Dear 2nd Lt. Santangelo, the Marine Corps Promised You a Rose Garden.

US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Jennifer L. Jones.

Dear 2nd Lt. Santangelo,

I recently read your article in the Washington Post about how the Marine Corps failed to train you well enough for the Infantry Officer’s Course, and I have a few thoughts. I’m sure your cadre at IOC told you it’s important to listen to your NCOs, so as a former Sergeant and infantry squad leader, I’m sounding off and you should listen up, ma’am.

Your letter was very interesting, if only because you stated that the standards should not be changed for women in combat. I strongly agree. Where you failed to use logic was in stating that it was the Marine Corps itself that was responsible because “they’ve [female Marines] been encouraged to train to lesser standards.” That is just plain insulting to women in general. So because the Marine Corps gave you softer standards, you just accepted that? What happened to exceeding the standard? You were motivated to become one of the first women to pass the Infantry Officer’s Course, which I admire you for, yet instead of accepting responsibility for your personal failure, you blame the system. No one made me train hard enough. 

In going to General Amos you proved that you are not interested in being a leader. You’re interested in a career. Amos gave you special treatment because you’re a woman, which you accepted. I wonder what General Mattis would have told you. Either way, you’re not qualified to lead troops and they’re going to put you into an administrative billet that’s going to be a cakewalk. It might be great for your career, but I imagine your command is going to hide you in a corner because you’ve already proven that if you have a problem, you’re going to go to the media (when some ruck runs might have been more fruitful to your conditioning, Devil).

Yep, I just devil-dogged you, ma’am. Since I’m a civilian, I’ll even throw in a fully modified knife hand for this next part. rosegardenfemales

Did any of the 24 male Marines who didn’t pass your IOC class get a sweet-talk from the Commandant? No. Did they go to the Washington Post to complain about it? No. They’re probably training to take the course a second time. What about the other female 2nd Lieutenants, were they given a career boosting deployment to Afghanistan? No. Not to mention, those 24 men were trained to the standard that you say would have allowed you to pass the course, so what caused their failure? I  agree that women should be given a second chance to take IOC, but you have to take responsibility for your lack of preparation. In combat, you can’t call the Commandant. You take charge of the troops under you or good men (and women) die. Aren’t there leadership principles (that you learned in The Basic School) that lay this out for you? # 11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.

“We need to set women up to succeed in combat roles,” you said. To put it another way, women need special treatment. This undermines your whole argument of women being equally capable of serving in combat. The Marine Corps needs self-starters in leadership roles, especially in counterinsurgency operations and asymmetric warfare. We don’t promise you a rose garden either, an old recruiting poster states to potential female recruits. Perhaps you need a reminder that it’s called serving your country, and not the other way around.

Part of being a Marine leader is doing more with less. You understand that the other branches have more money, more resources, and that you will never be given the full picture in a combat situation. You must improvise, adapt, and overcome. And your leaders will always expect you to exceed the standard.

Let’s say I wanted to become an Officer after I get out graduate from college in May. If I fail IOC, should I turn to the Washington Post and say, “Well no one was making me train hard enough so that’s why I failed!” Puh-lease.

Suck it up, Devil Dog. Ma’am.

36 Comments

  1. Great comments brother. I don’t know what you’re in school for, but you seem to be a skilled writer. I know that I couldn’t have said it any better. Semper Fi.

  2. I don’t think you understood the premise of her letter. She did wildly exceed female standards, but being forced to train separately and under lower standards (compared to her competitors) put her at a disadvantage. Imagine if you’re seeking to play professional football – What would give you the best chance:1) Training with a highly ranked college team or 2) Your local league? Of course you’d rather train with the college team, you need to be pushed at a very high level to succeed. Being forced to train in a group that isn’t preparing for combat and at a lower standard is a major disadvantage.

    Second, of course the men didnt go to media to complain that they failed. They had the chance to retake the training. She didnt – under current policy, the men get another shot, the women do not. She’s simply asking for the same rules, same standards – that isn’t special treatment, that’s fair.

    • I hadn’t considered that training at TBS with only females under a lower physical standard might be a factor, but the fact remains that she took an assignment overseas, effectively abandoning her fellow female Marines in the fight for equality. That’s not leadership.

      • “…effectively abandoning her fellow female Marines…”

        That’s grasping at straws. Are you committed to disliking her as an individual, or disliking her as part of an ongoing process?

        • To evaluating her performance as a future leader of Marines, regardless of rank, race, creed, gender, or background.

      • For the record, men and women all train together at TBS. The women just have lower standards for each physical training event. TBS does not prepare you for IOC physically. Each officer trains on his own time to get ready for it, so the playing field is equal.

        For the male officers that fail the CET, only some of them are invited back to try again because they are evaluated by the instructors to be good potential leaders. Throughout the course, students are dropped regularly for not meeting the leadership standards that combat-hardened instructors deem required to be leaders of infantry marines in combat.

        This is not a matter of equality of opportunity. This is about leading Marines in combat – where people die because of their leaders’ shortcomings. Anyone that has gone through IOC will tell you that it is incredibly hard, but it is still just a baseline screener. What you are expected to do in the fleet and in combat will be harder, and the course is meant to screen out those physically or mentally incapable of that rigor.

        For the civilians that have no idea what we are talking about, just keep in mind that your social advocacy for female infantry officers is a matter of life and death for some of us.

    • “…being force to train separately and under lower standards…” No one forces you to train. If she felt that the training she received was wildly ill-preparing her for IOC, she should’ve trained on her own, as most Army and Marine Infantry Personnel do.

    • You hit on something there though…professional athletics. Show me where women have been successfully integrated into any professional Men’s team. Why is this not the Great Crusade? Why choose to “experiment” in a way/place where the hits are real and lead to people coming home in flag-draped coffins. That is not fair, it’s insanity.

    • actually, she was *not* forced to train separately. Men and women do the same stuff throughout TBS, with the exception of how many points they’re awarded based on performance on the PFT and CFT. The number of pullups she can do–along with her run time and crunches make her a pretty damn good competitor with her male peers, when it comes to the PFT at least. She’s no slouch in the physical department. And, depending on how much time between TBS grad and the start of IOC–ALL of the candidates enter a special training platoon to specifically prepare for the demands of IOC–males and females alike. In this case, it may have been a quick break in between the two courses–regardless–at TBS, she and her male peers trained identically.

      Additionally–the whole “second shot” argument… I’ve said this over and over in various social media forums but I’ll take the opportunity to educate here as well–since the 0302 MOS is NOT open to women at this time, her entering IOC was AS A VOLUNTEER, which is governed by specific, approved human research protocol required by law. That approved protocol outlined that women volunteers would not be recycled, so as not to cause detriment to their career paths–depending on school seats and training dates, etc–could cause huge delays that are detrimental to a young Lt’s career (not to mention the $ cost to the govt) who needs 540 days of observed performance time in his/her job–for promotion and retention into the regular Marine Corps. I digress….point is, the approved protocol had volunteers doing a one shot deal, all were briefed and all volunteers, to include this 2ndLt, signed consent forms knowing full well that was the case. To complain about it after the fact is a bit disingenuous. Furthermore, I don’t see this Lt chomping at the bit to attend the NEXT IOC class–which goes in June–now that the CMC has reversed the decision and the protocol is now having to be re-done in order to match that. Ahem. And not all the men are allowed to recycle either, for the record. Those that do, however, are still entering IOC under the premise that this is going to be their JOB in the USMC for the next few years, so it’s under a completely different construct.

    • Liz, your first paragraph is irrelevant since women and men attend The Basic School (TBS) for at least the 6 months prior to attempting IOC. Platoons at TBS are integrated and females and males undergo the EXACT same syllabus including sleeping in neighboring fighting holes. You also need to understand that her “wildly exceeding female standards” still doesn’t measure up to the standards of the males that attempted IOC. And no, I don’t have access to the exact records of IOC graduates, but I say that with confidence knowing that all of my friends that were successful at IOC were performing the PFT maximum of 20 pull-ups at the bare minimum (as compared to her 16 pull-ups).

      • I’m going to add to Chris’ comment. No one “forced” her to train with only females. In fact, no one forces any of the LTs to train at TBS because there is very little time in between classes, discussion groups, and field exercises. All PT is done during free time. This is why one of the nicknames of TBS is The Body Softener. And all males are not given a 2nd go at IOC if they fail. 1/4 of my MOS school class were IOC failures that were NOT given a 2nd chance.

    • Liz, if I were going to play pro football, I wouldn’t want to train with the team that has women on it. Great analogy, thanks!

  3. Not all of the men where given a second chance either, only a few even opted to petition the director of IOC and even fewer were allowed back. For the entire 6 months of TBS she was expected to perform at identical levels as her male counterparts (with the exception of two fitness tests) and during the 2 months she spent in a training program with male Marines. The reason males are given two chances is that this is their primary MOS, not so for the females.

    Even if they were to complete the training they’d have to attend another course before they could enter the fleet. For instance, if a female with the primary MOS of communications decides to enter an IOC class that happens to line up with the start of a comm school class she will have to wait an extra 3 months after IOC to attend her actual MOS school (and that’s if she passes). Now, assume she fails the CET the first time (or at any point during the course) and is given a second chance, she already has to wait another 1-13 weeks to even attempt the CET again. She could potentially spend a year doing nothing but training for a school that isn’t even going to set her up for her actual MOS school.

    • Thanks for clearing that up. I was enlisted, so I’m not familiar with the training standard of IOC.

  4. First things first, this is the best article I’ve seen in response to 2ndLt Santangelo. Maybe I can add to it. The Infantry is a unique place. No other MOS is responsible for closing the last 300 meters and actually killing the enemy. The person responsible for sending that 18 or 19 year old kid to their fate is a Lieutenant with the MOS 0302 which they attain upon graduating IOC. This is a serious business; it’s not a joke and there are people turning the most sacred institution in the Marine Corps into a circus. The course is designed to screen and train officers who are worthy of sending our nations sons, brothers, husbands into combat and potentially their death. Such a responsibility should only be given to the ones best fit for the job. 2ndLt Santangelo is showing an utter lack of respect to IOC, the Marine Corps, and Marines everywhere by making it about herself instead of that fearless Lance Corporal who’s gonna be charging the machine gun nest.

  5. THANK YOU.

    When I first read her article, I couldn’t but roll my eyes every other line. My first reaction was, “Great! Another female pulling out the gender card to advance her career.”

    Every counter-point I would make to her article has already been made in this article or the comments. I would like to rehash the fact however that female officers train side by side with their male counterparts. In OCS and TBS, females are asked to perform the same events at the same time as their male peers. The only difference is that females are graded differently than the males; and rightly so. Everything in her training set her up for success.

    Her calling for the same standards across the board means that most of her female enlisted and officer peers would not be qualified. While I personally share her opinion, I understand why the differences exist. Female Marines have proven that they can hold and excel in non-combat MOS’s. Why deny those Marine’s the opportunity to serve their country so that select females can fill combat billets that have no shortage of men clamoring to hold? Everything about 2nd LT Santangelo’s article screams selfishness. Perhaps she should go back to OCS and relearn the leadership traits because I think she forgot a few. I wouldn’t want her in my squadron.

    • Zquez, “In OCS and TBS, females are asked to perform the same events at the same time as their male peers. The only difference is that females are graded differently than the males; and rightly so. Everything in her training set her up for success.” That’s inaccurate–women and men at OCS and TBS train to different, gender-based standards. For example, on the O-Course, the rightmost lane has red boxes that give you about a 1-foot leg up on the obstacles, and instead of something like a height criteria, it’s gender: all females MUST, no males MAY. I get the point in the above blog about asking the Lt. to take ownership of her failure, but at the same time, we should be honest about the institution disparities between male/female Marines.

      • So are you implying that her having to use the step to get over the bar somehow made her less prepared for IOC? At OCS the females are part of the same company as the males. They all do the same hikes, the same E-course (besides the aforementioned step), SULE, etc. My point is that the institutional disparities between males and females, while unfair, benefited her rather than hindered. How would the lack of gender-based standards have made her more prepared for IOC?

        • No, I’m saying your claims are inaccurate. There are very substantive differences between the screening at OCS/training at TBS for men and women. My primary dog in this fight is accuracy and clarity, not a particular ideology/argument outcome.

          • Bill, I can hardly respect your claim that the little step to get over the initial college-boy roll bar at the beginning of the O-course is a “substantive” difference in training. At OCS, women are separated into a different platoon but still perform the same exact training (except to easier scoring standards at the physical fitness events, as has been mentioned). At TBS, women are even integrated into platoons with males, but again are scored to easier standards on physical fitness events.

            So, in order to ” be honest about the institution disparities between male/female Marines”, do you suggest that we eliminate the differences in scoring between male and female marines on physical fitness events? I believe that they recently tried to have women perform pull-ups on the PFT instead of the flex arm-hang and more than 50% of the female recruits couldn’t even perform the minimum of three…

  6. I’m a female Marine Lt, and I want to thank you for your refreshingly accurate and professional approach. I expected this to turn into the female-Marine-bashing session that articles with this topic generally turn into, but it is the complete opposite.

    Not only do I appreciate the professionalism, I also completely agree with every point you have made especially about this Lt’s display of “leadership”…

    • Thank you for the response, ma’am. I’m a big believer in female Marines, I served with members of the Lioness program and if I ever find Profane 58, I owe her a beer. Or several. Y’all fly some mean CAS!

  7. My proposal to the Marine Corps leadership is this:

    Since ALL lieutenants (female or male) must complete The Basic School (TBS) prior to attempting the Infantry Officer Course (IOC) and the syllabus is the exact same for females and males, I propose that a performance comparison be made between males and females from the physical fitness events at TBS. It is widely agreed (on both sides of the argument) that standards should NOT be lowered; the question is whether or not females can meet the current standards. Therefore, record all of the individual raw times and measurements (pull-ups, crunches, run time, obstacle course times, endurance course times) for males and females and grade them ALL against the current male scoring standards. Then rank the entire group from top to bottom and note the trend of female performance vs male performance.

    I theorize that the product would display the same trends that ANY pure comparison between male and female athletics would. For example, look up any sporting event’s current world record. Not only do men outperform women in every single event that I’ve ever searched (track, power-lifting, etc.), but the top woman doesn’t even fall within the top three males. These athletes, male or female, both have the same 24 hours in a day to train.

    My ultimate point coincides with what the author of this article is attempting to make: The United States Marine Corps is a performance based organization that truly needs the BEST leader for the job.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely amazed by female athletes, leaders, and especially female Marines. However, the males that I know that have completed IOC far exceeded the physical standards that even most males can achieve, to lead Marines into ground combat, I firmly believe that they should.

  8. I, too, was a Sgt. and Infantry Section Leader. I served in Vietnam for 36 months boots on the ground. Over 6 months of that time was in the field, in combat, toe to toe with the NVA in I Corps in 1968. Here is what I learned: 1. Neither the enemy nor the combat care anything about you, your morale, or your training. You either win or lose. Period. No sympathy, no standard deviation, no bovine excrement; be better than the enemy or die. 2). Combat operations are killing fields. You kill the enemy. That is your duty. It is not a “job”, it is not an “assignment”, it is not a social experiment; it is your duty as a Marine. You can either do it, or you can’t do it. Most can’t do it; that is why you are one of the few. If you spend your time whining to the Commandant, you can’t do it, because you are too busy being a REMF. Combat got no place for REMF’s.

    • Warren, if you read the Marine Corps Times article carefully, she states that she was first invited to write the article, and THEN she went to the brass with it. I assume nothing but what she is quoted as saying:

      “Santangelo told the Marine Corps Times she received an invitation, through a friend, to write about her experiences for the Washington Post. She thought back to conversations she had with the three other female officers who attempted IOC in January, and decided to do it — but not without some official oversight.

      “When I wrote the article, I absolutely recognized it needs to be read by someone,” she said. “Based on our conversations and whatnot, I felt that [Amos] was the best person to read this.”

  9. To Paul Esq and all the other Marines who had my back in I Corp.in 1968 Many thanks! Semper Fi.

    Forrest C. Gill, Sr. U. S. Army Vietnam I Corp. 68-69

  10. The 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, of which I was a member, thought long and hard about the issue of gender-normed standards. We decided that gender-normed requirements and scores for female personnel were acceptable in basic, pre-commissioning, and entry-level training, but not in preparation for heavy MOSs. This recommendation was contingent on women being exempt from direct ground combat MOSs such as Army and Marine infantry, armor, artillery, and Special Operations Forces. The administration’s repeal of the 1994 Aspin rules exempting women from DGC positions has made gender-normed allowances untenable. Congress should intervene by codifying DoD policies in effect in April 2013, with the stipulation that policies regarding women in land combat not change without an affirmative vote of Congress. Female athletes at the peak of their physical capabilities are not required to compete with male athletes in the Olympics. For the same reasons, it is not “fair” or “equal” to order military women to perform like men in the combat arms. More information is on our website, http://www.cmrlink.org, and in the CMR Policy Analysis linked here: http://www.cmrlink.org/content/home/37473/new_cmr_analysis_pentagon_cannot_justify_anti_woman_policies

    Elaine Donnelly, President, Center for Military Readiness

    • Elaine, thank you so much for your response. I agree that “not-equal” does not mean “lesser.” Men have their strengths and women do as well, both have their place in the armed services.

    • “For the same reasons, it is not “fair” or “equal” to order military women to perform like men in the combat arms.”

      IF that’s true, then who carries the stuff she’s supposed to but can’t?

      Let’s not even talk about when she’s retaining water and her ankles are as big as washtub.

      Ivory tower twit…

  11. What is missed in this “Great” Experiment is that IOC and SOI are Entry Level Schools. It isn’t enough to complete initial training. The real evaluation isn’t from your SOI or IOC instructors. It begins by you being evaluated every second of every day by the Marines you are charged with standing in front of. Those Marines, and your peers, write your evaluation – period. Lead a Rifle Platoon or Company conducting training for 30 days at Bridgeport, Fort McCoy, Norway, the Philippines, 29 Palms… from the front and do it for months and years over a career. All that training and you might get to take the final exam and you better be ready and have the trust and confidence of your Marines. The enemy doesn’t give a damn if you’ve been treated unfairly and neither do your Marines. How quickly places like Fallujah, Ramadi and Marjah and 100 others have been forgotten in this quest for social justice, fairness or whatever you want to call it. Do your job well and Marines might die. Do it poorly and Marines will die.

    Having experienced more 25 miles hikes than I can remember (I remember the 50 mile hike) you will never lead anyone by not demonstrating that you can carry your own weight and much more. That means being at the front of the formation at the start, middle and end of the hike and during every training evolution. It also means lugging a M240G, 50 cal. Receiver, or base plate a couple of miles to give your Marines a break. It isn’t fair that your Marines will judge you when because you get a light duty chit to sit out the hike (your knees and back hurt). Guess what so do everyone else’s. Nobody mentions this, and former infantrymen won’t complain about it, but almost nobody escapes a tour or career without Bad backs, knees, shoulders, or bad feet. Add the unbelievable rigors of combat. The basic fighting load toady is heavier than it has ever been.

    What all infantry Marines know is that “it isn’t about me, it’s about we”. It is obvious to anyone who has spent more than a couple of months in an Infantry Battalion that the 2ndLts actions/ and words demonstrate just the opposite. We also know that you can always fit a square peg into a round hole if you hit it hard enough with a sledge hammer. The end result of this experiment will be the same. The more DoD and CMC keeps hitting the sledge hammer the more ineffective Marines, fire teams, squads, platoons in peace time. How is the Marine Rifle Squad/Platoon of the future going to locate, close with and destroy the enemy?

  12. The whole point of going through guided training is to reach the required level of fitness. Regardless of whether a trainee is on-par or beyond, that trainee should not have to face surprises in a test that training did not physically prepare them for.

    The fact is, gender dichotomies have existed in the military forever and it is not absurd thinking to assume that women are held back when possible.

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