Marines: Most Female Recruits Don't Meet New Pullup Standard Women are supposed to do three pullups, part of the new physical test intended to determine whether women are ready for ground combat. The pullup test has been put on hold because most female recruits have been unable to meet the standard.
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Marines: Most Female Recruits Don't Meet New Pullup Standard

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Marines: Most Female Recruits Don't Meet New Pullup Standard

Marines: Most Female Recruits Don't Meet New Pullup Standard

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

2014 was also scheduled to be a year of change for the U.S. Marine Corps. Starting January 1st, every female Marine was supposed to meet a new physical standard: perform three pull-ups.

That number - a part of physical fitness test - is already the minimum required for all male Marines.

Now, as NPR's Tom Bowman reports, the Marine Corps has postponed the requirement. And that's raising questions about whether women have the physical strength to handle ground combat.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: The Marine Corps announced a delay in requiring pull-ups for women quietly. No press conference. Just a notice on its social media sites and an item on its own TV show, "The Corps Report."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CORPS REPORT")

LANCE CORPORAL ALLY BEISWANGER: And I'm Lance Corporal Ally Beiswanger.

BOWMAN: The anchor explained that the pull-up test had been put off until sometime next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CORPS REPORT")

BEISWANGER: The deadline has been extended to allow for further gathering of data to ensure all female Marines are given the best opportunity to succeed.

BOWMAN: So far, women Marines are not succeeding. Fifty-five percent of female recruits tested at the end of boot camp were doing fewer than three pull-ups. Only 1 percent of male recruits fail the test. Marine officers would not talk to NPR on tape. They said they delayed the pull-up requirement to avoid losing not only recruits, but also current female Marines who can't pass the three pull-up test. Robert Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, says the delay shows women just can't make it.

LIEUTENANT COLONEL ROBERT MAGINNIS: Young women, in spite of all the training and all the best intentions, are not going to be the equal of young men in terms of upper-body strength. You've got to have a lot of upper-body strength to lift the stuff. I've been there, done that.

BOWMAN: Maginnis just wrote a book: "Deadly Consequences, How Cowards Are Pushing Women into Combat." He says the issue has more to do with politics than protecting the nation.

MAGINNIS: If we are going to have women in the infantry, they must be as capable as the young men.

BOWMAN: The Marine Corps has been using the pull-up as a test of upper-body strength for men for more than 40 years. And that upper-body strength, they say, is necessary to serve in ground combat: to pull yourself out of a canal in Afghanistan, climb over a mud wall, carry an ammunition box. Women Marines, for years, have had to meet a different standard, an exercise called the flexed arm hang: holding one's chin above a pull-up bar for at least 15 seconds.

BEISWANGER: But, beginning in 2016, women in the Marine Corps and Army will be allowed to serve in infantry, armor and artillery units. And they'll need to be strong enough to climb those mud walls or carry ammunition. Greg Jacob knows what it takes. He served as a Marine infantry officer in the Balkans and Africa. Now he works for the Service Women's Action Network, a group that advocates for military women. He brushes aside the notion that women can't cut it.

GREG JACOB: Women can build the muscles that they need and the upper body strength that they need to execute pull-ups.

BOWMAN: And he's seen it done. When he was a Marine trainer in North Carolina, he required his female instructors to knock out pull-ups, just like the guys.

JACOB: And at first, you know, a lot of women weren't able to do it. They were able to do one. Some were able to do two. But what happened was, by having that standard end enforcing that standard, it made my Marines, it made the troops go to the gym and train to that standard. So, within a six-month period, I had all of the females in my company were executing eight, 10, 12 pull-ups.

BOWMAN: Jacob says the Marine Corps must do a better job training women to reach the same standard as men. A small number of female Marines already have made it. So far, 13 women have passed advanced combat training. One of the requirements? Three pull-ups.

JACOB: It's a squad sized unit that's ready to go, and they're not sending them to their units simply because they're women.

BOWMAN: Some Marine officers privately say only a handful of Marine women will either show interest in combat or be able to pass the course. Meantime, that Corps Report TV anchor, Lance Corporal Ally Beiswanger, wants to see if she can get over the first physical hurdle and do those pull-ups. She admitted to her audience that she could only do one pull-up last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE CORPS REPORT")

BEISWANGER: And now I'm up to eight. So I'm taking advantage of the extra time to complete my goal of 12 pull-ups.

BOWMAN: The more difficult goal of women in ground combat? That's still two years away. Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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