In recent weeks, relations between Gen. Jim Amos and Marine Corps Times have grown so icy that the general challenged a reporter to complete a 13-week Infantry Officer Camp, a course so hard that 30 percent of all participants fail regardless of gender. At the crux of the cool invitation is a recent story by Marine Corps Times that used the word “flunked” in a headline, as in ““Two more female Marines flunk infantry officers training.”
The women indeed failed the training on their first day, a stat that isn’t terribly shocking since 10 percent of all participants don’t pass their first day and it’s considered to be among the hardest physical endurance tests the Marine Corps has.
Still, Amos said characterizing the womens’ performance as having “flunked” was “sensational and shameful.” It was the first letter he has written to the publication since assuming his role in 2010. “That description is callous and irresponsible, and doesn’t do justice to these two fine officers,” he wrote in a letter published by the publication this week.
Dan Lamothe, a reporter for Marine Corps Times since 2008, wrote the story. He declined to reveal to FishbowlDC whether the headline choice was his, but says he stands by his story and the headline choice. And come July he may be in those womens’ shoes if the general stays true to his offer.
“Honestly I’m not sure,” Lamothe said in an interview this week, when asked if he thinks the offer will come to fruition. “The invitation was laid out. I accepted. I’m not sure. I don’t know if’ I’d need to do all or portions. I have very little details at this point.”
Lamothe says his publication has been trying to cover the course since last summer, but to no avail, unlike reporters from NYT and USA TODAY, who have gained access to it. Women are now allowed to take part in the training and apply for jobs they haven’t been able to previously, which is why military reporters like Lamothe are pushing hard to cover it.
He doesn’t know all that the course entails, but he knows there’s an obstacle course, a lot of hiking, running, and some swimming. “They leave one piece of criteria vague because the want to see how people do when they don’t know what’s coming,” he explained.
That said, Lamothe knows he isn’t ready.
At the moment, he runs about 10 miles a week combined with pickup basketball games, softball and football. “I know I’ve got a lot of work to do,” he said, explaining that he has been to Afghanistan three times. He spent 10 weeks there last year and has been shot at multiple times. “I’m in relatively good shape,” he said. I play a lot of sports, but this will be physically the most demanding thing I’ve endured in my entire life.”
Lamothe would likely need to take time off his present job to complete the course. His editors are “all very supportive.” He says there’s no way he’d turn down the general’s offer. “I guess in a way I felt like I didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “This is the one and only opportunity we’ve been offered to cover this. It’s a question of access. If this is one way the access is offered, I’d be a fool not to take it.”
To date, there have been four female volunteers for the course — two in the fall, two in March. Three failed on the first day. The fourth passed the first day but got stress fractures. “The first day is designed to be a nightmare,” Lamothe explained. “They start you before dawn in the middle of the woods in Quantico [and proceed with] a variety of very demanding physical challenges.”
Lamothe says the ultimate question is: “Even if they find women who can meet the grade, does it make sense to open it to women if there is only a couple since there are logistical things you have to deal with [such as deploying to] places that don’t exactly have plumbing and all those things.” And what about the close quarters? “What kind of concerns does a 23-year-old female living in the dirt with 25 19 to 20-year-old men?”
Ultimately, while Lamothe disagrees with the general’s assertions about the word “flunked” in the headline. But he said, “He’s entitled to his opinion. I have the utmost respect for General Amos. He has one of the hardest jobs in the country. It’s good that he interacts with us. They’ve always been respectful. I was caught very off guard by his level of outrage here. I’m hopeful I’ll be able to discuss it with him at some point.”
He added, “By no means were we trying to insult anyone. We can have the conversation over word choice or our coverage, but in terms of what we were trying to do, I’ve spent time around female marines, I’m friends with many of them. By no means was this meant to be insulting.”