The Marine Corps has delayed its plan to require women to do pull-ups beginning Jan. 1 after tests revealed that more than half of female recruits in boot camp could not do three pull-ups, the minimum requirement for male Marines.
Officials in November collected data that showed that 55 percent of women at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., could not perform three pull-ups, despite an orchestrated training experiment the service began in late 2012, according to Marine Corps spokeswoman, Capt. Maureen Krebs.
The delay comes at a sensitive time when the Corps and other services are trying respond to a Pentagon mandate that requires combat-arms jobs, such as the infantry, to be opened to women by 2016.
Marine Corps officials have not set a new start date for the pull-up requirement for women, but the service has not decided to abandon the effort, Krebs said.
"I think we need a little more time to collect some data and allow more time for training," Krebs said.
The Corps had hoped to institute the pull-ups as a replacement for the flexed-arm hang because pull-ups require the muscular strength necessary to perform common military tasks such as scaling a wall, climbing up a rope or lifting and carrying heavy munitions, officials say.
"Because of the relatively few number of pull-ups a person can perform compared to push-ups or sit-ups, the pull-up is a more effective test of upper body strength," Krebs said. "Training for the pull-up also causes beneficial strength changes. Training for the [flexed-arm hang], on the other hand, elicits little muscular strength adaptations necessary for common military tasks, such pulling oneself over obstacles or lifting and carrying equipment."
Female Marines can still choose to do pull-ups instead of the flexed-arm hang on the Physical Fitness Test, Krebs said.
It's still unclear whether the delay will have any effect on the Corps' efforts to integrate women into combat-arms jobs such as infantry, armor and artillery units over the next two years.
In late November, three women graduated from the Marine Corps' Infantry Training Battalion course -- the first women to do so in the Marine Corps' 238-year history.
The three female Marines represented a major step toward the U.S. military formally introducing women into combat roles. Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the order to open these roles to women last January.
The Marine Corps began allowing women to go through the Infantry Training Battalion course in late September as part of research that will guide the service's decision on whether to allow women into a number of combat arms jobs.
Graduating from the course, known as ITB, doesn't mean the female Marines are in the infantry, Krebs pointed out. Instead, the women are given a tracking number, which will appear in their personnel records and will also be part of the ongoing research effort.
Despite the milestone, women who volunteered for the Infantry Officers Course last year did not experience the same success. Nine of the 10 women who volunteered out of The Basic School failed to make it through the first day of IOC. The remaining female volunteer dropped because of an injury from the course a week later.
IOC is a demanding 13-week school that historically averages a 25-percent attrition rate for male Marines. The first day puts students through a grueling Combat Endurance Test that consists of physically and academically challenging tasks lasting all day. Marines wear combat gear, perform various physical tasks and answer tactical questions while negotiating a land-navigation course, Krebs said.
Unlike those in the ITB course, female Marine officers attempting to enter IOC aren't expected to meet the same physical fitness screening standards as male Marines. But they do have to match male performance in the course.
All IOC candidates are pre-screened before they even show up for the course. Like their male counterparts, women need to have a top-level score on the PFT -- but under the Marine Corps female standard, not the male one, which does not require pull-ups.
While pull-ups may play an important role in this effort, Marine Corps officials maintain that the exercise is important for all female Marines, not just the ones who volunteer for combat arms jobs.
"You can find yourself in a situation where you need that strength to pull yourself up" over an obstacle, Krebs said. "No matter what your job is every Marine should have the strength to accomplish the mission, no matter what that is."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.