This article by Philip Athey was originally published by the Military Times
Commandant Gen. David Berger took to Twitter Friday morning to announce what he sees as the most important issues to address in the Marine Corps.
These are the “most important matters for immediate execution,” he wrote in an eight-tweet thread.
The tweets are not orders announcing revisions to Marine Corps policy, but instead are areas where Berger wants the Corps to research and see if improvements can be made, Maj. Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for the commandant, told Marine Corps Times in a Friday phone call.
The Friday morning thread was a way for the commandant to publicly announce initiatives he already had directed those responsible in the Marine Corps to consider, Flanagan said.
A few of the issues mentioned in tweets ― regarding banning those with sexual or domestic violence convictions from becoming Marines and including adoptive parents and same sex parents in Marine parental leave policy ― already are part of Marine Corps’ policy, however.
The commandant’s office has not yet responded to requests for clarification.
The first issue Berger addressed was in updating Marine Corps policy to “disqualify any applicant with a previous conviction for sex or gender-based violence, to include domestic violence,” he said in the second tweet of the thread.
However, the Corps already bans anyone with a felony or misdemeanor sexual or domestic violence conviction from becoming a Marine. According to a Marine Corps recruiting command order, recruits with sexual or domestic violence convictions also are barred from applying for waivers.
As Marine Corps Times still waits for more answers from Marine Corps officials, it is unclear what the commandant would look to change in its policy.
Sexual violence has been a recurring issue since the Marines United scandal erupted nearly three years ago.
Marines United was an invite-only Facebook group with nearly 30,000 members ― mostly made up of active duty and veteran Marines ― where members would share intimate pictures, often of female service members. Many of the female victims then became targets of harassment.
In response to the scandal, then-Commandant Gen. Robert Neller brought changes to the Marine Corps social media policy and explicitly banned Marines from sharing intimate photos without the expressed consent of the person photographed.
Women in the ranks
In addition to attempting to rid the Corps of sexual- and gender-related violence in the wake of Marines United, the Corps set a goal to increase the number of women in its ranks.
Neller tasked the Corps with building a force that was made up of at least 10 percent women ― a goal that the Corps has neared by being just shy of 9 percent women, with more than 10 percent of new recruits being female, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Rocco, deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, testified to Congress in December 2019.
Two of the initiatives Berger announced Friday were related to increasing women in the Corps’ ranks and also increasing the number of company-grade female officers in Marine infantry.
Berger said the Marine Corps should review the feasibility of recruiting female Marines already serving in the reserves and find ways to get them to return to active duty and potentially enter combat-related jobs that were previously gender-restricted.
He directs that the Corps should seek active-duty female company-grade officers for the chance to attend the Infantry Officer Course, and be able to change their military occupational specialty and join infantry battalions if they pass.
As of Friday afternoon, Marine Corps Training and Education Command had not yet responded to requests for comment about current Marine Corps opportunities for attending IOC nor the number of female Marines attending the grueling course.
Though the number of women in previously gendered-restricted jobs saw a 60 percent increase in 2019, the number of women passing IOC is still exceedingly low.
As of June 2019, only two women had passed the notoriously difficult 13-week course and neither were currently acting as platoon commanders, Marine Corps Times previously reported.
By searching for more qualified applicants already within the ranks of young female Marine officers, Berger seemingly hopes to get more women passing IOC and also increase the number of female platoon commanders.
Berger said he also wants the Corps to “identify the costs associated with implementing a new one-year paid maternity leave policy, along with the benefits and risks, and make a formal recommendation.”
In another tweet, he said he wants to revise the Corps’ parental leave policy “to include parental leave for adoptive parents, to include same-sex couples.”
Currently, adoptive parents and same-sex couples already get leave under the Corps’ policy.
In 2018 the Corps updated its parental leave policy, aiming to give more flexibility to new parents in how they use their non-charged leave.
The update, “does not specifically use the terms ‘same-sex couples’, rather it incorporates gender neutral terms to ensure no Marine who rates parental leave is excluded,” Maj. Craig Thomas, a spokesman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Marine Corps Times Friday afternoon.
Requests for clarification from Headquarters Marine Corps had not yet been answered as of Friday afternoon.
The Corps’ current parental leave policy was intended to give more flexibility to new parents.
The policy gave the primary caregiver up to 42 days of non-charged leave, while the secondary caregiver could take up to 14 days of non-charged leave.
The birth parents could also be given an extra 42 days of non-charged convalescent leave, bringing total non-charged leave for new Marine mothers to 12-weeks, according to the policy ― still far short of the 52-week policy the commandant has said he is considering.
The commandant also wants smarter grunts.
The commandant called for the Marine Corps to within six months raise the minimum General Technical score required for prospective 0311 Marine riflemen “unless there is analysis that suggests irreparable damage to our recruiting effort or operational readiness.”
The commandant wants the required minimum GT score ― currently a score of 90 out of 140 to become a rifleman ― to be increased to a score of 100.
The move is part of the commandant’s goal make the Marine Corps smarter. It’s one that has Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black envisioning a future where staff noncommissioned officers will be required to get college degrees.
It all fits into the commandant’s vision for the next big war, where there will be a greater leadership and decision-making burden on small unit leaders as the Corps likely fights an enemy like China, spread out across vast distances like in the Pacific.
The final change proposed by the commandant would affect how fitness reports are calculated. It would eliminate “non-observed academic fitness reports.”
Fitness reports are given to officers and enlisted Marines starting at the rank of sergeant.
Right now, when those Marines are attending a career school they are given a “non-observed” fitness report, essentially a blank spot in their evaluation.
The policy change advocated by Berger would change those reports from being a blank spot on a Marine’s career evaluation to one that records how well a Marine did at whatever professional school they attended ― giving them a class rank and differentiating the high-performers from low-performers, according to a Marine spokesman.