A Marine On Gender Integration: 'This Is A Team Effort'
LYNN NEARY, HOST:
A historic decision for women in the military this week. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that women can now serve in combat in all branches of the military. That includes the Marines, the only branch of the military where many officials continue to push to keep women out of infantry units. To hear more about how prepared the Marines will be to carry out this initiative, we're joined now by Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano. She's an active-duty Marine officer who commanded the recruiting station in San Diego. And earlier this year, she ran a segregated, all-female training battalion at Parris Island, the Corps' boot camp in South Carolina. Lt. Col. Germano, welcome to the program.
KATE GERMANO: Thank you for having me.
NEARY: Why was this such a long-fought battle, especially in the Marines?
GERMANO: I think change is hard. And I think that the leadership has some bona fide concerns about how this will impact our ability to fight and remain cohesive during stressful situations.
NEARY: Now, you've had a lot of experience with training female recruits. What do you think the Marines have to do differently now to give women the preparation they need for the battlefield?
GERMANO: It actually starts in the way that we recruit women. If you select the right women, who are already fit and are athletically inclined and are mentally strong and resilient, they fare better than those who come to Parris Island completely not prepared. And then we have to look towards what we do on the recruit depot and how we train. Just because we've always trained in a segregated way - having the males separate from the females - doesn't mean that that's how we should always do it.
NEARY: Why is it so important to you, or why do you think it's so important for men and women to train together?
GERMANO: One, I think it fosters trust. I think that's something that we have lacked, based on my experience. I've seen that firsthand. There's a sense of mystery about how we make female Marines on the depot because they are so segregated, and the perception can be that it's easier for them. And I think it's important for their male counterparts to see them excelling and challenging themselves so that the men know that they've earned it just as the women feel that way when they graduate.
NEARY: All right, let me ask you about your role in all this because you were removed from your position training women on Parris Island. And the Pentagon said it was because women under your command complained that you were abusive, in part saying you were too tough on them. You have said you believe you were removed because of your push to integrate women and men into the same training programs. Now, I don't want to get into that controversy at all. But I do want to understand your sort of philosophy on what it takes to train a woman. Do you think you have to be really tough to train them?
GERMANO: My standards were the same for male Marines as they were for female Marines. And I'm not going to comment on the investigation that led to my relief. What I will say is that women who choose to join the Marine Corps generally come in because they want to be held to a higher standard. And my higher standard applied to men as well as women, and I've been leading Marines the same way regardless of gender for almost 20 years now.
NEARY: Yeah. Why do you have to be so tough on both men and women?
GERMANO: I think the primary reason is because you want to make people understand that what they think is their limit may not really be their limit and that they're always going to be able to achieve more than they really - initially expect. But the second thing is - and this is probably the most important thing - is that at any given time, a Marine is going to be responsible for the lives of Marines under their charge. And so if you set that expectation right from the beginning and you understand and you level the expectation that Marines have an obligation to work hard to take care of their own individual Marines, then you're setting them up for success in the future.
NEARY: Now, apparently, opponents of allowing women to serve in combat say that there's a tendency for women not to want to go into combat. Based on your own experience, do you think that there will be many women stepping up?
GERMANO: Well, I think it's important to point out that this isn't about women going into combat. Women have gone into combat for decades now and have excelled. This is, in particular, about infantry. And there will be a certain number of women who are qualified. And many, many other women will not be qualified or may be qualified but may not desire the job. You could say the same thing for the male population. And what I would say is that this really about the next generation of Marines.
NEARY: If the numbers of women serving in the infantry is very small, would that dissuade others from trying to get a combat role?
GERMANO: I can tell you that the more women who are able to go to the school and graduate and get out into the operating forces, the more other women will be compelled to do the same. And they'll see those individuals as role models. But the men are role models, too. This is a team effort, and this is about making sure that we've just established a level platform for women and men.
NEARY: I know that you're very close to retiring from the military now. Are there any regrets that this is happening just as you're leaving?
GERMANO: Oh, that's such a tough question. You know, I have some regrets - I don't have any regrets about the way my career has turned out. But what I will say is I wish I had had someone be tougher on me when I was a lieutenant. And I wish I had had this opportunity because who knows what would've come of it.
NEARY: Well, thanks so much for joining us.
GERMANO: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
NEARY: That was Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano, and she joined us in our studio here in Washington, D.C.
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