Video: Sgt. Maj. Mike Barrett on women serving in combat units


Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett addresses the Pentagon’s decision to overturn the policy preventing women from serving in ground combat units. The video was released Thursday night, after the change in policy was announced. (YouTube screen grab)

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey announced yesterday that they were lifting the 1994 Combat Exclusion Policy that bans women from serving directly in the infantry and other ground combat units. The move has been greeted with mixed reaction, with some hailing it as a victory for equal rights and others saying it will weaken the U.S. military.

I’ve spent most of the last 24 hours working on a full-length cover story that will be published soon addressing what the change means for Marines. In particular, Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Mike Barrett and Lt. Gen. Robert Milstead, deputy commandant for manpower and reserve affairs, sat down with me yesterday afternoon to discuss it.

For now, here’s a video of Barrett that the Corps released last night addressing the change:



About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.


  1. Justin Ledford on

    So does this mean that women will be required to sign up for the draft? Because if they can now serve on the frontline, it’s only fair, and I think it’s bullshit that they don’t have to as of yet, and think that if this becomes a standard they should HAVE to sign up for the draft as well as every male, or else where is the equality in that?

  2. Really? The draft? As if that will ever happen. Women deserve any MOS they qualify for. And no that does not mean lowering standards. But are telling me a guy that is 5’4″ tall weighting 140lbs can haul a 6’2″ 225lb guy off the battle field better than a 5’8″ 160lb female because he has balls?

  3. Justin Ledford on

    Did I say anything about you not deserving to be a grunt? No, learn to read. Have you bothered to see the worlds political and economical state, I am guessing not. If you think selective service will never happen, refer to the history books, and Vietnam. If you think it will never happen why do you think males should still have to sign up for it, probably so. So get your head out of your ass, and start using a little logic.

  4. Ed Webb (GySgt USMC Ret) on

    No Ann Jacobsen… balss have nothing to do with it but you compare apples to oranges in a complete intellectually dishonest way. Guess you haven’t figured out yet that men and women are built differently physically… but hey… come do the job I did for over 20 yrs as an infantryman and see for yourself just how non glamorous it really is

  5. Justin Ledford on

    Women soldiers and Marines, sailors alike have fought for equality, NOW YOU GOT IT. We have to sign up for the draft even tho you say “as if that will ever happen” you want equality sign up for selective service, it’s in place IN CASE SOMETHING DOES HAPPEN, it’s only fair you the ladies can be called upon as well.

  6. Congratulations, Ann, you miss the point completely. If you and other women expect to be treated equally, that means you should be required to do everything your male counterparts are required to do, without exception. All males are required to register for selective service, draft or no draft, and now that women are allowed into direct combat, it means that you should be required to do the same. That also means that women who choose to serve as infantry should also have to pass the same fitness and strength standards, carry the same gear, and march the same distance as their male counterparts.

  7. Nicholas Julian on

    Justin has an extremely good point here lady if you want equality than that includes equal everything not just the things you want to be equal and ignore the rules you don’t like

  8. Gents, I agree with you whole heartedly. As a female Marine and above all else an American, I believe that women shouting and demanding equality need to do EVERYTHING their male counterparts do. We live in a society where equality has meant picking and choosing what areas we want to be equal in. I am not ashamed to say that women are physically inferior to men because anatomically we are not created equal. Add to that, the psychological impact and undue stress of accommodating females into infantry units in one we could all do without. Our country and our Corps has been successful without females in the front lines. Why change now especially when this change is being prompted by outsiders?

  9. Thats because you’re a wife, your’e not entitled to an opinion in this matter, youre already reaping the benefits, what do you have to complain about? You’re probably the wife that goes around trying to boss people around because your husband is a gunny or a captain or something.

  10. Tom Root Gysgt USMC (Ret) on

    I applaud the Sgt. Maj. Of the USMC doing this vid! The Marine Corps will make it possible for those Qualified to be in their respective MOS be they Male or Female! I do think that they should Also register for the draft as well! I was in a Squadron, VMA(AW)-242, in in 1979, when the first WM was brought into the Maintenance Department, she outperformed many male Marines twice her size! Semper Fi, to All my Sisters and Brothers out there!

  11. One can’t cry for equality while demanding a separate set of standards. Instead of fighting tougher PFT standards, women need to demand that they take the same PFT as men. Of course we know that won’t happen since it’s already been estimated that around 80% of current female Marines would fail the male PFT.

    Do which is it ladies, do you want to cast out your unfit peers or remain hypocrites?

  12. I never said that women shouldn’t register for the draft. My two daughters have already done what 99% of the men who do register won’t do, they serve! My oldest is a Marine and my youngest is in the Navy. Keep the same standards, just let women compete like the men. And no I don’t think my daughters deserve to be treated any differently because they have boobs, just let them have the same chances as the guys.

  13. Michael O'bryan on

    I don’t believe women have a clue what they are getting into. I find it funny that women do not realize that many men drop out at basic training alone ! The rate of women droping from basics is higher and already women have special standards at a basic level. The idea of a woman picking up a rifle and ammo crawling thru the mud , making a halo jump, doing 10 pull ups with 50 pounds on thier back, after a 1.5 mile run in combat gear, and a 1.5 mile swim in that same gear makes me laugh when 98.8 % of them can not or will not open the door for them selves. The only job 95.5 % of the women in the military need is pushing paper and cleaning the head! Since women have entered the service you have had a seperate set of standards. Yes the balls have everything to do with it , men think with them rather than ginger emotions.

  14. T.Simpson Sgt. on

    I really can’t wait to see this. I worked in a pog job and girls managed to almost get us killed on numerous occasions. This shouldn’t be up for decision by congress, i would first ask the moms and wives of every male marine if they would like to have their son’s or husband’s life in the hands of another woman. I think its a bunch of B.S. Are we really going to be reactive about this and recall their right after it comes to light they cannot and never will be able to do the things men do and countless men die because of it? Oh hey SGT MAJ^^^ Get it together.. you’ve been maning that desk a little to long.

  15. @Ann don’t cry for equality and in the same breath blow off the prospect of selective service, it makes you sound like an idiot. @ C. Wiley that was probably the most honest explanation of this whole debate, Bravo Zulu. @ Gunny Root, with all due respect you were an air winger and despite the phrase “every Marine is a rifleman” that is simply not true. Having served my enlistment as a grunt in a heavy weapons company I can say it is no cake walk. Throwing on a 70lb ruck and then adding a component of a crew served weapon you are talk about humping anywhere between 100-130 lbs of gear for anywhere between 6 miles (very short one and rarely done) up to a 28 mile MCCRE hump, with an average training hump of 15 to 18 miles. I have no doubt there there are a few women Marines that may be able to handle it but then my question is what does this do to unit cohesiveness? Look at the recent experiment by the Corps with female officers and TBS. They found TWO volunteers and they both failed out fairly early on in the course.

  16. Unfortunately, the powers that be will probably touch their toes like our LAPD METRO and Cheif of Police did… They changed the obligatory physical fitness entry, standards just to get a female into SWAT! Then when she made it into SWAT, she had a NEGLIGENT DISCHARGE with her MP5 on the range, while getting additional trigger time, while all the other guys were at chow. 2 round burst pop, pop into the ground, almost hitting the then LT in the feet. That same move would have seen a male DQ’d out of SWAT school and sent back to a line platoon and probably never allowed to try out again! But not the female that the powers that be were desperate to get in…. Different set of rules, which is hardly a way to be welcomed into a Tier 1 unit…. That’s why our SWAT team has lost the luster and prestige it once had. It’s no longer the best for the job… It’s the demographic of the moment that gets the nod! Lookout MARSOC here comes Demi Moore…!

  17. John, did you even read my 2nd post? Not once have I said women should not register with selective service. I think they should! My daughters are currently serving, I think the government all ready knows where they are. And just because I don’t believe the government has the guts to bring back the draft does not mean I’m an idiot.

  18. ana jacobsen…. You sound like an idiot, or just far to emotional to have a conversation with. Thin skin on the front lines is another negative! You said ” But are telling me a guy that is 5’4″ tall weighting 140lbs can haul a 6’2″ 225lb guy off the battle field better than a 5’8″ 160lb female because he has balls?” It’s been done, adrenaline is a serious motivator in the heat of battle. Males and females are created differently, it’s just as simple as that. If you can not except that as a factor, than you’re intellectually dishonest, and cannot even start to have an applicable discussion. All guys, regardless of height and weight are not cut out for battle. The percentages are far less of even the fittest and able females. If you think a 160lb female is going to be super Soldier, you’re smoking your socks and are clearly ignorant to the rigors and complexities of hand to hand, bad breath battle. I’m not saying females don’t have their place in some capacity in the front lines, but 99.9% would get tossed the f$%k up as an 0311, let alone in a, SEAL, SF, MARSOC or Ranger unit. Again, that’s not to say that females aren’t used in some capacity for certain missions, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. And this “everybody gets a trophy mentality will get more people killed, just so some REMF can feel good about themselves for getting the first female in a Tier 1 MOS.

  19. @ Ann I was going off your first post when you said “Really? The draft? As if that will ever happen.” Which was in response to a post where someone asked if women would be required to sign up for the draft. Just because your daughters decided to serve their country, admirable and thank you for their service, does not mean the same thing as being required to sign up for selective service. My high school had us sign up in school when we turned 18. If women want equality that should be the first step. Standards should not be lowered one iota. Physically men and women are just different, it is not opinion it is fact. I have seen men not handle some of the training we did and they were the ones that we would have left in the rear if the sh*t did hit the fan.

  20. @ John Kelly, I guess I should have qualified my post with the fact I was in Division, my first 8 years, both with Arty (3-10) and the Grunts (3-9) as a communicator. I scaled many a mountain right along with 0-311’s with all the gear they had plus a ~12# AN/PRC-77 Radio! Do I think ALL women can do it, no, but the ones that cut the mustard and can handle it, so be it! There are men who can’t handle it either, and are re-assigned, just as those who couldn’t handle Avionics that I served in my subsequent years was.

    I also will NEVER forget that all WM’s were banned from going to the Persian Gulf War, by our commander. Those Wm’s were more qualified than some male Tech’s I took to war. They drew the same paycheck, yet were not allowed to serve in combat…..still wrong to this day I say!

  21. Tom Root, glad to read your bona fides, most of us have them…but I digress, it doesn’t appear (by the position of your comments) you’re not getting the point that most of us have, and furthermore you’re being disingenuous if you are attempting to somehow infer that you don’t believe the Corps will CHANGE the standards just to accommodate a female getting into specific units. The second part of your comment I agree with 100%. Semper Fi!

  22. It already appears that Gen Dempsey, the Chairman of the JCS, is already breaking ground on lowering the standards. He stated “”[I]f we do decide that a particular standard is so high that a woman couldn’t make it, the burden is now on the service to come back and explain to the secretary, why is it that high? Does it really have to be that high?”

    That right there shows that they are willing to lower the standards and a direct result could be unnecessary deaths.

    Here is the whole article.

  23. It is not women in combat that worries me. It is unqualified female marines watching my son’s back (2ndLT)

    that worries me. Equality in combat roles does not mean a free ride to the front. It means the same PFT, marksmanship,

    and training standards. If the female is a double expert and

    can carry a 220lb wounded marine to safety, ok. If not, no.

  24. Disappointed D on

    I am utterly disappointed in most of the comments. Wow. What does it mean to serve? After 24 years of service, I am thoroughly confused at how and why we torture each other with our words. Wow.

  25. To be honest friends, the physical side of things is my least concern. I agree that men and women are created differently and that physical standards are an issue, but I think the emotional and “fraternization” issues will be more disruptive to “good order and discipline” than who can do the most pull-ups or situps. Our culture still considers women the “fairer” sex and defers to them in many ways. Anyone who has been in the military for longer than a week has seen how in a unit of 40 guys and 5 girls, the girls get a lot of attention. You think that dynamic will change amongst a bunch of infantry studs? There’ll be hate and discontent among the ranks within a month. The girls will “pair-up” – or not – and some guys will be glad and some will be rejected. Who hasn’t seen this already? Add in the stress and emotion and closeness of a combat situation and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Imagine one Marine choosing to “protect his girl” over doing his duty and watching the back of the guy in his fox hole with him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming the women for all this. It’s the way God made us, it’s our culture, uur common societal values. I’m just saying don’t get wrapped around the axle about the physical stuff because many women can perform most of the military MOSs. I’m saying don’t miss the psychological issues: discipline and mental toughness, esprit de corps, relationships, etc. These are at the heart of unit cohesion, teamwork, and combat effectiveness.

    Just my $.02 worth.

Leave A Reply