Marines fazed by marital arts

WASHINGTON - The US Marine Corps yesterday launched an unexpected attack, writes Phil Reeves. Their target was not Somali warlords, war-mongering Serbs, or errant Iraqis, but an age-old foe of many military men: the institution of wedlock. The overwhelmingly male fighting force has decided that soon it will not be recruiting any more married people. It has also introduced a rule requiring soldiers to take 'educational awareness' classes about the potential perils of married life.

The Marine Corps Commandant, General Carl Mundy, also ordered troops on their first term of service to consult their commanding officers before tying the knot. 'He is worried about the number of kids getting married and divorced at the drop of a hat,' said a corps spokeswoman last night.

The general set out the recruitment ban, which comes into effect in two years, in a notice to his force in which he complains that marital difficulties among young marines are beginning to take their toll on the corps.

In the document, released last night, he says 'the weight of family-related problems' can 'disrupt the individual's concentration level, result in decreased performance and require command attention'. He concludes: 'Unfortunately, this has become an all too familiar pattern of events.' The move is likely to reinforce the Marine Corps' tendency to be seen as a law unto itself, as no such restrictions exist in the US Air Force, Army or Navy. The 180,000-strong corps, which has 8,000 women, has long had a place in popular mythology as an elitist force.

The general said the marines' marital difficulties are partly due to the fact that the corps is shrinking in size, and yet has as many foreign assignments as ever, which means newly-weds are spending more time abroad.