Female Marines Guard the Embassies: An Experiment in Social Progress and Cultural Change


General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. (26th Commandant, 1975-79)
MSG Pilot Program
General Robert H. Barrow (27th Commandant, 1979-1983)

Beth M. Wolny
Doctoral Candidate
George Mason University


On November 21, 1979, six Marines stood guard at the American Consulate in Karachi. They had received word to expect as many as 10,000 protestors that day. Master Sergeant Mullis, Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC) of the Marine Security Detachment (MSG) in Karachi, directed his Marines to change to combat utilities and don their emergency gear: helmet, body armor, gas mask, gas grenades, shotgun and ammunition. Already armed with standard issue .38 caliber pistols, the guards reported to their posts.

American Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan (1979)

American Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan (1979)

Corporal Vicki Gaglia and Lance Corporal Betty Jo Rankin had reported to the consulate just a few weeks earlier as part of a Marine Corps pilot program to integrate women as Embassy Security Guards. Not expecting the women and uncertain at first how to treat them, Master Sergeant Mullis integrated them into the regular duty schedule. They, along with four male Marine Security Guards (MSGs), constituted the Marine Embassy Guard presence that day. The Pakistani Army stood guard outside the American consulate. They pushed back the protestors once. The protestors returned with more people. A Pakistani soldier threw a gas grenade that landed in a palm tree, sending an explosion toward the American consulate’s open roof. Lance Corporal Rankin felt the full force of the gas grenade from her position on the roof, but radioed in to Master Sergeant Mullis that she was unharmed. She maintained her post. The demonstrations ended without violence.

1.Burning U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan (21 November 1979)

1. Burning U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan (21 November 1979)

The attack in Karachi was one of many against American posts in Pakistan that day, including the consulates in Rawalpindi, Lahore and the embassy in Islamabad. The Islamabad attack resulted in four deaths. Marine Corporal Stephen J. Crowley suffered a shot to the head and died of his wounds as protestors overtook and burned the American Embassy building. Six days after the attacks, the Marine Corps ordered the young women standing guard that day immediately transferred to safer locations and cancelled the nascent pilot program. 1

Marines are often surprised to hear that women were serving as Embassy Guards as early as 1979. Marines are even more surprised to hear that two women were on duty at the U.S. Consulate in Karachi when protestors attacked it. In a time before Congress permitted women to serve on combat ships or in combat aircraft, a small group of female Marines were defending U.S. embassies and consulates in some of the harshest locations in the world.

This curious example of women in a combat environment occurred far ahead of its time. Why did the Marine Corps initiate the pilot program and then so rapidly close it? And why did it take a decade for the program to re-open to women? This research project, originally conceived as a case study about women in combat, evolved into a case study of three Commandants of the Marine Corps. Their policies for the Marine Security Guard (MSG) program typified each man’s personal beliefs and institutional approach regarding gender. On one end of the spectrum, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and All Volunteer Force (AVF) enabled the most progressive Commandant in decades to open the door for women to serve as Embassy Guards. On the far end of that spectrum, the failure of ERA to ratify encouraged a dramatically more traditional Commandant to cancel the program as quickly as it started. A subsequent decade of consistent political pressure forced the program to re-open, against the vehement disagreement of a similarly traditional Commandant. Each man left his mark on the opportunities available, respect afforded and experiences of Marine Corps women.


Two major events propelled women into a larger and more significant role in the U.S. military, and further blur the lines between women serving in the military and women serving in combat – Congressional passage of the ERA in March 1972 and Congressional authorization to abolish the draft, instituting the AVF in July 1973.  In her book detailing the advent of the AVF, Beth Bailey strongly argued that passage of ERA paved the way for women’s expanded roles in the military. 2 She stated that both Democrats and Republicans “strongly supported” equal rights for women throughout this period and had no intention of exempting the military from implementation of the ERA.   As evidence, she noted that North Carolina Democrat Senator Sam Ervin proposed an amendment that would have banned women from combat, which the larger Senate struck down 71-18. This clearly indicated Congress’ perspective on women in combat.  Simultaneously, Congress decreed a departure from conscripting forces and moved to create an All Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973.  The AVF faced significant challenges, to include “. . . projections of a declining youth population in the eighties”. 3 The Baby Boom generation had come of age, and gone. Following Vietnam, the military became an unattractive option for young people – just as its recruiting pool dramatically shrunk. Women helped the AVF image by countering the idea of “an army of the poor” while fostering diversity in the ranks.  These were some of the publicly unspoken reasons for including women in the AVF.  High quality men had other economic opportunities. Low quality men struggled with new weapons systems, which were increasingly complex. Women, usually with more education, offset the balance with brains. 4

General Louis H. Wilson, Jr. (26th Commandant, 1975-79)

General Wilson was not his predecessor’s choice to be the next Commandant of the Marine Corps. An “innovative and responsible officer who favored reorientation of the Marine Corps for worldwide commitments,” the new Commandant took the Corps in a different direction. 5 A Medal of Honor winner, he was a traditionalist in his belief in an amphibious Marine Corps and in the “highest moral, mental and physical standards . . . The Marines truly represented the epitome of elitism”. He worked hard to reinvigorate these standards in an era of the AVF. Inheriting “unacceptably high rates of courts-martial, non-judicial punishments, confinement, unauthorized absence, and desertion” which “threatened combat readiness”, he set out to discharge any Marines either unwilling or unable to meet his high standards of conduct and readiness, and to ensure new recruits were value-added to the Marine Corps mission.  6

Many credit Wilson with saving the Marine Corps during the critical early years of the AVF. He proved to be the right person in the right role at the right time.  Committed to a vision of what he wanted the Marine Corps to be, he determined to make it happen. He understood intrinsically that he would need the support of Congress and Defense Department leadership to institute his most dramatic changes. Previous experience made him the right person in the right position at the right time. As a brigadier general, he worked as a legislative assistant to Commandants Greene and Chapman in the late 1960s. Wilson developed “close working relationships with senators, House members and Congressional staff assistants who would be influential contacts when he became commandant in 1975.” 7 This enabled him to defend the significant changes required in both recruiting and boot camp to Congress. He made the high school diploma the “gold standard” for enlistment. He facilitated the rapid discharge of individuals incompatible with a Marine Corps way of life (mostly for drugs), effectively “clearing the ranks”.

He was also an innovator in his approach to female Marines, continually opening doors for women throughout his tenure, beginning with the operating forces. While he kept four occupational fields (infantry, artillery, armor and aviation) closed and forbade assignment to units which: “in the execution of their primary mission, will close with and destroy the enemy by fire or repel his assault by fire and close combat”, he opened every other occupational field. 8  This included combat engineers, aviation maintenance and logistics and numerous other specialties. Here again Wilson proved his support to the expanded role for women in the Marine Corps. Most Marines think occupational fields such as combat engineers and aviation maintenance first opened to women in the mid-1990s. In reality, Commandant Wilson opened them in 1975. Though he never intended to deploy the women assigned to the operating forces (OPFOR), as this would have meant exposure to direct combat, Wilson initiated the transition from women as administrative assistants to women as warriors.

Wilson also updated policies for professional schools and training to level the playing field between male and female Marines.  In a 1976 White Letter, Commandant Wilson directed that all professional schools possess “curricula to ensure that the training offered prepares Marines to lead (italics author’s), irrespective of sex”.  9 He integrated female officers into student companies at The Basic School and made the camouflage utility uniform standard issue for female Marines. He disestablished the Director of Women Marines office, along with the chain of command for female Marines separate from their operational chain of command. He believed that women should be required to register for the draft, though not for combat positions. 10

MSG Pilot Program

Wilson believed strongly in the opportunity for women to join the MSG program. While the origins of the idea are uncertain, Wilson’s stance on the issue is not. First proposed in 1977 by Major General Herbert Lloyd Wilkerson of the Marine Corps Manpower Officer, Commandant Wilson requested a closed-door discussion with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Security, Vic Dikas and the State Department Operations Officer, Vern St. Mars. According to Colonel Koppenhaver, “The Commandant, in typical General Wilson fashion said, ‘Get me somebody from State Department who is capable of making a decision, and we will sit down behind close doors.’”  11  The State Department already had women filling roles in Embassies all over the world. Wilson then approved the pilot program. Koppenhaver admitted that he “dragged” his feet implementing the Commandant’s decision, effectively putting the pilot program off until 1979. 12

1.Marine Security Guard Detachment, Karachi, Pakistan (November 1979). From right to left: Major Jeff Ronald, Captain Robert E. Lee, GySgt Craig Mullis, Sergeant Gary Downy, Sergeant Roy DeWitt, Corporal Vicki Gaglia, Corporal Terry Davis, Corporal Dennis Cooper, Lance Corporal Brian Tilden, Lance Corporal Betty Rankin

1. Marine Security Guard Detachment, Karachi, Pakistan (November 1979). From right to left: Major Jeff Ronald, Captain Robert E. Lee, GySgt Craig Mullis, Sergeant Gary Downy, Sergeant Roy DeWitt, Corporal Vicki Gaglia, Corporal Terry Davis, Corporal Dennis Cooper, Lance Corporal Brian Tilden, Lance Corporal Betty Rankin

Wilson’s dedication to the pilot program became indisputable in February that year. The first attack on the U.S. embassy in Tehran reinforced what had been a common occurrence at U.S. embassies throughout the world. Protestors, rebels, insurgents and others regularly attacked U.S. embassies and consulates in the Middle East, Central America and Central Asia. The Marines regularly defended American lives and property against such attacks.  13 If Wilson felt any concern about having women in dangerous locations, about threat of potential capture or death, he would have reconsidered sending the first class of ten women to MSG School. But Wilson believed women should be able to serve wherever they could. He also understood, perhaps better than most other Marine Corps general officers could, both Congressional and public opinion on women in combat. He had been the Marine Corps’ Congressional liaison during Vietnam. The few female Marines serving there survived the Tet Offensive in 1968, without public outcry or Congressional denunciation. The political realist that he was, Wilson realized that it was an exclusively Marine Corps proclivity to protect young women from the dangers of combat.

He also understood two key aspects to MSG duty: mission and training. First, he understood the Marines’ responsibility was only to protect American lives and property, and if necessary, to destroy classified material. Not all Marines agreed with this premise, but this constituted the official agreement between the State Department and the host nation. Colonel Koppenhaver remembers,

I know the Commandant received a large number of letters from former Marines, questioning why the Marines laid down their arms and surrendered (in Tehran). . . you have to go back to the basic mission of the Marine Security Guards, and that is internal security of the embassies. It was never envisaged or intended . . . that the Marine Security Guards would be able to defend an embassy against a concerted enemy attack. 14

Second, Wilson also knew that the MSG program had undergone significant changes to its training regimen. The Marines qualified on the standard issue .38 caliber pistol during school, learned how to shoot the shotgun, use gas grenades and the baton. 15 Though female Marines would not qualify on the rifle range routinely until the mid-1980s, the young women in the MSG program would know how to shoot the .38 caliber pistol and shotgun. From Wilson’s perspective, the young women on MSG duty would be better prepared than the young women who had served in Vietnam.

1.Sergeant Mary Columbus reports for inspection at Marine Security Guard School, Quantico, Virginia (1979)

1. Sergeant Mary Columbus reports for inspection at Marine Security Guard School, Quantico, Virginia (1979)

Undaunted by events in Iran, Wilson maintained his intent to see if the female Marines could “keep up with the men in training and how they were accepted in countries where women were not accepted in the workplace”. Wilson mandated that female Marines serve in “hardship” locations – including Yugoslavia, Jordan, Liberia, Ecuador, Pakistan and Liberia – first. 16  Class 3-79, which graduated in June 1979, sent ten women to hardship posts in August.  An additional five women graduated in Class 4-79 (October), including Corporal Gaglia and Lance Corporal Rankin who would report to Karachi in November.

General Robert H. Barrow (27th Commandant, 1979-1983)

General Wilson passed Commandancy of the Marine Corps to General Barrow in June, just as the first women began graduating and reporting for duty. Just one year earlier General Barrow had assumed the role of Assistant Commandant. He had previously worked for General Wilson in 1975 as the Director of Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs. In this role, he had been an integral player in the manpower reforms General Wilson implemented. Confident that Barrow would maintain the policies Wilson had instituted to guide the Corps through the dark early days after Vietnam, General Wilson intended for General Barrow to follow him as Commandant. 17

The timing proved critical to the women in the MSG program. While history remembered Generals Wilson and Barrow as the team that saved the Marine Corps during the AVF, the two southerners held starkly different opinions on the matter of Marine Corps women. Speaking about the MSG pilot program Barrow stated,

The simple facts are we don’t need them.  We can get all the males to do whatever needs to be done in the threatening kind of situations that you need, so why experiment with women being put in possible situations of danger simply because someone can make a boast or a claim that you have broadened the opportunity for women to do more things than they had been doing. 18

Despite this negative perspective, initial reports from the embassies indicated that the women performed well, and that both male Marines and the host nation generally accepted them.  Major W.T. Tucker, the Officer in Charge from Hong Kong, did identify three concerns. First, the women had a difficult time making friends with women in the State Department; second, the women tended to resort to more physical measures – such as the baton or pistol – earlier than the male Marines; third, that male Marines tended to be overprotective of the female Marines. 19

Unlike General Wilson, General Barrow did not believe the women should endure hardship tours before completing a more sought after tour (in locales such as Paris and Rome).  He determined that hardship locations were “too primitive” or too dangerous for female MSGs. Therefore he assumed the Marine Corps would have to station them exclusively in the more desirable locations. Of course, such a policy would mean the men would have to “take up the slack” and endure more hardship tours. This would create resentment and be unfair to the male Marines. 20

Barrow felt responsible for ensuring the safety of his female Marines.  Referencing the pilot program, he stated, “And suddenly, without knowing what we were doing by putting them some place without being able to predict what might happen you might find women Marines in direct combat.” He canceled the program and ordered the women immediately re-assigned to safer postings in Brussels, Paris and elsewhere.  His reasons were twofold:  “uncertainty of terrorist/hostile actions which would expose women Marines to unnecessary risks” and “problems stemming from local social customs and attitudes towards women in general.” 21  The final decision paper noted that several company commanders experienced doubt that they could ensure that women Marines would not be exposed to hostile actions. The paper noted also the “performance of women Marines both in the Marine Security Guard School and on post has been comparable to that of the male Marines.” 8 Upon completion of their initial fifteen-month rotation, the Marine Corps removed them from the program completely.

General Barrow waited until the attack in Islamabad before pulling the women. The second embassy attack in Iran (the first having occurred during General Wilson’s Commandancy in February 1979) had already taken place on November 4, 1979 before the November 21 attack in Pakistan. Whether Barrow removed the women because the Pakistan attacks left one Marine (Corporal Crowley) dead or because there were women on duty in Pakistan remains unclear. Either way, this decision foreshadowed Barrow’s other policy changes to come.


General Barrow’s decision to terminate the pilot program heralded more closings and a general backslide in opportunities for Marine Corps women.  In July 1980, Commandant Barrow re-closed 33 specialties which Commandant Wilson had opened. 23 Slacks were no longer authorized as the uniform of the day for women. He then re-segregated its Basic Officer Course (BOC). Brigadier General Margaret Brewer explained: “The extensive press coverage of women successfully completing the course raised charges in some circles that Marine Corps officer training had gone soft.” 24 These changes reflected Barrow’s determination for female Marines to be ladies first, and Marines second.

Lance Cpl. Jennifer L. Hague fires a .38-caliber service revolver as part of her training at the Marine Security Guard School, Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Each Marine must qualify with the revolver before assignment to an American embassy in a foreign country.

Lance Cpl. Jennifer L. Hague fires a .38-caliber service revolver as part of her training at the Marine Security Guard School, Marine Corps Development and Education Command. Each Marine must qualify with the revolver before assignment to an American embassy in a foreign country.

The backslide extended far beyond the Marine Corps. By 1979, the seven-year ratification process for the ERA had stalled. Given an additional three years, effectively extending the deadline from 1979 to 1982, the amendment failed to recover its initial momentum. Only 35 of the necessary 38 states had ratified the amendment as a permanent change to the Constitution. Just as passage of ERA prompted the Defense Department and the military services to change dramatically women’s roles, its anticipated defeat led to reversals of policies across the military. President Reagan’s election in 1980 added fuel to the movement. A backlash ensued, with an official “womanpause” in the U.S. Army. Bailey argued:

Just as virtual certainty that the ERA would pass pushed the army to offer women equal opportunity . . . the threat that ERA would put the nation’s daughters in combat boots was the most effective argument against ERA and the one that would bury it. 25

Secretary of Defense Weinberger had “frozen plans to further expand the number of women” until more studies could be done. 26 The Women in the Army (WITA) study group further expanded the Army’s internal combat exclusion policy, recommended closing 23 occupational specialties that had been open to women, and re-segregating basic training.

The services wanted a return to the draft and an associated expanded pool of qualified young men. They viewed the requisite extensive employment of women as reason to end the AVF experiment. The Reagan Administration and some in Congress refused to accept the demise of the AVF and the consequent reversal in military women’s progress.  As the 1980s wore on, two events kept the issue of women in combat (and the MSG program) at the forefront of discussion in the Marine Corps.  First, the “Sex for Secrets” scandal in the U.S. embassy in Moscow brought the entire MSG program under threat. Second, the military’s sexual harassment issue exploded after a Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS) report revealed severe transgressions by Navy and Marine Corps leaders in the Pacific Theater. The decade concluded with dramatic changes for military women – ground combat defined, and the opportunity to serve as Marine Security Guards once again.

The “Sex for Secrets” scandal erupted in 1986 when a young sergeant admitted that he had exchanged classified documents and access to the U.S. embassy for the affection of a young Russian woman during his assignment in Moscow. 27  Sergeant Clayton J. Lonetree (an infantry Marine) had been assigned to the embassy as an MSG.  Against regulations, he began a covert relationship with a Soviet woman. During hearings, congressional inquiries and reports for the House and Senate that followed, the Marine Corps answered questions on the selection and training of Marine Security Guards.  In open testimony, Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder (a Colorado Democrat) took the opportunity to query Major General Carl E. Mundy, Jr., the Director of Operations for the Marine Corps about women.  The Army and the Air Force had used women in security guard positions before.  She stated, “The Marines have been a little behind in this.  I think the ‘A Few Good Men’ might ring in the ears too much.  There are a few good women out there too.” 28  Later, she asked what alternatives existed to using Marines at the embassies for security.  While MajGen Mundy demurred, the implication remained that perhaps alternatives to Marines guarding embassies could and should be explored.

One year later, the services again came under Congressional scrutiny regarding their treatment of military women.  The Committee originally established by George C. Marshall in 1951, DACOWITS, advised the Defense Secretary on policy matters related to women service members. The Secretary often instituted changes recommended by DACOWITS. In 1987, DACOWITS toured military bases in the Pacific, and found: that commanders had ignored sexual harassment complaints from enlisted women; that commanders had denied women opportunities for education and promotion; that one commander had been accused of “public sex” aboard ship; and that one ship’s commander had attempted to “sell” female sailors to the South Koreans. 29  Senator William Cohen (a Maine Republican) joined Senator William Proxmire (a Wisconsin Democrat) and Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder in admonishing the Defense Department, and demanding change.  They recommended: “long-range action to ensure the professional treatment of women . . . (and) increase the career opportunities for women in the services.” 8 Congress believed that taking action to eliminate sexual harassment and increase women’s opportunities would acculturate men to women in uniform, engender greater levels of respect for women’s contribution and lower incidents of sexual harassment.

In an attempt to demonstrate the appropriate level of response to Congress, the Defense Department established the Task Force on Women in the Military.  David Armor, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management and Personnel, led the Committee.  “The idea was that women were seen as tokens in the force, and that to increase levels of respect and stop sexual harassment, you had to increase the opportunities for women”. 31  The Committee had three responsibilities: to address the treatment of military women, to review the application of combat exclusion policies and to evaluate policy impact on women’s professional development. 32 The application of the combat exclusion policies caused the most contention, because they differed dramatically amongst the services.

The Marine Corps mostly escaped the intense review experienced by the other services, because it deployed its operating forces aboard amphibious ships – combat positions still closed to women by legislation. However, the Committee focused on MSG duty, claiming that the other services had women (successfully) serving in similar “guard duty billets”. The Marine Corps (via Commandant Al Gray) vehemently defended MSG duty as the single non-combat, non-operating forces billet that required a combat-trained Marine. But the Marine Corps stopped short in its commitment to MSG as a combat billet.  The requirement remained that an applicant simply be a male Marine – combat or non-combat MOS.  The assumption was that any male Marine could fill any combat role.

Much like Commandant Barrow a decade before him, Commandant Gray viewed women as women first, Marines second. Chosen by Secretary of the Navy Jim Webb for his notoriety as a warrior, Commandant Al Gray completed the cycle of post-AVF Commandants by bringing the Marine Corps back to its warrior roots.  He established such seminal concepts such as “Every Marine a Rifleman”, instituting the requisite training to ensure every Marine, regardless of MOS, attained basic proficiency as a rifleman.  Culturally a Marine first and foremost, Gray also held traditional beliefs about the role of women.  In a 1988 Leatherneck Magazine, Gray stated,

They (women Marines) want to serve and want to be respected.  They have an important job to do and they do it.  But I can assure you on this Commandant’s watch that they won’t be exposed to combat! 33

As such, Gray strongly objected to the Task Force’s recommendation that MSG be opened to women.  In a final effort to keep women out of the program, Gray went directly to the Task Force Chairman, David Armor to make a personal request. 31  As the Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Management and Personnel, Armor was filling the equivalent of a four-start general’s billet.  Gray likely perceived the Task Force Chairman as a colleague, and someone who might understand the Marine Corps’ case if presented by its Commandant.  Gray referenced the numerous times in the past that Marine Security Guards had been called to act to protect personnel and property in remote locations.  The Marine Corps simply could not send women only to “safe” postings.  Places like Lebanon, Nicaragua and many other countries demanded a “combat-trained Marine”. Despite Gray’s vehement opposition, Armor maintained the Task Force’s recommendation and newly appointed Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci approved opening MSG to women in February 1988.

The Marine Corps treaded lightly, demonstrating its reluctance to comply with the Secretary’s direction. By May, the first female Marines in almost ten years reported to MSG school.  However, before sending them to hardship locations the Corps posted women at safer locations in Western Europe and elsewhere.  Their fellow male Marines remained hesitant to accept the women as equals.  By the early 1990s, the women had proven themselves capable of serving alongside their male peers, and were accepted as an integral part of the program. 13   The atmosphere had started to shift, proving that it really did take a generation for dramatic cultural change following equally dramatic policy change.


Male Marines have often said that the integration of women had far less to do with the women than it had to do with the men.  The events that shaped the MSG program in the 1970s and 1980s demonstrated this clearly.  It was Generals Barrow and Gray, personifying the protective fathers and brothers, who decided female Marines should remain shielded from combat-like environments. Both men made their decisions based on personal beliefs rather than evidence that women failed to perform. Given the opportunity, women proved themselves equally capable as their male counterparts.  Alternately, General Wilson took every opportunity to expand opportunities and to treat women as Marines first. It took many years – decades – of women proving themselves, over and over again, for those cultural changes, envisioned by General Wilson, to occur.  Not until after the Gulf War did officer training become re-integrated, did women board combat ships and fly combat aircraft.  Two decades after passage of the ERA, not all male Marines had yet accepted female Marines as fellow Marines – but the door was once again open for them to succeed.

Due to policy and legislative changes in the 1990s, the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan found female Marines serving alongside their male brethren across all elements of the Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF). They received Combat Action Ribbons (CARs) and personal awards for their performance as vehicle operators in logistics convoys, force protection guards aboard U.S. outposts and as Female Engagement Team (FET) members operating as integral parts to Marine infantry units. They proved themselves equal members of the Marine Air-Ground Combat team. In January 2013, Secretary of Defense Panetta announced that all ground combat positions would be open to women, unless the services could provide evidence that they should not be.

In many ways, the Marine Corps found itself repeating history. Combat effectiveness once again became the phrase most often used by Marine leaders when discussing gender integration. Concerned about the impact of gender integration in the infantry, the Marine Corps commissioned a yearlong research effort to look at unit readiness and combat effectiveness – via the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force (GCEITF). The research showed that gender-integrated ground combat units performed less effectively and less efficiently than their all-male counterparts. Some argued that this conclusion was unsurprising – all it did was demonstrate that men, on average, are stronger and faster than women. But the paternalistic and protectionist attitudes prevalent among general officers such as Barrow and Gray continued with this most recent experience. The Marine Corps voiced concerned about the high rates of injury among women in the GCEITF, and as a special consideration separate from the legions of male infantry Marines with injured backs, hips, knees, ankles and shoulders from years of carrying heavy loads. For those (male) Marines, this merely represented the cost of an infantry career.

These arguments became moot on December 3, 2015, when Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that all ground combat occupations in all the services (including the Marine Corps) would be open to women. As of this writing, three women have elected to laterally move into ground combat specialties and one woman has accessed into an infantry specialty. If previous experiences with gender integration portend the future, years or even decades may be required of women proving themselves over and over again before cultural change takes hold and male (ground combat) Marines accept all Marines – male or female – as fellow Marines. Once again – and finally, the door is open for them to do so.

This most recent story about the Marine Corps’ research effort deserves its own article, which the author is currently writing.


Bailey, Beth. America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2009.

Barrow, Robert General. Session XV. Transcript, December 20, 1991. Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.

Clement, W.P. H.R. 9832: To Eliminate Discrimination Based on Sex with Respect to the Appointment and Admission of Persons to the Service Academies. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1975.

Daugherty, III, Leo J. The Marine Corps and the State Department: Enduring Partners in United States Foreign Policy, 1798-2007. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009.

Holm, Jeanne (MajGen). Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution. 2nd ed. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1993.

Koppenhaver, Howard M. Colonel. Transcript, May 20, 1980. Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.

Manpower Planning and Policies. “All Marine Message 118.” Commandant of the Marine Corps, July 5, 1980. Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Women Marines Collection, Box 5, Women Marine Assignment Policy Folder. Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.

Office of the Secretary of Defense (Force Management and Personnel). “Task Force on Women in the Military.” Washington, D.C., 1988. GRC.

Rustad, Michael. Women in Khaki: The American Enlisted Woman. New York, N.Y., United States: Praeger Security International, 1982.

White Jr., David H. Colonel. “Louis H. Wilson.” In Commandants of the Marine Corps, 427–36. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2004.

Wilson, Jr., Louis H. General. Session III, May 2, 1979. Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.

———. Session VII, February 24, 1980. Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.

(Return to August 2016 Table of Contents)


  1. David H. Colonel White Jr., “Louis H. Wilson,” in Commandants of the Marine Corps (Annapolist, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2004), 427–36.
  2. Bailey, Beth, America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 2009), 134.
  3. Ibid., 156; Jeanne (MajGen) Holm, Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, 2nd ed. (Novato, CA: Presidio, 1993), 249-253.
  4. Rustad, Michael, Women in Khaki: The American Enlisted Woman (New York, N.Y., United States: Praeger Security International, 1982), 8607.
  5. White Jr., “Louis H. Wilson.”, p. 428.
  6. Wilson was awarded the Medal of Honor assaulting an occupied enemy position as a company commander in the Marine assault on Guam during World War II; Ibid., 430.
  7. Ibid., 430-2.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Commandants use White Letters to convey their perspective and intent regarding subjects of interest, to himself and to the Marine Corps.  They are similar in scope, purpose and authority (within the Marine Corps) to Presidential Directives; “Women Marines: White Letter 5-76”, White Letters, 1975-1979, White Letters: 1976, Wilson; Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia; also Stremlow, A History of the Women Marines: 1946-1977, 132.
  10. Louis H. General Wilson, Jr., Session VII, February 24, 1980, 287, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.
  11. In an interview with the MSG Commanding Officer at the time, Col Koppenhaver stated that it began with a Manpower trip to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, and an inquiry into how the Marine Corps could attract and retain more women. In an interview with the Operations Officer at the time, Captain Robert Wolfertz stated that (then) Colonel Margaret Brewer proposed the idea while she was at Manpower. Either way, the idea emanated in a decision memorandum from General Wilkerson, Acting Director of Marine Corps Manpower to Commandant General Wilson late in 1977; Interviews with Captain Wolfertz and Colonel Koppenhaver, Archives and Special Collections, Marine Corps University.
  12. Howard M. Colonel Koppenhaver, Transcript, May 20, 1980, 8-9, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.
  13. Leo J. Daugherty, III, The Marine Corps and the State Department: Enduring Partners in United States Foreign Policy, 1798-2007 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009).
  14. Koppenhaver, interview, 5.
  15. Ibid., 4.
  16. Ibid, 3. Even today, the vast majority of Marines serving on MSG duty complete one “hardship” tour in a dangerous or Spartan location (such as the Middle East) and complete one “good” tour in a safe, more pleasant location (such as Western Europe) to balance welfare and morale of the Marine with Marine Corps needs. Classes of women identified in “Women Marines in the Marine Security Guard Program”, Decision Paper, December 1980, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Women Marines Collection, Box 3, 1983-1987/1988-1990, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia.
  17. Louis H. General Wilson, Jr., Session III, May 2, 1979, 121, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.
  18. Robert General Barrow, Session XV, Transcript, December 20, 1991, 8, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.
  19. Daugherty, III, The Marine Corps and the State Department: Enduring Partners in United States Foreign Policy, 1798-2007, 331–2.
  20. Ibid., 10.
  21. “Women Marines in the Marine Security Guard Program”, Decision Paper, December 1980, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Women Marines Collection, Box 3, 1983-1987/1988-1990, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps, Quantico, Virginia.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Manpower Planning and Policies, “All Marine Message 118” (Commandant of the Marine Corps, July 5, 1980), Manpower and Reserve Affairs, Women Marines Collection, Box 5, Women Marine Assignment Policy Folder, Archives and Special Collections Branch, Library of the Marine Corps.
  24. Holm, Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, 272.
  25. Bailey, Beth, America’s Army: Making the All-Volunteer Force, 164–5.
  26. Rustad, Michael, Women in Khaki: The American Enlisted Woman, 93.
  27. Daugherty, III, The Marine Corps and the State Department: Enduring Partners in United States Foreign Policy, 1798-2007, 263–5.
  28. Marine Security Guard System at Diplomatic Missions Abroad: Hearing Before the House Armed Services Committee, United States House of Representatives, 100th Congress, 1st Session (Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1987), 24).
  29. “The Treatment of Women in the Marines and Navy”, 100th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. 133 No. 147 Pg. S12754, September 25, 1987, HTTP://congressional.proquest.com/congressional/docview/t17.d18.9eaf21db14e7ca01?accountid=14541, Accessed December 4, 2014.
  30. Ibid.
  31. David J. Armor, Oral History Interview with Beth Wolny, December 3, 2010.
  32. Office of the Secretary of Defense (Force Management and Personnel), “Task Force on Women in the Military” (Washington, D.C., 1988), GRC.
  33. “CMC: His Goals for the Corps”, Leatherneck, November 1988.
  34. David J. Armor, Oral History Interview with Beth Wolny, December 3, 2010.
  35. Leo J. Daugherty, III, The Marine Corps and the State Department: Enduring Partners in United States Foreign Policy, 1798-2007 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers, 2009).

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