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The Marines go gender neutral: Are the troops on board?

The Marine Corps announced this week that it will rename non-gender neutral combat positions, a move that has generated a negative response among some marines.

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    Female recruits stand at the Marine Corps Training Depot on Parris Island, S.C., in 2013. The Marine Corps announced this week that it will rename non-gender neutral combat positions.
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As the United States armed forces begin to integrate women into combat roles, some of the historically masculine terminology used by various branches is becoming obsolete. On Monday, the Marine Corps announced the decision to rename 19 different military occupational specialties (MOS) to be more gender neutral.

Among the terms changed are occupational labels such as Basic Infantryman and Infantry Assaultman, which have been changed to Basic Infantry Marine and Infantry Assault Marine, respectively.

"Names that were not changed, like rifleman, are steeped in Marine Corps history and ethos," one unnamed official told the Marine Corps Times. "Things that were changed needed to be updated to align with other MOS names."

Terms such as manpower officer and mortarman appear to be two of those traditional terms, as they have remained unchanged despite MOS relabeling.

Already, there has been substantial backlash from the Marine community and others who feel that the name changes are negative representations of a larger cultural shift toward political correctness.

Most of the backlash has taken place online, in Facebook comments, tweets, and other comments.

The Washington Post aggregated several angsty comments from online forums, including comments expressing reluctant appreciation for the names and one written by a marine who is now apparently glad his term of service is expiring soon.

"Not really seeing why this matters," wrote one unnamed poster. "A marine is a marine. If this triggers you well ... not really sure what to say honestly. You'd think someone who has seen combat would have more stones."

Many commenters expressed distaste for "society's political correctness," seeing the move as a sign of societal weakness.

"On one hand, the name changes from 'man' to 'person' or whatever they want to call it doesn't really matter. They could call mortarmen bakers for all I care," Sgt. Geoff Heath, a Marine rifleman, told The Washington Post. "But on the other, it's a direct reflection on society's crybaby political correctness."

According to defense plans made public in March, the Marines could be recruiting women for combat positions by this fall, a move that was met with far from universal approval by top officials.

Women have served in support positions with the Marines for some time –  as of May, 2015, about 7 percent of Marines were women. However, until recently, women have not been allowed to serve in combat. Critics (including high ranking marines) of the Marine Corps decision to integrate women into combat troops say that they simply don't have the same stamina and cannot perform physical tasks at the level that men can.

Despite criticism, Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened all positions to women in December, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus confronted doubters in the Corps with addresses to Marine leaders in April.

Enlisted women have indicated that they neither want nor expect relaxed physical standards from the Army or Marines, preferring to prove themselves through hard work.

Nevertheless, opponents of including women in Marine Corps combat forces, such as Gen. Robert Neller, say that physical testing has shown repeatedly that women struggle to make physical benchmarks, and that they could therefore be liabilities in combat.

Some also expressed concerns that female combat troops would be at odds with the culture of the infantry, saying that the integration of women into the Corps could create sexual tension and jealousy. Anna Mulrine reported on the longstanding association of the Marines as being ultra-masculine for The Christian Science Monitor: 

The force has long been associated with hard-drinking, hard-fighting “Great Santini”-style warriors, whose chest-thumping does – and by necessity should, supporters add – trump any nod to what is widely seen by many Marines as political correctness. 

It’s a tough-guy culture cultivated by a force that prides itself on being the tip-of-the-spear – used by the US military to, say, take a beach from enemy forces by any means necessary.

That attitude, critics say, has prevented the Marines from taking steps toward integrating women more seamlessly into the force – steps the Army took long ago, such as opening support jobs in combat units to women.

The result is that the Marines largely remain where they were 20 years ago, while the rest of the military has shifted dramatically around them.

"We have a decision and we're in the process of moving out," General Neller told senators in February, according to CBS. "We will see where the chips fall. And, again, our hope is that everyone will be successful. But hope is not a course of action on the battlefield."

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