Sage Santangelo; the double standard at Marine Infantry Officer Course

| March 30, 2014


Sage Santangelo, a Marine Corps lieutenant and one of the first few women to have participated in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course writes in the Washington Post about why she thinks she failed her attempt. the main reason, she thinks, is because it was the first time that she had to do something at the male level of fitness;

I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t reduce qualifications. For Marine infantry officers, mistakes mean risking the lives of the troops you are charged to protect. But I believe that I could pass, and that other women could pass, if the standards for men and women were equal from the beginning of their time with the Marines, if endurance and strength training started earlier than the current practice for people interested in going into the infantry, and if women were allowed a second try, as men are.


The Basic School, where I reported after graduating from Bowdoin College in 2012, has long been co-ed. But physical double standards persist. In the Physical Fitness Test, for example, a male perfect score is achieved by an 18-minute three-mile run, 20 pull-ups and 100 sit-ups in two minutes. A female perfect score is a 21-minute three-mile run, a 70-second flexed-arm hang and 100 sit-ups in two minutes. There was a move to shift from arm hangs to pull-ups for women last year. Yet 55 percent of female recruits were unable to meet the minimum of three, and the plan was put on hold.

I guess what she’s saying is that women, if they’re to be expected to meet men’s standards in physical endurance and fitness, the entire force should train to the same standard from the beginning, something I can’t disagree with at all. But then she complains that she wasn’t afforded a second shot at the course.

I also would have liked to have had the opportunity to try the course again. The Marine leadership has said it doesn’t want female lieutenants taking the course multiple times, at least until combat positions are available to women, because it doesn’t want to delay the rest of their training. Yet many of the men who failed alongside me in January are back at Quantico, training to retake the course in April.

Well, in the Marine Corps’ defense, I’d guess that because this is a test phase for the program that will only ultimately end in a report on the Secretary of Defense’s desk, and since the Marine Corps doesn’t want to chew it’s fat twice, the report should mirror the results of first time participants, since those are the people that the Marine Corps wants to graduate most. It might not be fair to LT Santangelo personally, it’s fair for the test phase.

She also complains that there is little time for perspective infantry students to prepare themselves physically for the course. I wonder, then, why are there any infantry officers in the Marine Corps. Some make through despite the challenges the lieutenant has cited, and many of those made it through the first time.

While I agree with her that fitness standards should be universal irrespective of sex – a female clerk should be at the same level of fitness as a male clerk – even though she only had a month between her basic course and her infantry course, that was still time enough to prepare for the infantry course. It’s a time management thing.

Like I said, any accommodation for women in this phase would skew the results for the study, and although it doesn’t seem fair for the women taking their shots at IOC now, in the end, it will give a more accurate picture of the overall program in the end. She says that she doesn’t want the standards lowered for the Course, and this is the best way to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Category: Marine Corps, Military issues

Comments (49)

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  1. Beretverde says:

    I’ve heard of every damn excuse why someone fails…but this is a new one. Unbelievable!

    • Hondo says:

      What, Beretverde – you’ve never heard the “It’s your fault, you didn’t prepare me well enough” excuse?

      Apparently it’s made its way from PTA meetings and school parent-teacher conferences to the USMC.

      • MGySgtRet. says:

        that hurts Hondo…..because it is true….Never thought I would see it creep into my beloved Corps, but it has. And we will be much the worse for it.

        • Hondo says:

          Sadly, MGySgtRet., it’s not just the USMC. And IMO you’re correct – we’ll indeed be the worse for it.

  2. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I
    I I I I I I I I My My My My MyMy My My
    My My My My…

    That’s a representation of the number of times Santangelo used those pronouns in the first half of the piece! Now, it’s true that the piece is a written in the first person. Nevertheless, she does have a penchant for I and my. Maybe there is more to her fail than she allows.

  3. NHSparky says:

    You’ve had adequate time to prepare for the course, Lieutenant.

    It’s called YOUR WHOLE DAMN LIFE.

    • defendUSA says:

      I wanted to do well and be prepared for my Army days, that I was doing push-ups and sit ups long before I went to boot camp.
      A drill noticed I wasn’t fatigued after dropping us for a hundred in the early days of basic (those who couldn’t keep up had to stay “leaned and rested”). He asked me if I could do more when I finished the 100, I didn’t answer, but I did bang out 30 more. I got an extra Sara Lee dessert…hahahaha

  4. CB Senior says:

    She must have gone to the secrit scweril school where the standards are CLASSIFIED.
    The ambushed her with them.

  5. CB Senior says:

    And what the Hell kind of hair cut is the woman wearing in the picture. That is standard?

    • Rerun0369 says:

      For women, yes it meets the standard. From P1020.34G, our uniform regulations:

      2. Medium Hair Length. Medium hair is defined as hair that does not extend beyond the collar’s lower edge (in all uniforms), and extends more than 1 inch from the scalp. Medium hair may fall naturally in uniform and is not required to be secured. When worn loose, graduated hair styles
      are acceptable, but the length, from the front to the back, may not exceed
      one inch difference in length, from the front to the back (see Figure 1-3).
      The regulations for the wear of bangs detailed above are relevant. No
      portion of the bulk of the hair as measured from the scalp will exceed
      approximately 2 inches (see Figure 1-3). MARADMIN 504/07

      >CH 5 3. Long Hair. Long hair is defined as hair that extends
      beyond the collar’s lower edge. Long hair will be neatly and inconspicuously
      fastened or pinned, except that bangs may be worn. The regulations for the
      wear of bangs detailed above are relevant. No portion of the bulk of the
      hair, as measured from the scalp, will exceed approximately 2 inches (except
      a bun, which may extend a maximum of 3 inches from the scalp) and no wider
      than the width of the head. MARADMIN 504/07

      • CB Senior says:

        It was more of a rhetorical question. I know that is SAT for a female, but it looks like shit in that uniform. What male could wear their hair that way?

        • DevilChief says:

          I agree–looks like dog turd. I think if females want to serve in combat roles, they need to have the EXACT same haircut the rest of the grunts wear i.e. high and tight or close fade.

  6. Ex-PH2 says:

    Wounded ego. Ick.

  7. NR Pax says:

    Lieutenant, you have obviously not been briefed on the Marine Corps phenomenon known as “The Green Weenie.”

  8. Sparks says:

    Sage Santangelo wants the standards to be the same from high school through the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course…then she could pass. Uhm…well it just isn’t that way honey. Not in the real world.

    Then…”I also would have liked to have had the opportunity to try the course again.” Again, honey, we don’t like paying for the the same real estate twice. You take your shot and do your best and if your best passes with current standards…you’re in. If not, go into supply, we need good supply, intelligence, logistics, administration and all the other support folks too. They…also serve my dear.

    To CB Senior…my question too. What in the hell is up with that hair??? Don’t regs say it has to be shorter or if not then up and under the cap for safety? Yea, get your hair snagged in barbed wire or the action of your weapon or any of a dozen other hazards that come with long hair. Why don’t we just let everyone wear long Puka shell necklaces from mom to get caught in their shit.

    This again is an individual who is all about me, me, me and not about the Corp and the Corp and the Corp and what is best for the Corp and the troops they will lead.

  9. Nicki says:

    Judging from what Sarah has told me having graduated boot camp in January, she expected a lot more strength and endurance training than what she got. She already had met the pull-up standard before arriving at Parris Island. She and her fellow recruits worked every day – on their own – to improve and exceed those standards. She said that other than the first few weeks, PT wasn’t a priority and it was too easy physically, so they did a lot on their own, and they were devastated that they weren’t allowed to do the pull ups as part of their PFT, because other females that apparently came before them didn’t meet the standard.

    It’s too bad. If males and females are to fight together, they need to train and have the same standards. If I could pass the APFT by male standards, it shouldn’t be an issue for anyone else. I’m not a hulk. I’m not a weight lifter. Doing 42 push ups in 2 minutes (can’t remember for sure, but I think that was the minimum men my age needed to pass back then) is not an outrageous requirement, and I exceeded that with a normal hour or so of PT every day.

  10. defendUSA says:

    Can I just say that I DO have proverbial balls with which to grab when necessary, but, I do KNOW that the men, in this case are where they belong and I know why. They don’t need to deal with those kind of people.
    Thank you, 4th PlT, 21st Evac for teaching me that!!

  11. Hondo says:

    Well, whenever a LT spouts off in public, it’s always an adventure. In some cases, they actually know what they’re talking about. (smile)

    However, here LT Santangelo appears to have missed the basic point.

    The point of what the USMC is doing, LT, isn’t whether or not a carefully selected individual, given an undetermined amount of additional training outside and above norms, can pass the course. Rather, the point is seeing if the average female applicant, under current conditions and standards, can pass the course.

    Current physical training standards are based on both combat requirements and population norms. The current gender differences in military fitness standards are no different.

    Ample undisputed evidence exists that, on average, males have around 20% more cardiovascular endurance, as well as substantially more (maybe 30-40% more) physical strength than females do (again, on average). Males are also larger and have higher testosterone levels (two reasons for the generally greater average male endurance and strength levels; both aggression and the fraction of lean muscle mass comprising body weight are linked to testosterone). This also makes males in general more physically aggressive than females.

    In short: the average male is operating, physically, somewhere around the female 1.5-2 positive standard deviations. That means of every 100 females, less than 10 will be as physically capable as the average male – and maybe as few as 2.

    Higher population norms also means higher average physical ceilings with additional physical training. In short, with training, even average males can reach a level of physical conditioning that the average female will have extreme difficulty in attaining – if they can get there at all. To meet those levels (if possible), average females will also require substantial additional physical training vis-a-vis their male peers.

    Most jobs in the military are indeed gender immaterial; anyone with the requisite physical and mental abilities can do them. However, certain jobs in the military place such a premium on physical stamina, strength, and aggression that very few women – even with extra physical training – will be successful. Those jobs are, by and large, the combat arms specialties. Placing women in those career fields is simply NOT a good idea. Few will be physically up to the task, and the “washout” rate under current physical standards will be extreme.

    Changing the current standards is similarly a non-starter. The enemy has a vote in what those standards must be.

    Men’s and women’s bodies are simply designed by Mother Nature/the Deity/evolution/whatever to be different, and to be capable of different things. Ignoring that fact is equivalent to King Canute ordering the tide not to come in.

    • Sparks says:

      Hondo you said it far better than I. The whole point to combat is to kill people and break things. Efficiently, speedily and without any extra, wasted effort or unnecessary danger. This social experiment to satisfy the liberal females of our country is not going to work. If pushed, yes it will work…for the women. As for the men they will then command in combat…not so much. They are the ones who will ultimately suffer and die. Unfortunately too, the women, ill prepared and gender normed into a job they are not truly, physically prepared for will also die. I do not see the benefit in more deaths than necessary just to prove a social point. It is a lack of common sense that has run rampant through the administration and also the Pentagon for some years now. Can we please, for the love of our troops and our country, just keep the fighting done by those, proven, to be best able to accomplish it. History has proven…those best capable are…men.

    • Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

      This is a big +1.

      Like it or not ladies the “average” male is more realistically contrasted against the female elites (top 10%)….it’s true not only in the military but everywhere else as well.

      Coaching elite (premier soccer) athletes both male and female some simple statistics on injuries are also telling. Due to the lack of additional muscularity at the quadricep, calf and other major knee stabilization points female athletes suffer ACL injuries at a rate many, many times that of their male counterparts.

      It’s not always about the performance, it’s also sometimes about the cost of the injuries and the associated rehabilitation or disability rating of the trainee as a result of the exposure to the training.

  12. Green Thumb says:

    This is why I stayed in the Infantry.

    To avoid this whiny bullshit.

  13. Adam Fenner says:

    She sounds like she has a pretty mature attitude about the entire experience. The question I would ask is do males get a second opportunity to attempt the course if they wash out? And didn’t she know she was about to be held to male standards? Why didn’t she start holding herself to those at that time? I’ve worked with guys planning to try out for Special Operations. A year plus out, even in Afghanistan they were training, and holding themselves to a higher standard. The military doesn’t have the time or resources to start anyone from World Of Warcraft aficionado and turn them into Rambo.

    • Hondo says:

      Adam: the WaPo article indicates that at least some males do get a second chance to attend the course, presumably because they’re slated for an Infantry assignment based on needs of the USMC. As noted, females aren’t eligible for such assignments today; that (plus the fact that the program is a test program designed to gather data on female pass/fail rate under current conditions) is the stated reason why no females have been allowed to recycle to date.

      Regarding her “mature attitude” here: can’t say I agree. She appears to be making excuses for her failure and/or transferring the blame to others (in this case, the USMC for “not properly preparing her”) vice owning it.

      Admitting failure is a mature act. I don’t regard making excuses and/or shifting blame for one’s failure to others as evidence of being mature. From her article, it seems to me that she’s still living in “Coulda-woulda-shoulda-land” on the banks of Denial River.

      • flindip says:

        Not to mention, aren’t those Marine infantry officer billets competitive? Meaning don’t the men have to rate between a 260-275 pft score(on the male scale) to even have the opportunity to attend?

        If its a true meritocracy would she have even qualified(or many of female’s who volunteered)to even attempt the course in the first place?

        I mean I’m all for giving her a second chance. But here is the catch: she loses her slot at flight school. The Marines can then send her to whatever area they need filing.

  14. flindip says:

    Also, what about the one woman who did pass the endurance test? Apparently she didn’t need more time to prepare. She didn’t seem to make any excuses or put any op-ed pieces out when she had to be medically dropped.

  15. Beretverde says:

    But there came a point when I could not persuade my body to perform. It wasn’t a matter of will but of pure physical strength. My mind wanted more, but my muscles quivered in failure after multiple attempts.

    LT… you are a “NO Go.” Time for the Duffel Bag Drag and I don’t want to hear ANOTHER PHUCKING EXCUSE!

  16. Just An Old Dog says:

    I think she is a young woman with a lot of self-esteem and pride that isn’t used to failing.
    She seems pretty “cocky”… which isnt a bad thing. She set down and did some soul searching after not making it and came up with some bonafide reasons she didn’t make it. It boiled down to her saying she wasn’t aware of or physically prepared for the course. Which is the absolute truth, as evidenced by her faiing it. Whether it was her underestimating the course or the Marine Corps “failing” to train her up to the standards is a moot point. She didnt make it. Her recommendation that women and men be held to the exact same standards ( the higher male ones) isn’t going to happen. Sure, the women who make the grade will be much fitter than the ones now, but at what cost?
    The attritrition rates for females will skyrocket, and the military will then be questioned on why they don’t have a higher percentage of women serving.
    2nd Lt Santangelo’s recommendation is exactly what many “Old Corps”( read good ol’ boys) have been pushing for decades,,,, hold women to the exact standards. Which is exactly why it won’t happen. It will effectively reduce the number of women serving by 95%.
    Now a word on Marine officers. Our 2nd and 1st Lts are PT studs. When I served in an infantry unit the Lts were crazy in shape. While not neccessarily the most fit in the unit ( there’s always some enlisted guy who is a bit quicker) They were ALWAYS in the top 5% or so of the unit. They have to be, and are, leaders from the front physically.
    I also have personal knowledge of one of 2nd Lt Santangelo’s fellow FEMALE classmates in that same OIC class. Her father is a retired Marine Officer and she was a volunteer. Physically she is an awesome specimen. I’m talking she probably could have smoked my ass even when I was in my prime in my early 20s.
    I don’t want to give away too much information to protect her privacy, but trust me, she is nationally known in fitness circles.
    She ended up being one of the ones dropping the first day. He dad summed it up nicely. “If she can’t do it, it can’t be done.”

    • NR Pax says:

      The big problem is that too many Congresscritters will hear “If she can’t do it then it proves that we need to lower the standards.”

  17. Roger in Republic says:

    LT. The Taliban will not give you the extra time to prepare for combat. They will not slow the pace or intensity of their attack so you can catch up. And it is mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.

  18. FatCircles0311 says:

    That photograph is a double standard.

    Grunts never went on humps without body armor and a kevlar.

  19. Grimmy says:

    Her reasoning demonstrates a true fail at comprehending the basic requirement for an infantry officer.


    An officers job is to look ahead at what is required and ensure that everyone, from themselves to the lowest rank in the command beneath them is prepared to meet and exceed the requirements.

    Imo, her reasoning demonstrates that, not only is she unfit to command infantry, she’s unfit to be an officer in the Corps.

  20. Common Sense says:

    I am a 51-year-old female who has been working on improving my health and fitness for a bit over 6 months. I’ve lost 47 lbs, can pass the basic AF PT test my kids take, and can finally run an entire 5K.

    My husband had his foot crushed at work last June. After 8 months of basically laying on the couch, he finally started working out again. Even with that, he is still stronger and faster than I am. Where I do reps with 20 or 30 lbs, he does 80 or 90. Where I struggle doing planks for 30 seconds, he does a minute with no effort.

    Women just can’t compete with men physically. I’m sure the rare woman can keep up with an average man, but in general it just isn’t going to happen.

  21. Taurus USMC 0302 says:

    I agree with Sparky’s first comment. It was up to her to prepare. A bigger issue is whether women should command combat troops. Enlisted Marines are just everyone else. They want to survive and go home. They need absolute confidence in their commanders to perform well.Tahey need to know that the new LT had to perform at least the same or higher level than them to earn their billet.
    I arrived in RVN in 1968 as a replacement Platoon Commander with 3rd Marines。I was only three years older than most of the men in the platoon but they were battle hardened veterans and I was an inexperienced brown bar. At least they knew that the Marine Corps had not cut corners on my training. They had confidence in the Marine Corps. I had to prove my leadership. Without confidence in your leaders things can go south quickly.
    Combat is not the place for social enginering experiments.

    • MGySgtRet says:

      Key phrase in your post sir, “At least they knew that the Marine Corps had not cut corners on my training. They had confidence in the Marine Corps”. We keep up this social engineering bullshit and that confidence level in the Marine Corps and in the officer corps is going to go down the fricking shitter.

      Enlisted men are not fools. They read and they know when someone is the real deal or full of shit. We send half trained females into the fleet just to make sure everyone is happy, the enlisted man is going to lose it. And they will vote with their feet. Like many did after DADT was repealed.

  22. flindip says:

    Holy shit! I was browsing the comments from that Washington Post article; it is truly a race to see who can post the most ignorant and asinine shit.

    Idiots/misinformed from both sides arguing in circles makes for comedy gold at least.

  23. MGySgtRet says:

    Any male who has been allowed to retake the course was more than likely an injury drop and is recycled. If the Lt. is in good academic standing and is not a shithead, then the instructor staff will allow them to return and complete the course.

    Females not being able to return seems to me to be a case of, you failed, now on to your real MOS school. Nothing more, nothing less.

    This Lt. is indeed whiny. “Why was I not allowed to physically prepare myself for this course?”. Maybe the fact that you were going to be a Marine officer would have been enough for you to get yourself physically prepared.

    This whole women in the infantry thing is a bad idea from start to finish. I have said that before and will not go into again. This whiny female just helps me make my case. You had a setback and instead of driving on, you are bitching. You have a setback leading an infantry platoon, you better regroup and figure out some new tactics or you are going to get yourself and your Marines killed. Stopping and complaining aint an option.

  24. LebbenB says:

    When I found out I had a slot for Pre-Ranger Course, I PT’d my ass off prior to going. That meant PT twice a day – once in the morning with my unit and then in the evening after COB. After passing PRC, I then PT’d my ass off prior to going to Ranger School. I had about 5 or 6 weeks between PRC and Ranger School, so I had to make the most of the time I had. I would have liked more time to prepare, but you takes what your given and you do the best that you can with it. It was apparent that the young officer didn’t properly use the time she had to prepare for the demands of Infantry School.

  25. Ex-PH2 says:

    I’m not going to defend this silly female.

    If she went into the Corps right out of college, she had more than enough time at school to train for the physical standards, which are no big secret. There’s an online questionnaire included in the Marine Corps’s ads that tells you in 30 seconds whether you can meet their minimum fitness requirements. How hard is that to figure out?

    Long hikes with a loaded backpack? (Ruckpack for you dogfaces.) Then get a backcountry backpack, load it up, and wear it everywhere you go, and gradually increase the weight load. You’d be amazed at what that does for your upper body strength.

    Carrying a heavy weapon with the pack? Find out what the weapon weighs and make a mockup with the same weight, carry it everywhere you go. Hint: it does not have to look like a weapon.

    Situps, pull-ups, pushups: better get busy and do them ahead of time, or forget about it.

    Basically, what I’m saying is know THEIR expectations ahead of time and meet them, or shut up if you don’t and get dropped.

    • Sparks says:

      Ex-PH2 I especially appreciate YOUR input on this issue. Thank you and you said it very well. It is preparation, preparation and more preparation…for women AND for the MEN! If either fails to prepare, they will not cut the mustard. That is the whole point. Though I was not a Marine, I believe it is now and always has been, in the minds of Marine command to see who will take the initiative and prepare, well ahead of time, men and women, to meet their high standards. Don’t want to put in the effort…fine. Then don’t be sad, mad, or upset and whining when you don’t make the grade and that goes for MEN as well as women! Men who don’t cut it as Marine Infantry Officers…well there’s always supply, logistics and intelligence. All fine and necessary callings of service for the Marines.(Or the Army, Navy and Air Force) Again, thank you Ex-PH2.

  26. LebbenB says:

    @ Ex-PH2.

    “(Ruckpack for you dogfaces.)”
    I think you mean rucksack.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      It was too early.

      My eyes were not open yet.

      I can’t spell.

      Mikey was sitting on my lap, licking the keyboard.

      I don’t know the ‘slang’.

      I have all kinds of excuses.

      • LebbenB says:

        You were probably blinded by the sunlight glow of the crazy coming off of Chevy Cavalier’s pate.

  27. Beretverde says:

    From my Marine Aviator “buddy”: Word is she will pass flight school even if she flunks the flight physical, she will pass. Period.

    • Green Thumb says:

      No surprise.

      The USMC can cover their EEO ass and promote PR at the same time!

    • Green Thumb says:

      But as much as I disagree with this BS, I must give her a nod for trying.

      A lot did not and still are whining/screaming/complaining about the same things in “soft shoe” MOS.

  28. MarineVet says:

    Interesting article…

    Op-Ed Gets USMC Commandant’s Attention, Sparks Change for Women

    • flindip says:

      Well considering that there have been so few volunteers and the original goal was(I believe) to send a 100 women through the course; it does make sense to allow recycles for a few of the women.

      But, that doesn’t appear to be the case for this female marine. If you can read between the lines and hot air bullshit, it doesn’t seem that Amos was too thrilled with a 2nd LT going to Washington PO.

      “You want fair? How about rather than waiting stateside for your slot at flight school; you get to deploy? “