(from USA Today) WASHINGTON (AP) – More than half of female Marines in boot camp can’t do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect January 1st, prompting the Marine Corps to delay the requirement, part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.

pull_upsThe delay rekindled sharp debate in the military on the question of whether women have the physical strength for some military jobs, as service branches move toward opening thousands of combat roles to them in 2016.

Although no new timetable has been set on the delayed physical requirement, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Amos wants training officials to “continue to gather data and ensure that female Marines are provided with the best opportunity to succeed,” Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine spokeswoman, said Thursday.

Starting with the new year, all female Marines were supposed to be able to do at least three pullups on their annual physical fitness test and eight for a perfect score. The requirement was tested in 2013 on female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., but only 45 percent of women met the minimum, Krebs said. [At the same time, only 1 percent of male recruits failed the pull-ups test.  Female recruits previously had to complete a “flexed arm hang,” or holding their chins above the pull-up bar for at least 15 seconds.] 

The Marines had hoped to institute the pullups on the belief that pullups require the muscular strength necessary to perform common military tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing up a rope or lifting and carrying heavy munitions.

Officials felt there wasn’t a medical risk to putting the new standard into effect as planned across the service, but that the risk of losing recruits and hurting retention of women already in the service was unacceptably high, she said.

Because the change is being put off, women will be able to choose which test of upper-body strength they will be graded on in their annual physical fitness test [PFT]. Their choices:

  • Pullups, with three the minimum. Three is also the minimum for male Marines, but they need 20 for a perfect rating.
  • A flexed-arm hang. The minimum is for 15 seconds; women get a perfect score if they last for 70 seconds. Men don’t do the hang in their test. [This is the test women had to pass before combat roles were opened to them; as of January 2013 the flexed-arm hang for women was replaced with the pull-up requirement.]

Officials said training for pullups can change a person’s strength, while training for the flex-arm hang does little to adapt muscular strength needed for military tasks

The delay on the standard could be another wrinkle in the plan to begin allowing women to serve in jobs previously closed to them such as infantry, armor and artillery units.

The military services are working to figure out how to move women into newly opened jobs and have been devising updated physical standards, training, education and other programs for thousands of jobs they must open Jan. 1, 2016, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Christensen, a Defense Department spokesman. They must open as many jobs to women as possible; if they decide to keep some closed, they must explain why.

Military brass has said repeatedly that physical standards won’t be lowered to accommodate female applicants. Success for women in training for the upcoming openings has come in fits and starts.

In fall 2012, only two female Marines volunteered for the 13-week infantry officers training course at Quantico, Va., and both failed to complete it.

But the following fall, three Marines became the first women to graduate from the Corps’ enlisted infantry training school in North Carolina. They completed the same test standards as the men in the course, which included a 12-mile march with an 80-pound pack and various combat fitness trials such as timed ammunition container lifts and tests that simulate running under combat fire.

Officials had added specific training for female recruits when the pullup requirement was announced in December 2012, and they came up with a workout program for women already serving.

Military testing for physical skill and stamina has changed over the decades with needs of the armed forces. Officials say the first recorded history of Marine Corps physical fitness tests, for example, was 1908 when President Theodore Roosevelt ordered that staff officers must ride horseback 90 miles and line officers walk 50 miles over a three-day period to pass. A test started in 1956 included chinups, pushups, broad jump, 50-yard duck waddle and running.

The first test for women was started in 1969: A 120-yard shuttle run, vertical jump, knee pushups, 600-yard run/walk and situps.

Originally published Jan. 2, 2014 by the Associated Press at USA Today. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from USA Today. Visit the website at usatoday .com.


1. How were physical standards set to change for female Marines starting January 1st?

2. Why was the change being implemented?

3. a) What percent of women failed the pull-up requirement of at least 3 pull-ups?
b) How did officials react?

4. What question does the delay raise for women in combat roles? – How might the delay affect the plan of moving women into combat roles?

5. From paragraph 11: “Military brass has said repeatedly that physical standards won’t be lowered to accommodate female applicants.”
a) Should there be separate physical standards for male and female marines preparing for combat? Explain your answer.
b) Should there be separate physical standards for male and female marines if females do not have combat roles? Explain your answer.

6. If all women were able to perform the same physical requirements as men, should they be given combat roles? Explain your answer.

7. Discussion questions:
As a marine, do men have the option to not serve in a combat role?
Now that women can serve in combat roles, should it be optional for them to choose combat?
Would making combat positions optional greatly affect the number of marines who choose those positions?
Do men and women have the exact same minimum and maximum amount/time for all physical requirements?
Should all marines, regardless of sex or age, have the same minimum standards for their annual physical fitness test [PFT]?


Watch a news report:

For the Marine Corps “Fitness Standards”  go to:  marines.com/becoming-a-marine/how-to-prepare

For a January 2013 article on the Pentagon’s order to open combat roles to women, go to: 

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