The Marine Corps' commandant, upset with recent media coverage of the service's effort to evaluate what jobs women should fill in combat, has challenged a civilian journalist to undertake its difficult Infantry Officer Course.
Gen. Jim Amos was angry after reading a story written by Marine Corps Times on April 2. The report, “Two more female Marines flunk infantry officers training,” reported that both women failed to complete the course's introductory Combat Endurance Test on March 28. Characterizing their performance as having “flunked” was “sensational and shameful,” Amos wrote in a letter to the editor published in this week's issue of the newspaper. It is the commandant's first letter to the newspaper since becoming the Corps' top officer in October 2010.
“That description is callous and irresponsible, and doesn't do justice to these two fine officers,” Amos wrote.
“Of necessity, the IOC curriculum is extremely arduous and challenging. I have no plans of changing it,” he continued. “More than 30 percent who attempt the IOC curriculum don't complete it. Lieutenants who don't pass IOC go on to serve our Corps honorably in other meaningful and rewarding ways.”
The story was written by Marine Corps Times senior writer Dan Lamothe. In his letter, Amos said he is “happy to offer Mr. Lamothe the opportunity to join the July IOC class as a participant along with the 100-plus Marine officers who will begin the training course.”
Lamothe accepted the offer.
“I'm not sure what the logistics of that would be, but as long as it doesn't detract from the work those lieutenants are putting in, I'm all for it,” Lamothe said in an email response to Lt. Col. Joseph Plenzler, the commandant's public affairs officer. “You better believe I find the idea intimidating — but less so than much of what I've experienced during three embeds in Helmand province (Marjah 2010, Sangin/Kajaki spring 2012, Trek Nawa/Reg-e Khanashin fall 2012).”
Headline called ‘harsh'
Amos' letter to the editor was sent to Marine Corps Times on Friday. A day before, Plenzler said on Facebook that he considered the headline “a bit harsh.” From the perspective of a new lieutenant, Plenzler wrote, attending IOC is intimidating.
“Sure, the two female lieutenants didn't pass, but you have to give them (and all their male colleagues who failed) a nod for attempting it,” wrote Plenzler, who served in the infantry. “IOC is a high bar to clear, and to this day remains the toughest school I have ever attended/completed. It needs to be tough because our young infantry Marines deserve the best leadership the Corps can provide. I'd encourage all your readers to keep in mind that there is a very big difference between serving in a combat zone and performing infantry tasks in combat (the latter being much harder).”
Lamothe and Andrew deGrandpre, the newspaper's managing editor, responded on Plenzler's Facebook page. DeGrandpre wrote that he has the “utmost respect” for the women who volunteered to be a part of the research effort, while pointing out the Marine Corps' reluctance to allow the newspaper access to IOC. Marine Corps Times has not been allowed to cover the test despite expressing interest since last summer.
“Our reporting on the subject has been as objective as it has been thorough — thorough, at least to the extent that we've been allowed to cover this story,” deGrandpre wrote. “It's worth noting that so far the Marine Corps has not approved our standing request to observe IOC. In my view that would go along way toward helping our readers — Marines — gain a better appreciation for some of the points addressed above.”
Lamothe added that there is “no shame” in the female volunteers failing IOC.
“They gave it a run after being recruited to help the Corps in this experiment,” Lamothe wrote. “Still, they didn't pass. That means ‘flunked,' ‘failed,' ‘washed out,' etc., are all accurate. We want to be sensitive, but we also need to accurately report the news.”
The commandant's plan for future media coverage at IOC is not clear. The Marine Corps' Division of Public Affairs at the Pentagon coordinates media coverage of the research into which roles women will fill in combat.
On Saturday, still upset with the “flunk” headline, Amos rescinded invitations to deGrandpre and Lamothe to attend an off-the-record media gathering Tuesday evening at the Home of the Commandants, a long-planned event for Washington-based journalists to interact informally with Amos and some of his top generals.
Lamothe and deGrandpre said they were disappointed in Amos' decision, but stood by the newspaper's reporting and headline accuracy.
The commandant's office declined to comment for this story.
Letter from the commandant
In regard to the online story “Two more female Marines flunk infantry officers training” [April 2]:
I consider the Marine Corps Times' characterization of the two female lieutenants who recently attempted the Infantry Officer Course's Combat Endurance Test as sensational and shameful. They were described as having “flunked” the course. That description is callous and irresponsible, and doesn't do justice to these two fine officers.
Of necessity, the IOC curriculum is extremely arduous and challenging. I have no plan of changing it. More than 30 percent of the lieutenants who attempt the IOC curriculum don't complete it. Lieutenants who don't pass IOC go on to serve our Corps honorably in other meaningful and rewarding ways.
Arguably, IOC is the toughest school in the Marine Corps. I have nothing but respect for those who show the courage and mettle to take it on. I'm happy to offer [Senior Writer Dan] Lamothe the opportunity to join the July IOC class as a participant along with the 100-plus Marine officers who will begin the training course.