“To me its personally insulting to talk about women in combat. Women have been in combat,” he added.
Neller was dismissing the idea that including women in combat was anything new, and he made sure to point out that the debate was about women being directly assigned to positions in ground combat units such as the infantry.
The Marine Corps is perhaps on the verge of being the only military service that has asked for an exemption to opening all positions to women. While the Marine Corps has not publicly stated that it will seek to keep ground combat positions closed to women, in September, then Commandant Joseph Dunford asked Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus for an exemption to the 2013 mandate that all jobs in the military be open to women by the new year, according to Marine officials.
According to the officials, Dunford requested that Marine infantry and reconnaissance units remain closed to women.
“Gen. Dunford, when he was still commandant, made his recommendation on this issue to the Secretary of the Navy,” said Neller “And right now it is the policy of the Marine Corps that we’re not going to talk about what that recommendation was because we’re going to let the Secretary of Defense make his decision.”
Neller’s silence on the Marine Corps stance comes after a somewhat public clash between the Marine Corps and Mabus. In September, the Marine Corps released a four-page summary of a nine-month experiment, known as the Ground Combat Integrated Task Force. The summary indicated that women were more prone to injury and performed poorly at a majority of infantry-focused tasks in comparison to their male counterparts.
Upon release of the summary, Mabus pushed back on the experiment, almost discounting it entirely by saying that the women tested should have had a “higher bar to cross” to get into the study and that the Marines carrying out the experiment had a predisposed mindset from the start.
While a number of enlisted Marines criticized Mabus’s remarks and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) even called for Mabus’s resignation, Neller took the time Thursday to laud the efforts of those who participated in the experiment.
“The Marines who were a part of the GCITF did a great a job…they worked their tails off,” said Neller. “The people that made it to the end deserve our gratitude for their discipline and strength and fortitude to make it to the end.”
On Wednesday, Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter told reporters that he would not review the service’s recommendation on gender integration for “some months,” even though the service secretaries submitted their recommendations by Wednesday night.
While the Army has remained mum on its requests, both the Navy and Air Force plan to open all jobs to women by the start of the new year—including special operations.
Mabus has made it repeatedly clear that he will not seek an exemption for either the Navy or the Marine Corps
“I’m not overly concerned about it,” said Neller, referring to Carter’s eventual decision. “We’ll get told what to do and we’ll execute the plan…it’s as simple as that.”
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Rep. Hunter is a Republican, not a Democrat as originally written and the accurate reflection of Secretary of the Navy Mabus’s remarks in regards to women in the GCITF.