ALEXANDRIA, Va. — When Lt. Col. Kate Germano took command of the Marine Corps’ all-women boot camp, the failure rate of female recruits at the rifle range was about three times higher than that of their male counterparts, and she said there was no plan to try to improve it. “The thinking was girls can’t shoot, so why bother,” she said in an interview.
So she worked with trainers to give women better skills instruction, and soon passing rates soared, according to Marine Corps records. In June, 95 percent of women passed initial rifle qualification, equaling the rate for men. Colonel Germano made similar gains in strength tests and retention — though scores on written tests went down — and began advocating better training and resources for female recruits.
“Once we showed the recruits and the coaches and drill instructors it was possible, it filled them with so much confidence,” Colonel Germano said in the interview near her home last week. “They knew they were as good as every other recruit, and my hope was the Marines saw it, too.”
But if they liked her results, her commanders apparently did not like Colonel Germano’s style. By all accounts strong-willed and demanding, but also admired by many of the women she trained and led, Colonel Germano had an aggressive drive for parity that brought her into conflict with her male commander, as well as some of her subordinates. After two internal investigations, Brig. Gen. Terry Williams, the commander of Parris Island, the South Carolina home of the corps’ East Coast training operation, removed her from command on June 30, saying he had lost “trust and confidence” in her ability to lead.
The corps said that Colonel Germano’s removal had nothing to do with gender, and that an investigation had found that she disobeyed her chain of command and berated and embarrassed subordinates when they did not meet her standards.
“This whole thing started when her Marines — her female Marines — were telling us they were being mistreated,” said Col. Jeffrey Fultz, the chief of staff for Parris Island. “She was telling them their male counterparts will never respect them if they don’t get good physical scores. You just don’t do that.”
The episode comes at a critical moment for the Defense Department, which has mandated that the armed services integrate women into all combat roles by 2016, or provide clear evidence for why they cannot.
To many advocates of full gender integration, Colonel Germano’s dismissal has raised questions about the willingness of the Marine Corps, the most male-dominated of the services, to open the door to women in leadership roles. Why, those advocates ask, should a service that reveres its tradition of tough and demanding male commanders have problems with one who is a woman?
In the interview, Colonel Germano, who had already put in her retirement papers before she was relieved of duty, declined to discuss why she had been fired. But in a request for relief she filed with the corps in May, she said the commander of the training regiment, Col. Daniel Haas, had created a toxic work environment and “consistently undermined my ability to command.”
A corps spokesman said Colonel Haas was not available for comment.
With its history and ethos built on the foundations of the male-only infantry, the Marine Corps is widely viewed as the most resistant of the services to full gender integration. It not only has the smallest proportion of women of all the services — 7 percent, compared with 14 percent in the Army and 15 percent in the Navy — but also has the highest rate of sexual assault, with 8 percent of female Marines reporting being sexually assaulted in 2014, according to the Defense Department.
While the other service branches have integrated basic training, the corps still segregates women during boot camp, giving them separate dining halls and post exchanges for shopping, and female drill instructors. Male recruits at Parris Island still regularly turn their backs on female recruits, according to officers. And some male officers have resisted even small efforts to mix, such as integrated marches, they said.
“Out of all of the military, the Marines have struggled the most with integration issues,” said Greg Jacob, a former Marine infantry officer who is now policy director with the Service Women’s Action Network, a nonprofit group that advocates gender integration. “They have this archaic system that segregates women in boot camp, and the stigma that creates at the start of every Marine’s career really carries over.”
Colonel Germano said that creating a foundation of respect between male and female recruits should be a key part of training, and that she was stunned by the low expectations that undermined female recruits’ credibility when she arrived at Parris Island in June 2014.
The Marine Corps’ Investigation Into Claims Surrounding Lt. Col. Kate Germano’s Dismissal
The investigation into allegations by Colonel Germano of a hostile work environment at Parris Island found no evidence to support her claim of gender-related discrimination.
At her first ceremony as commander to mark the end of a training cycle, Colonel Germano noticed a row of chairs behind the women’s formation and asked what they were for. She said she had been told that they were for women who were too tired or sore to stand for the ceremony — which came at the end of a nine-mile march. The men did not have a row of chairs.
She watched a handful of women break formation and sit down.
“After that I ordered that the chairs be taken away,” she said. “That could be seen as me being mean, but the chairs sent a message to everyone that less was expected of females.”
Colonel Germano increased physical training. Soon the number of women completing the final march increased and the number of injuries decreased, she said. And everyone who completed the hike stood at the end.
“I was pushing recruits hard, and there was a faction of Marines that was unhappy with me, but I was O.K. with that. I was just trying to do right by the Marines,” she said.
Colonel Germano persuaded the training regiment to integrate the hike at the end of each training cycle, and tried to integrate other practice hikes, but some male commanders refused. One battalion commander said in an email that he saw “no value” in it.
Colonel Germano said her relationship with the commander of the training regiment, Colonel Haas, had started to go bad soon after she arrived.
She began contacting recruiting stations to detail why some recruits had failed basic training — information she thought would help prevent failures in the future.
According to her statement, included in a command investigation obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Colonel Haas told her to stop contacting recruiters, saying she was being overly aggressive and breaking the chain of command. She responded that he would not say she was “being overly aggressive if I were a male.”
The male battalions had five drill sergeants for each group of recruits, but the female battalions had only three. Colonel Germano pushed for more staff, saying her sergeants were exhausted and unable to function.
When Colonel Haas was not responsive, the investigation found, she went up the chain of command to request more staff, straining their relationship further and causing him to challenge all her command decisions.
“He has held a longstanding grudge against me for disagreeing with him,” she said in her request for relief, “and is now looking for any reason to discredit me.”
In his statement to investigators, Colonel Haas agreed that their relationship “went south,” saying she disagreed with him over too many things and went over his head a number of times. “Making an argument is O.K. and encouraged, being argumentative is not,” he told an investigator.
Three officers at Parris Island, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said in interviews that Colonel Germano’s push to raise performance had inspired some in the battalion and alienated others.
“She was firm but fair,” one officer said. “She took some Marines to task, but she also sent every Marine a card on their birthday, and sent flowers when Marines were sick.”
The officers said low performers had been singled out for criticism and had complained to Colonel Haas, prompting him to order a review of the climate under her command in April.
In the online survey, completed by about two-thirds of the battalion, half of respondents said the leadership did not promote a climate based on respect and trust. The majority of officers in the battalion interviewed by investigators said they feared repercussions for participating in the investigation.
Colonel Germano said the survey may have been skewed because it allowed Marines to participate more than once.
“I imagine the people who were mad at me would want to do that,” she said.
She requested an independent investigation, saying Colonel Haas had created a hostile work environment and was biased because of her gender. The investigation, completed June 24, did not find evidence of either, but said the female battalion’s need for more drill instructors should be addressed. It also said another survey — one that did not allow more than one response per Marine — should be conducted.
However, Parris Island’s commanding general relieved Colonel Germano of command and sent her to the Washington Navy Yard to await a new assignment.
“This is not about me, and it’s not about whether women can serve in combat roles,” she said on Friday. “This is about building respect and credibility among all Marines so that we can fulfill our mission.”
Officers at Parris Island say commanders there have recently told them not to pursue additional steps toward gender integration of recruits, saying there was no mandate from above to do so.
One female officer said she felt Colonel Germano had made a lasting impression by showing that female recruits were capable of achieving more than was usually acknowledged.
“She made a fundamental impact on the mind-set of Marines and the leadership,” the officer said. “That’s the most important change we can have.”
As a woman Marine Gulf War Veteran, I am obligated to opine:
1. This piece by the NYT is designed to sway the reader into accepting an integrated Recruit Initial Training Environment (Boot Camp) like that of the other services. It is a horrible idea. The segregated environment provides women trainees examples of other women in leadership roles. The recruit can think: “If SHE can achieve command rank, march 10 miles, pass the physical fitness, and shoot expert on the rifle, so can I.” The most glaring benefit to having gender segregated training centers is the safety of the women. The women, while in such training, do not need the added fear of exploitation that can occur with a male presence in the barracks. That isn’t to say a woman would be exploited, but the fear of it would certainly be present.
2. This piece is also alluding to women being sent into ground combat. Again, bad idea. Now, before all the feminists and equal rights people start screaming, know that at one time I was like you. I used to profess that all women who wear the uniform and get paid on the same scale as men, must also go into the same dangers men faced. That means women go into combat. My mind was changed when I was in the desert in Gulf 1. I have a sensitive nose. It is a blessing and a curse. My nose is more sensitive than a man’s and less sensitive than a dog’s. So, it was one day in that desert environment I discovered why women should not be in combat roles. Ladies must admit we have a scent when we menstruate. I am not talking about funk, I am talking about our hormones that elevates during our cycles. In one of the encampments we assembled for chow (meals). A breeze blew over us and all the men and I turned to see who it was with a scent. It was not perfume or artificial scent and it certainly was not an unhygienic aroma. A servicewoman was walking about 200 yards away from our group and we all could smell her. I then realized how lucky we were at that time to not be in a combat scenario, for her scent would have given away our position. Women normally do not have that sensitivity in the nose to know that we have this scent or how powerful and distinguishable it is. Men daren’t say or opine what I just wrote. When I have broached this subject to men they avoid any comment on it; unfortunately this was while in a mixed gender setting. I cannot assert if men would open up about it in an all male environment. Regardless, we have become so politically correct we would endanger our fighting forces, in the name of equal rights.
Now as to the article on the Colonel herself:
Regarding the accusation that she told recruits that if they don’t get good physical scores the male counterparts won’t respect them. SHE TOLD THE TRUTH! Male Marines do not respect a team member who cannot perform as well as the rest of the team. Period. Why the male commander said “You just don’t do that.” Is beyond comprehension. The purpose for basic training is to prepare the recruits for service in the Fleet. Her assertion (if she said it) is true and is preparing these women for the possible disrespect was a service to them.
As for males turning their backs on the women on Parris Island, I know first hand that is drill instructors’ personal choice to issue that command. There are myriad reasons, which would rabbit trail this discussion, for a male Drill Instructor to order that. That is not Marine Corps policy and the NYT failed to discern that for the reader.
I still maintain in regards to performance of women Marines, if you cannot perform at the same rate expected of men, get out of the Corps! The Corps should never reduce their standards to accommodate any group. The physical fitness test and performance tests (rifle qualification, knowledge, NBC, forced marches etc. ) should be the same for all Marines regardless of gender, race, religion and age.
The Colonel did the right thing in removing the chairs. When we fell out (passed out or fainted) at the end of the march the ground was there to receive us. If one was capable of sitting in a chair one is certainly capable of standing with the platoon. The visual reminder that there is a chair for you, reduces your own self expectations and is like a permission slip to fall out of formation. Integrating the end of training cycle hike, I cannot say if it would be a good idea or not. In my OPINION there should be a trial run on that. If the results are good, then keep it.
As for her contacting recruiters, that was normal while I was in, for recruiters are held accountable for any recruit they send to training for the duration of the enlistees’ first enlistment. If a recruiter sent too many who failed, it looked bad on the recruiters’ performance evaluations. Col. Germano did recruiters a service when she made contact.
When I was trained we had 4 Drill Instructors: 3 Junior and one Senior D.I. Having only 3 for a whole platoon is totally inexcusable. The billeting should be equal to that of the males. The report shows how many D.I.s are available to platoon/company/series, male vs female, but does not account for hours in a day. Male platoons never have only 3 D.I.s.
The NYT also failed to point out that when Colonel Germano went ‘up the chain of command’, that is exactly what she was supposed to do when a correctable grievance is not settled.
To sum up, I wish I had had a commander like this Colonel Germano.
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