepping stone to move up the economic ladder. Many who continued on are very accomplished and may retire and join the 1/3 or like me find a quiet farm on the north coast and adjust.

    Moreover, the USMC has the absolute worst first term enlistment rate. Depending on the source (which for security reasons rarely discloses a hard number) the year to year reenlistment rate is between 14 and 33 percent with only a tiny fraction serving a full 20. From fanatical weeping-at-the-EGA baby Marine to burned out and dejected in less than four years. You simply don’t understand that is programmatic, the Marine Corps has the smallest careerist force out of all the services and we are very infantry heavy. I did about 6 year in the infantry before I lateral moved halfway through my second term. My body is broken and much of the damage is a result of my time in the infantry. I knew as does anyone with half a brain the kind of physical performance required to be a good infantryman comes with a price. The percentage of women we are breaking is ridiculous and it isn’t limited to the newly open combat arms specialties but those are the tip of the spear jobs that require top physical performance. Most of the women not passing SOI or Infantry Officer Course are broken for life even before they get to their first fleet unit and we will be paying for their medical retirements or disability for life as well. Enlisted females are still failing SOI at a rate of well above 50 percent and at one point went to 80 percent, males are above 90 percent and most of the failures don’t leave crippled in some way. There is hostility in the ranks but most of it is because of the diversity and equality insanity breaking one of the finest fighting forces in the world and the failure of politicians to use common sense.

    They lie through their teeth about equality and professional standards? I’d be more surprised if they didn’t. Who lies and how? I think I am missing who it is aimed at, the Marine Corps, media, or politicians? All the above?

    • A lot of talk and personal experience but not a lot of addressing the actual points and the larger scope. I’ll address what I think youre getting at in, more or less, order.

      The “callous disregard for the quality of life of the Marine lower enlisted” may sound like something an Air Force guy would say but that doesn’t make it any less true. The cultural products of the lower enlisted are the most compelling evidence of this. Terminal Lance literally made a career out of criticizing the Marine Corps in a relatable way and shit like the EAS Song – hell, the most upvoted comment on the EAS Song is “I enjoy being a Marine… But hate being in the Marine Corps.”. But if you don’t like that then the horrible enlistment rate (which we’ll talk about in a min) or the frequent “moral reawakening” initiative pushed by Marine leadership over the last three Commandant cycles are more objective indicators.

      The artificial adjustment of standards is a symptoms of larger cultural problems. Addressing it specifically is worthwhile but doesn’t actually treat the cause – i.e. competent leadership. Competent leadership that lives up to it’s own stated value systems would not do this.

      “The re-enlistment rate problem is a feature not a bug!” The Marine Corps disagrees with you – pretty much every Commandant has put in motion plans to retain more Marines year to year. Marines are very expensive to train and the Marine Corps hemorrhages trained and qualified Marines. No organization that turns a blind eye to that is going to do well. It’s not just “it’s hard so the program bleeds bodies”. The Rangers are small elite organization held to the same or higher standards as the USMC and they don’t have nearly the same problem.

      Yes. If you head a fortune 500 company than that is clear evidence that you’re the cream of the crop. The Marine Corps attracts some of best with it’s image and is not good enough to retain the best with it’s practice. No matter how you cut it, if you’re best and brightest are leaving in droves, then you have a problem.

      The Marine Corp is very infantry focused it’s not very infantry heavy. I recall that infantry is the biggest MOS group but it’s still only like 15% of the Corps. Most people are air wing or POG and they aren’t staying in either.

      The Marine Corps lies. Obviously. It’s practice does not match it’s stated and advertised standards. Hell, Marines lie to Marines like it’s their job, there’s a scandal right now where commanders were straight up lying on aircraft readiness reports. It’s not even the first time this scandal has happened. I try not to lean on personal experience, but I know for a fact that the aircraft readiness is much lower than reported for pretty much every squadron. There’s a running joke in the airwing that there’s only one flying plane in the Corps and everyone just trades parts before inspections.

      I love Marines. I crashed at an old Marine buddy’s house just this weekend. The Marine Corps though, as an organization, is incompetent at pretty much everything that does not directly involve killing people. It’s really good at that part and because it is a lot of people are willing to let the rest slide. To hold it to a lower standard. I’m not. The Rangers are just as good at it and don’t have nearly the same scandal rate or production of malcontents. I did a search for Army ranger scandals and the only things that showed up was a commander who partied a bit to hard got a reprimand. The Marine scandal search is too long to list. There aren’t former Rangers out there making a living off of cute comics critical of the Rangers. No sir, by the numbers, products, and when compared to similarly sized and tasked organizations, the Marine Corps stands alone with it’s deep seated cultural problems. Jacks essay here is just one in a long line of indicators.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.