Commandant Gen. Jim Amos made headlines last week when he challenged me in a letter to the editor published in Marine Corps Times to attend the service’s difficult Infantry Officer Course as a participant. The invitation was issued after he took umbrage with a recent story I wrote that had a headline saying two female volunteers for the course “flunked” IOC last month as part of ongoing research into which roles service members can fill in combat.
I met with the commandant Monday morning at the Pentagon to discuss the issue. By mutual agreement, we decided that it would be best for all involved if I cover IOC in July as an observer, rather than as a participant. Like the 100-plus lieutenants who will be there, I’ll be dropped in the woods at Quantico, Va., before dawn July 2 and spend a full day in the field during the arduous Combat Endurance Test, IOC’s entrance exam. I will follow and report what I see, in similar fashion to what I have done during three embedded assignments in Afghanistan.
I can’t speak for the commandant, but I’ll say that I think this decision is grounded in common sense and respect for the lieutenants — male and female — taking the course. Women attending the course is a big deal in the Marine Corps, and I’ll be allowed to cover it while at the same time not becoming a sideshow distraction for individuals who will in some cases soon be faced with life-or-death choices.
I accepted the commandant’s invitation because it was the only option I had at the time that afforded me access to IOC. Upon further reflection, it seems like doing so would be a burden to both instructors and students. I look forward to covering IOC in a traditional sense, and appreciate the commandant’s willingness to discuss the issue. My first goal remains writing with honesty, thoroughness and respect about the service and the challenges it faces.