POLITICS: PennAve

Retired top Marine hasn't softened stance on women, gays in military

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The Pentagon,Marine Corps,PennAve,Tim Mak

The passage of nearly three years hasn't softened retired top Marine James Conway's views on the social issues facing the military.

An ongoing debate still swirls about whether women should be eligible for combat roles in the military, something Conway doesn't believe that they are naturally suited for.

"We're trying to make something here that isn't natural," said the retired Marine Corps commandant, who asserted that women would be at a natural disadvantage to men "for the physical requirements of the job."

For three years, Conway oversaw the Basic School, which facilitates the training of Marine officers. Having graduated hundreds of female Marines, he said he only saw two females who could handle the physical rigors of becoming an infantry officer.

"I don't have a problem with it if we don't tinker with the standards. If a woman wants to be an infantry officer for some strange reason, and she can manage all the physical requirements, then OK, why not," Conway said.

But in any case, Conway said, 90 percent of women in the Marine Corps don't want to serve in infantry.

Conway retired in 2010, just before Congress passed the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," which allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military. As the top general overseeing the Marine Corps, Conway was a vocal opponent of such a move.

Even with the policy debate now settled, Conway says it's "too soon to tell" whether repeal was the right policy, and expressed doubts as to whether it has "enhanced our combat effectiveness."

"If you have homosexuals in the ranks they are still, by and large, keeping it to themselves," Conway said. "They feel like they are no longer persecutable, or punished, for their activities; but by and large they are keeping their personal lives to themselves. People want to do their jobs."

He seemed eager to spend as little time in Washington as he can -- after his conversation with the Washington Examiner, he was scheduled to head straight for the airport.

He lives in Annapolis and Pennsylvania, he said, "because my wife wants to be able to walk to restaurants, and I want to fish the streams of Pennsylvania."

But he is not interested in running for office -- "I'd run FROM it," he quipped -- even as he made the rounds in Washington, pitching Congress on a plan to fund energy research and development.

"I miss the Marines, I miss my plane. I miss the excitement that goes with that lifestyle," the retired general mused. "I do not miss the politics."

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