U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel held a closed discussion with female Marines on what their military experience has been like during a visit Wednesday to Camp Lejeune.
Hagel took a tour of an urban warfare training facility aboard Camp Geiger as 183 students from the School of Infantry East demonstrated tactics, techniques and procedures.
After the training, Hagel met with more than a dozen female Marines of various ranks for a closed discussion on the opening of combat roles to women. The group also talked about the sexual assault and sexual harassment problem military branches are facing, said a female Marine who participated. The female Marines were given anonymity to facilitate an open and honest conversation, according to military officials.
“He wanted to hear exactly what female Marines thought,” the female Marine said. “My personal opinion is that (integration) is moving too fast … this is a great opportunity, but a standard must be set that everyone has to meet … moving too quickly is going to cause harm.”
On June 18, the individual branches of the armed forces released their implementation plans for integrating women into combat roles that are presently off limits. The Marine Corps has identified 70,000 billets that were closed to the assignment of women due to the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule. The deadline for implementation is Jan. 1, 2016.
Holly Wingler, a female Marine veteran of Iraq who did not attend Wednesday’s discussion, said women in combat is the worst decision the military could make.
“Women can do it, but it doesn’t mean they should,” said Wingler, a former combat engineer. “Human nature is for a man to protect a female. I see that causing a problem with mission accomplishment.”
In addition to being a logistical nightmare, Wingler said, men would slow down and hesitate to make sure that a woman is OK before he would do so for a man.
“Hesitation gets people killed in combat,” Wingler said. “Some women want to prove they are good enough, but they’ve already done more than 98 percent of the population just by serving. And for those that forgot — being a female in the military isn’t about doing a man’s job. It’s about serving your country.”
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said Hagel’s visit Wednesday was a “listening tour.”
“He wants to hear directly from female Marines on what life in the military is like and what the rewards and challenges are,” Little said.
Due to time restrictions, Hagel did not speak to media present at the event.
Prior to visiting Camp Geiger, Hagel toured Marine Special Operations Command at Stone Bay during his U.S. tour of military installations.
Hagel was scheduled to return to Washington Friday.