WASHINGTON How many pull-ups does it take to make a female Marine? The answer, starting in January 2014: a minimum of three, the same number required of male Marines.
If anyone thought the military's decision to allow women into combat units would lead to exceptions for women when it came to fitness and physical strength, this is one service's "gender neutral" answer or at least part of the answer.
Like the men, women will have to perform the exercises on the Marine Corps' annual physical fitness test as "dead hang" pull-ups, without the benefit of the momentum from a lower-body swing. Like the men, women can do the pull-ups underhanded or overhanded, as long as their chins break the plane of the bar.
The new requirement replaces the old "flexed arm hang" for women, in place since 1975, which had to be held for a minimum of 15 seconds.
"The physical requirements of female Marines, commensurate with their roles, have increased greatly since 1975," said Col. Sean D. Gibson, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va. "The pull-up is a better test of muscular strength."
But the new Marine Corps regulations are just part of a sweeping re-examination of fitness standards in the U.S. military, accelerated by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta's announcement last week ending the ban on women in combat.
As it stands now, service members face a gantlet of overlapping fitness tests throughout the vast sprawl of the U.S. military, from initial ones that recruits have to pass to annual fitness (and weight) tests to specific physical requirements that must be met for combat jobs.
The Pentagon says it will not lower standards for women but is nonetheless reviewing the requirements for hundreds of what are called military occupational specialties to see if they actually match up with the demands of each job.
Some combat jobs that might open to women may require them to meet only specific requirements rather than a wide range of fitness standards.
"We're going to ensure that our tank crewmen are fully capable of removing 50-pound projectiles from the ammunition rack and loading them into the main gun in a sustained manner in a combat situation," said George Wright, an Army spokesman.
But for now, the Army has no immediate plans to change its sex-adjusted recruitment and annual fitness tests, even though the Marine Corps, which tenaciously promotes itself as the most hard-bodied service, has started to toughen up its standards for women.
But even for the pull-ups, the Marines are still making some exceptions. To get a perfect grade, women will have to do only eight, compared with the 20 required for men.
"I don't think it's a very high bar," said Capt. Ann G. Fox, a Marine Reserve officer who worked with the Iraqi army in Iraq in 2005 and thinks women could do better if it were required of them. "I think the test should be 20 pull-ups. People train to what they're tested on."
In the Army, no pull-ups are required of either men or women on the annual fitness test, but like the Marines, there are different standards for each sex.
A 17- to 26-year-old man in the Army has to run two miles in 15 minutes, 54 seconds or less and do at least 42 push-ups; a woman in the same age group has to run two miles in 18 minutes, 54 seconds or less and do at least 19 push-ups.
All of the tests pale in comparison to one of the most brutal male preserves in the military, the Marines' 86-day Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, which is intended to screen and train potential infantry officers.
Last fall, two female officers went through the course as an experiment and failed, inviting questions even though large numbers of men fail of whether women were up to it.
Gen. James F. Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps, held out the possibility that they are. In comments to reporters in San Diego on Thursday, he said he had met with two more female officers who had signed up for the next Infantry Officer Course, starting in March.
"It looks like they're in great shape, and they're excited about it," he said.