They made it through the live-fire exercise, the 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) hike and the 72-hour integrated infantry field exercise. They did pull-ups, sit-ups, ammunition can lifts, an 800-yard sprint in combat boots and a timed obstacle course in which they must low-crawl, carry and drag another Marine and throw a grenade -- and they passed by the male scoring standard.
But the three women who graduated Thursday from the Marine Corps' infantry training course will not be assigned to infantry units or infantry jobs.
Instead, the three women who graduated Thursday, along with another who will likely graduate with the next class because of an injury she suffered near the end of her training, will go on to other training and other jobs in the Corps, as Marine officials use information gathered from all the women who volunteered for course as they decide how to safely introduce women into all-male units.
In April 2012, the Marine Corps issued a servicewide message explaining that it would, for the first time, assign active-duty female company officers, gunnery sergeants and staff sergeants, as well as Navy medical officers, chaplains and corpsmen to jobs that fit their existing military occupational specialties but were part of previously all-male battalion-sized units, such as tanks and combat engineers.
The message also said the Marines Corps was seeking female volunteers to attempt its rigorous training school for infantry officers immediately after finishing the basic officer course, and planned to allow female enlisted Marines to volunteer for the enlisted infantry training battalion after boot camp. But, the message noted, the program is for testing purposes, and female graduates of the schools would not become infantry Marines.
Ten women have attempted the Infantry Officer Course; none have finished. Nineteen women volunteered for the enlisted infantry training course, and 15 began the training. Three of them -- Pfcs. Julia Carroll, Christina Fuentes Montenegro and Katie Gorz -- graduated Thursday, while a fourth missed the last physical and combat fitness tests because of an injury, but is expected to graduate with the next class.
Thirty-nine other enlisted women are still in training in other cycles of the enlisted infantry course, and a few women have volunteered to attempt the next cycle of the officer course when it begins in January, Marine officials said.
Trainers and commanders are gathering data from the women as they go through the training, including surveys to determine why they volunteered and what kind of mental and emotional challenges they face during the course, as well as information about how well they can meet the existing male physical standards, said Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine Corps spokeswoman.
The Marine Corps is hoping to have between 250 and 300 volunteers for the enlisted course and about 90 for the infantry course by next fall, Krebs and Capt. Geraldine Carey said.
The Corps also tested 400 men and 400 women on existing physical standards and physical tasks that might be required for various jobs, and will use that information as part of the decision-making process, Krebs said.
The Marine Corps is taking a "crawl-walk-run" approach and trying to make informed recommendations for opening up more jobs and units to women, Krebs said.
"We want to do this right," she said. "We don't want anyone to fail [in the field]."
When the Marine Corps does begin integrating more women into male units, it is likely to start with experienced officers and noncommissioned officers, then add more junior officers and NCOs before assigning privates and privates first class just out of boot camp. This approach, similar to how the Navy is adding women to submarine crews, is designed to ensure no one woman is alone in an all-male unit and that the most junior women have mentors to turn to if problems arise.
However, some of the women have already experienced harassment. A Marine-themed Facebook page with an unprintable name that posts crude jokes and photos of male and female Marines and spouses with degrading or insulting captions and comments posted a photo this week of the four women who had completed the most physically demanding part of the training course, along with a link to the Facebook page to one of them. Several men and women had posted degrading comments about the women, but the post has since been removed.
Another post on the page asserted that the standards at the training course had been lowered to allow the women to complete the hike and other physical tests.
However, Krebs said all the Marines were held to the existing standards in the Infantry Training and Readiness manual, and that women were scored by the same metrics as men.