Married to the Corps

August 16, 1993

Rep. Patricia Schroeder said after it was revealed that the Marine Corps wanted to ban married recruits, "If they are not allowed to be homosexuals, and they're not allowed to be married, what are they supposed to do, take cold showers?"

It is pretty easy to have fun with the Marines on this. Certainly, the way the attempt at policy change was handled was inept. The order was issued before the commandant had cleared it with the secretary of the Navy or the secretary of Defense. So no sooner had the directive gone out than it was rescinded.

But what about the substance of the order? Was it "outrageous," as Representative Schroeder also said? Not at all, in our view. She is on the House Armed Services Committee, so she must know that the corps has been having a problem with married first-tour Marines. Typically these are 18-, 19- and 20-year-old males, with even younger wives. Duty often imposes 24-hour-a day obligations ("married to the corps"). Also the couples are often separated for longer periods as the Marines are sent where family can't follow. Many young people do not have the maturity to handle that. Many also are unable to manage family life on the very tight budgets junior enlisted families have to observe.

According to the corps, many of these Marines have such severe domestic problems that their marriages end in divorce. These Marines become a morale, and therefore a readiness, problem for the corps. Most young first-tour married Marines who don't divorce don't re-enlist, either. They become a lost resource and a poor investment. So the ban on married recruits and a policy of counseling against marriage to young Marines makes sense from the perspective of the corps -- and of taxpayers.

An ACLU official labels the proposal "intrusive meddling." It would be in most civilian and private organizations. But the military is different. It has always placed restrictions on personal activity and status that Congress, the courts and the public have accepted as realistic.

For example, Beverly Byron, the former Maryland representative who chaired the House Armed Services Committee's personnel subcommittee, points out that the military academies are for singles only. You don't get accepted unless you're single, and you get kicked out if you get married before you graduate. What's so wrong with having the same rule for first-tour enlisted recruits?

Secretary of Defense Les Aspin says the Pentagon will now review the rescinded proposal. It should. And if, as seems likely, the reviewers come to the same conclusion as before, the corps, on readiness grounds, should not hesitate to ask for permission to re-issue the order. And the civilian leadership of the military should not, on political grounds, be afraid to grant permission.

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