I think from the infantry side of the house, you know they're more skeptical. It's been an all-male organization throughout the history of the U.S. Marine Corps so I don't think that should be any surprise. —Gen. James Amos
SAN DIEGO — A Marine Corps survey found about 17 percent of male Marine respondents who planned to stay in the service or were undecided said they would likely leave if women move into combat positions.
That number jumped to 22 percent if women are assigned involuntarily to those jobs, according to the survey.
Also listed among the top concerns by male Marines about the policy change were fears about being falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault, fraternization, and preferential treatment of some Marines.
Respondents also worried that women would be limited because of pregnancy or personal issues that could affect a unit before it's sent to the battlefield.
The results of the survey of 53,000 Marines were released Friday to The Associated Press.
The survey was conducted from May 30 to Aug. 31. The results were given to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta before he opened thousands of combat jobs last week to female service members.
"I think there is this sense among what I would imagine is a very small minority of Marines that this male bastion is under siege and this is one more example of political correctness," said David J. R. Frakt, a military law expert and lieutenant colonel in the Air Force reserves. He also is a visiting professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
But he said just as the Marine Corps adjusted to the end of "don't ask, don't tell" despite being the most resistant of the military branches, troops will likely fall in line again with this historical milestone.
Both sexes surveyed mentioned intimate relationships between Marines and feeling obligated to protect female Marines among their top five concerns about allowing women into ground combat jobs.
Top concerns of women Marines included the targeting of women as POWs, the risk of sexual harassment or assault, and hygiene facilities, according to the results that did not give specifics.
The women also said they worry about acceptance and physical abilities if given a full-time ground combat job.
The survey asked female Marines if they would feel pressured to suppress their femininity, something equal rights activists found offensive.
About 4 percent of female Marines who indicated they had planned to stay beyond their current commitment or were undecided said they would consider leaving if the ban on women in combat was lifted.
Even more would drop out if women were put into those positions involuntarily. About 17 percent of female respondents indicated they would cut their careers short under those circumstances.
About 31 percent of female respondents — or 1,558 women Marines — say they would be interested in a lateral move to a combat position as their primary job, and 34 percent — or 1,636 — said they would volunteer for a ground combat unit assignment.
The infantry side is skeptical about how women will perform in their units, and some positions may end up closed again if too few females meet the physically demanding standards of combat, said Gen. James Amos, head of the Marine Corps, who spoke to reporters Thursday at a defense conference in San Diego.
Most Marines support the policy change, Amos said.
He pointed out that over the past decade, many male service members already have been fighting alongside women in Iraq and Afghanistan. Women who serve in supply units, as clerks and with military police have ended up on the unmarked front lines of modern warfare, blurring the distinction between combat and noncombat jobs.
More than 150 women have been killed in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving in support roles.
Many of the newly opened positions are in Army and Marine infantry units and in potentially elite commando jobs. It will be up to the military service chiefs to recommend and defend whether women should be excluded from any of those more demanding and deadly positions, such as Navy commandos or the Army's Delta Force.
The infantry units are smaller and spend more grueling time in battle.
"I think from the infantry side of the house, you know they're more skeptical," Amos said. "It's been an all-male organization throughout the history of the U.S. Marine Corps so I don't think that should be any surprise."
The Marine Corps is the most male of all the military branches. About 7 percent of Marines are female compared to about 14 percent overall for the armed forces.
Both sexes in the survey said they believe getting women closer to the action will improve their career opportunities.