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Female Marines three pullups away from combat roles

– More than half of female Marines in boot camp can’t do three pullups, the minimum standard that was supposed to take effect with the new year, prompting the Marine Corps to delay the requirement – part of the process of equalizing physical standards to integrate women into combat jobs.

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

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,” Marine spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs 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.

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 decided to delay the requirement because the risk of losing recruits and hurting retention of women already in the service was unacceptably high, she said.

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

•Pullups, with three the minimum and eight for a perfect rating. 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.

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 assignments in 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.

Military brass has said repeatedly that physical standards won’t be lowered to accommodate female applicants.

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