The United States Marine Corps is no longer requiring infantry officer candidates to pass the grueling Combat Endurance Test to qualify for the position, a move Marine officials say is reflective of modern needs but critics say is proof that standards are being watered down so more women can meet the criteria for difficult jobs.

“The U.S. Marine Corps will no longer require prospective officers to pass a punishing combat endurance test to graduate from the service’s Infantry Officer Course.

“Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller quietly made the shift to standards in November, altering the test from a pass/fail requirement to just one of many exercises measured as part of overall IOC evaluation,” reported the Washington Free Beacon.

The story was based off a report from the Marine Corps Times, which characterized the policy change as minor.

“In a slight change to the grueling initial stage of the 13-week Infantry Officer Course, Marines will no longer be required to pass the Combat Endurance Test to move on.

“The Corps has come under criticism for what some have claimed to be unnecessarily high standards to graduate from the course. To date, only one unnamed female Marine has successfully completed the entire course,” the Marine Corps Times reported.

“‘Over the past 40 years, the Marine Corps has made multiple modifications to Infantry Officer Course (IOC) program of instruction (POI) to reflect the requirements of the operating environment,’ Training Command said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. ‘The quality of the course remains the same,'” stated the Times.

Center for Military Readiness President Elaine Donnelly isn’t buying it.

“Nobody’s going to be fooled by that. If the test is no longer pass/fail. if it’s no longer must-succeed, it certainly has changed. It’s changed a great deal,” said Donnelly.

The interview:

“To make it just another evaluation point on the way to being an infantry officer changes the character of the program. It is a lowering of standards, and it’s not being done for operational requirements,” said Donnelly. “It’s not operational, it’s political because the pressure has been on the Marines to change the nature of the combat endurance test.

She believes a move like this proves that military readiness is not the top priority in the Marine Corps right now.

“It really is regrettable. It is an unforced error. He didn’t have to do this. The purpose is to reach gender diversity metrics. Metrics is another word for quotas. The quotas were imposed during the Obama administration. It’s a new administration and there should be official action to put them to an end,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly is calling on Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer to reverse the policy.

She also described what the Combat Endurance Test is and why she believes it needs to be a tool for identifying the best leaders.

“It’s a very tough, full-day, starts-before-dawn, exhausting exercise. It involves long marches, heavy loads. You’ve got to make your way through unknown terrain. You have to survive. It’s exhausting, deliberately so, people with bloody feet and falling because they can’t march anymore.

“This test is tough for a reason because infantry officers are supposed to lead men into battle so the test has to be tougher than it is for the enlisted soldiers and Marines. To say that officers no longer have to succeed on this test is indeed a major change, not a minor one,” said Donnelly.

When then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced ground combat roles would be opened to women in 2015, he was quick to assure the nation that standards would not be watered down to accommodate the policy change. Donnelly says this news seems to prove Carter’s promise wasn’t kept.

“Neller didn’t even announce this. He started it in November. Only now has the story come out that the Combat Endurance Test is now just a combat evaluation test. That it’s something different than what it was before. It’s the application of what we call the Dempsey Rule.

“When Army Gen. Martin Dempsey was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 2013, he was asked what would happen if women couldn’t make the higher standards for the infantry. He said, ‘If the standards are too high so that women can’t succeed, we’ll ask why is it that high? Does it have to be that high?'” said Donnelly.

It’s a bit ironic that the Marines are making such headlines. During the debate over whether ground combat roles ought to be opened to women, the Marines commissioned a major study showing the physical differences between men and women were substantial and that women were much more susceptible to injury in such capacities.

“We didn’t get to see [that] report. The administration brushed it aside and forced it on the military anyway. But in this case the Commandant of the Marine Corps said we’re going to do it even though he wasn’t ordered to do it. That’s what’s so disappointing, the way that this has happened not with a bang but a whimper,” said Donnelly.

Donnelly is also wondering whether the Marines lowered the standards on the endurance test before deciding that it wasn’t necessary to pass to remain an infantry officer. She says credible reporting from 2012, 2013, and 2014 showed an attrition rate of 20-30 percent among Marines attempting the endurance test.

Yet, the Marines claim attrition rates are now three percent, and just one percent in 2017.

Donnelly says no one should think less of women in the military as a result of this controversy. She says the leadership is failing.

She also says the bottom line is that men and women are different.

“There is a physiological inequality that needs to be taken into account. Otherwise, we’re going to lose a lot of good female officers who would otherwise progress in their careers. Why would we want to do that?” asked Donnelly.

“And if you make it possible for all the women to get through without being injured then you’re not going to be demanding as much of the men, and the men will be less prepared for battle,” she added.

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