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Report recommends Marine Corps drop 'gender-specific salutations' for drill instructors

Drill Instructors saluting the U.S. flag during the graduation of recruits from US Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC (File/Thinkstock){p}{/p}
Drill Instructors saluting the U.S. flag during the graduation of recruits from US Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, SC (File/Thinkstock)

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In an effort to "de-emphasize gender," a new academic report recommends that the United States Marine Corps boot camp stop using "gender-specific salutations" for drill instructors.

The 738-page academic report, commissioned by the Marine Corps in 2020 and completed in 2022, argues that half of U.S. military services have already rid themselves of "gendered identifiers" for training staff.

The Army, Navy, and Coast Guard effectively de-emphasize gender in an integrated environment,” the academic report from the University of Pittsburgh says. “Instead of saying ‘ma’am’ or ‘sir,’ recruits in these Services refer to their drill instructors using their ranks or roles followed by their last names. Gendered identifiers prime recruits to think about or visually search for a drill instructor’s gender first, before their rank or role."

The proposal is reportedly under consideration, but Marine Corps leaders apparently have concerns.

Chief of Staff for Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Col. Howard Hall, shared his apprehension to the proposal while speaking at a Dec. 6 meeting with the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, the Military Times reports.

Honestly, that’s not a quick fix. What are we inculcating in our young recruits that will or will not be reinforced when they graduate and enter the fleet Marine force?," Col. Howard reportedly said at the meeting. "So again, we want to avoid any quick-fix solutions that introduce perturbations down the line."

Col. Howard also reportedly added that the proposal is "going to take some effort" if it ever is implemented.

All of a sudden, we change something at recruit training, and recruits start coming in and using a different identifier. It’s not something we would change overnight,” Col. Howard reportedly told the Military Times after the advisory committee meeting. “Again, we’ve got a history of ‘sir, ma’am, sir, ma’am. If we change something at the root level, how do we make the corresponding change at the Fleet Marine Force? So it’s not ours to implement alone."

The academic report from the University of Pittsburgh focuses on ways the Marine Corps boot camp centers itself on male Marines by using masculine language and allegedly ignoring female Marines.

Given as an example, the study says instruction material from Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego only used male pronouns to describe leadership traits: "A leader who is confident in his decisions instills confidence in his Marines."

Also, anecdotes cited by the study suggest female training staff were sometimes treated as though they were less important, as if they had less authority than their male counterparts. This issue apparently appeared even if the female training staff were senior officers.

Ridding the Marine Vorps of the "gendered identifiers" "sir" and "ma'am" will help in counteracting these issues, the academic report suggests.

Gender-neutral identifiers are an unambiguous, impartial way to circumvent these issues,” the academic report claims. “Employing gender-neutral identifiers eliminates the possibility of misgendering drill instructors, which can unintentionally offend or cause discord. By teaching recruits to use gender-neutral identifiers for their drill instructors, Services underscore the importance of respecting authoritative figures regardless of gender."

The proposal to shed "gender identifiers" in the Marine Corps is reportedly one of several that the Marine's entry-level training advisory council is considering.

As the Military Times reports, "it’s not clear" exactly which recommendations the council will decide to pursue, or even when they will make that decision.

Women account for 4.3% of all Marine officers, according to the Marine Corps University, which adds women make up 51.% of the Marine Corps active duty enlisted force.

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