The first female Marines to ever attend infantry training with the Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry-East, at Marine Corps Base Camp Geiger, N.C., completed the first week of training Sept. 28.
Fifteen female Marines began the training following graduation from boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., as part of ongoing research on the incorporation of women into combat-related jobs.
The research is a result of the lifting of the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Assignment Restriction earlier this year, which required all services to implement a plan to completely integrate women into combat positions by 2016.
The 15 female students were among 119 recent graduates from recruit training. Forty-eight of the women met the initial physical requirements for the course, but only 19 volunteered to join Infantry Training Battalion, or ITB. Four later opted out of the training, instead choosing to attend Marine Combat Training, a course required for all Marines, regardless of occupational-specialty.
All Marines attending the infantry training are expected to meet the same physical standard, known as the “ITB standard,” during scored events — regardless of gender. The standards of the battalion have not changed; they are the same standards outlined by the Marine Corps prior to the start of the current research.
The remaining 15 students chose to go above and beyond what is required of female Marines by attending the infantry course. Upon completion of the course, the female Marines will not be awarded the 0311 infantry job designator and will proceed to their previously selected occupational specialty training.
“I asked them why they are doing this,” Staff Sgt. Kevin Hayden, a combat instructor with delta company at ITB said. “Their answer to me was that they wanted a challenge. I think all Marines come to the Marine Corps for a challenge, and this was a way for them to put in a little more effort and do something that most people wouldn’t volunteer for.”
The students spent the first week completing rigorous physical screenings to include the physical fitness test, the combat fitness test, the high intensity tactical training assessment and a 5-kilometer hike.
Hayden said he and his fellow combat instructors aren’t treating any of the Marines differently.
“These are Marines,” Hayden said. “No matter what, they’re going to be treated the same as every other Marine.” One female Marine did not meet the physical fitness test minimum score and chose to drop from the current cycle to work on her strength before attempting the training again with the next cycle.
One female Marine did not meet the combat fitness test minimum score and chose to opt out of the training entirely.
One male Marine also dropped from the training for failing the physical fitness test.
Since the female students are attending the training on a voluntary basis, they are permitted to drop on request at any point during the training with no penalty.
In order to accommodate female students into Infantry Training Battalion, a few adjustments had to be made — including dedicating an existing squad bay for the exclusive billeting of female students and bringing over three female combat instructors from Marine Combat Training, or MCT, to serve as gender advisors to the ITB staff and to provide positive leadership to the female students participating in the research study. The female instructors went through one training cycle with ITB to familiarize themselves with the instruction before assuming their roles during this iteration.
The first half of the infantry course roughly mirrors the 29-day training cycle all non-infantry Marines complete at MCT. The second half, however, delves into more specific infantry skills. This is the part of infantry training where instructors say many of the Marines begin to struggle.
The instructors said injuries are one of the main reasons students drop from training.
“It is rigorous training for the body, but they have youth on their side, so a lot of them can put up with it,” 1st Sgt. Shawn Hebert, first sergeant of delta company, Infantry Training Battalion, said. “All of these young Marines are pretty strong mentally, but physically — our minds want to go forever, but our bodies end up failing us.”
Among other collection requirements, the question of whether female Marines are able to withstand the physical rigors of entry level infantry-training is a key data point behind the research at ITB. The Marine Corps plans to continue to send female Marines through the course for the next year, or until they have gathered data from 250 to 300 female students.
“This is definitely historic for the Marine Corps,” Hebert said. “The Marines are going to do great things ... I feel privileged to be here at the Infantry Training Battalion.”