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Michelle Dolfini-ReedElizabeth BradleyBradley DickeyYancey HrobowskiJessica Wolfanger
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The Marine Corps established the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force (GCE ITF) to determine whether and how to integrate female Marines into ground combat units and ground combat military occupational specialties (MOSs). In support of the Marine Corps’ GCE ITF research, CNA developed and fielded three opinion/climate surveys among GCE ITF volunteers: November 2014 (baseline), February 2015 (posttraining), and May and June 2015 (postassessment). In addition, CNA conducted focus groups with GCE ITF participants (volunteers and leadership) in May and June following the assessment phase. This report analyzes GCE ITF volunteers’ opinions with a focus on how perceptions, attitudes, and opinions changed over time. We address the following issues:

  • What are Marine volunteers’ initial attitudes and perceptions regarding gender integration, and how do these change over the course of the GCE ITF?
  • How did gender integration affect intangible factors, such as unit cohesion, discipline, and morale?
  • How did the perception of these intangible factors change over time?

Our survey results are representative of the GCE ITF volunteers but are not necessarily representative of all female Marines and male Marines in GCE units.

Attitudes regarding gender integration

Support for women serving in combat roles: Support for the integration of female Marines into combat roles decreased among both male and female GCE ITF volunteers over time. Throughout the training phase, male volunteers were distributed along the spectrum of support for gender integration, trending toward opposition. Female volunteers almost unanimously supported integration of women into combat roles. After the assessment phase, support trended strongly negative: 61percent of male volunteers opposed integration. The majority of women (76 percent) were still supportive (with 11 percent strongly supportive): almost 10 percent were opposed, and 15 percent of female volunteers did not support assignment of women to combat roles.

GCE ITF leadership support for gender integration varied, but many noted in the focus groups that they did not see any indication that readiness would improve as a result of gender integration. However, they also anticipated no readiness changes because they believe that few women will be interested and qualified in combat MOSs. The leaders we spoke with indicated that the Marines will implement integration to the best of their ability, though there will be challenges.

Risk to female security: Concerns regarding female security decreased during the GCE ITF, especially among men. Initially, male and female volunteers had different opinions of how integration would affect female security: male volunteers predicted increased risk to female safety; female volunteers were not as concerned. In the postassessment survey, there was not a statistically significant difference in the scores of men and women: experience with female Marines led male volunteers to conclude that the risk to women was much lower than their initial assessment.

Specific concerns of female Marines: Female volunteers were surveyed about a variety of apprehensions—strength, competence, acceptance—associated with serving in a GCE unit. Most female Marine volunteers felt these were not concerns. Issues raised by female volunteers in focus groups included the following:

  1. Many women noted that the height and weight standards were developed when female Marines served in administrative positions and that they need to be updated. Female Marines in combat primary MOSs (PMOSs) may need to be larger to successfully complete combat tasks and avoid injury.
  2. Many female volunteers commented that their gear did not fit properly, leading to additional wear and tear on their bodies, and potentially slowing them down during assessment events.
  3. Volunteers and leadership expressed support for assigning a minimum number of women to a GCE unit to provide mutual/cadre support.


  • Update the height and weight standards for female Marines.
  • Obtain properly fitting female gear.
  • Establish a minimum number of women assigned per GCE unit.

Perception of unit-level intangible factors

Combat effectiveness and performance: From the beginning of the ITF to the end, there was a statistically significant trend among both male and female volunteers predicting decreasing combat effectiveness in integrated units. Male and female volunteers and GCE ITF leadership focus-group feedback noted that MOS-specific standards for ground combat units would help address combat effectiveness and readiness concerns.

Unit cohesion, trust, and morale: Overall, Marine volunteers’ perceived that their units were less cohesive in the postassessment phase than they were before. Perceptions regarding morale followed the same pattern. Focus group input indicated that low unit cohesion and morale stemmed from perceptions of favoritism, uneven discipline practices, and gender-based performance differences. Leadership input indicated similar concerns regarding knowing how to best lead and not foster perceptions of favoritism, double standards, or unfair treatment. Volunteers also noted that cohesion and morale suffered when volunteers were separated by gender in the living quarters during part of the assessment phase.


  • Develop gender-neutral MOS standards and training.  Revisit physical fitness test (PFT) and combat fitness test (CFT) standards for men and women in ground combat PMOSs: the Corps should reassess the PFT/CFT for Marines in ground combat PMOSs to ensure that all these Marines are held to the same standards and that the most capable are promoted.
  • Provide leadership training highlighting that (1) standards will not change as a result of integration (i.e., established gender-neutral standards will be followed and not compromised), (2) leaders must communicate with and have the same expectations of Marines, regardless of gender, and (3) different Marines are motivated in different ways and by different leadership styles.
  • Integrate living quarters in open squad bays and the field.

Good order and discipline: GCE ITF participants shared the perception that obedience to orders decreased as a result of female Marines in the unit. More senior female Marines had difficulty taking orders from junior male Marines, and male Marines had difficulty taking direction from female Marines. This perception may have resulted from ITF artificialities (more senior female Marines required to take orders from more junior male Marines, for example) or from different training and acculturation processes for female vice male Marines in ground combat MOSs.


Begin integrating certain aspects of recruit training: Early integration has the potential to (1) expose male and female Marines to the same discipline standards, (2) establish a level of gender-integration among all Marine recruits, and (3) expose male and female recruits to male and female Drill Instructors, acclimating all Marines to interactions with senior enlisted male and female Marines.

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Cleared for Public Release; Distribution Unlimited. Specific authority: N00014-11-D-0323.


  • Pages: 132
  • Document Number: DRM-2015-U-010092
  • Publication Date: 8/13/2015
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