Marine Corps Begins Moving Female Leaders into Infantry Units

Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. (Photo By: Sgt. Jennifer Jones)
Marines with the Lioness Program refill their rifle magazines during the live-fire portion of their training at Camp Korean Village, Iraq, July 31. (Photo By: Sgt. Jennifer Jones)

As Marine Corps officials plan to move newly minted female riflemen into infantry units by early 2017, they're working to create a system that they believe will make the historic move successful.

Support jobs, ranging from logistics to administration, are now available to female Marines within infantry units, officials told reporters Thursday. The goal, they said, was to install female leaders at the units in keeping with a mandate from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter before the junior women arrived.

"Throughout the Marine Corps, everyone is now assignable to certain billets," said Col. Ann Weinberg, deputy director of the Marine Corps Force Innovation Office and one of the architects of the Corps' plan to incorporate women into previously closed ground combat units.

While a few billets will stay female-only and male-only, such as those for drill instructors overseeing recruits of the same gender, the exceptions are rare, Weinberg said.

The 233 female Marines who have already completed infantry training and received a secondary infantry military occupational specialty during previous research can request to make a lateral move into a ground combat unit at any time. But female recruits who want to enter a "loadbearing" ground combat specialty, such as rifleman or mortarman, will not be able to ship to boot camp until Oct. 1. Female recruits in non-loadbearing combat-arms fields, such as artillery or tanks, can begin boot camp June 1 at the earliest.

Setting conditions

This delay will give Marine officials the opportunity to ensure that senior female officers and enlisted Marines are in place before the junior Marines arrive. The goal is to have a female staff noncommissioned officer and an officer in support MOSs at each infantry battalion who will unofficially support the unit and new female members throughout the transition period.

"As soon as we get demand signals from junior female Marines matriculating into entry training pipeline to become 03XXs [the Marines' infantry designator], we'll start assigning senior female leadership to those infantry battalions as well," Weinberg said. "We've just got to manage the population and the inventory of that particular population. Setting the conditions is really where we are."

When the first female Marines enter the fleet as infantrymen, a process expected to start early next year, Weinberg said they will be assigned in pairs. Either two female Marines with the same MOS will go to the same unit, or if there isn't a second Marine available, a male and female Marine who have trained together in the same MOS will be assigned together.

"We found with previous experience especially with pilot pipeline that it doesn't matter if you're the same sex. What matters is that you've trained together, you know each other, and you trust each other," Weinberg said. "So you have that task cohesion ... I trust that you can do your job, you trust that I can do my job, we go into a unit together, we get assigned to the same unit, we all vouch for each other."

Once women have been installed in previously closed ground combat units, their progress and success will be measured with a longitudinal assessment plan designed to allow officials to make adjustments as needed. Lessons learned by the first generation of female infantrymen may help those that come after.

"The longitudinal assessment is going to take a look at propensity, performance, injury rates, career progression rates, command rates and take a look at that not just for women, but really throughout the Marine Corps," Weinberg said. "Because we haven't, to be perfectly honest, done a really good job of understanding what is it that keeps a Marine in, what is it that encourages a Marine to leave the Marine Corps, male or female, so we wanted to be able to capture those in terms of surveys at the end of the career, in the middle of the career, when you decide to get out, what are some of the factors going into that."

Waiting for recruits

One unknown could delay all these plans: the length of time it takes to see the first female Marines express interest in going infantry.

To date, none of the previously qualified 233 female Marines have requested a lateral move, though some have expressed interest in doing so in the future.

Brig. Gen. James Glynn, head of the Marine Corps' office of communication, noted that some of the qualified women had career concerns as well as circumstantial delays such as light duty status that made them temporarily ineligible for a move.

To date, no female recruits have requested to go infantry. Steve Wittle, a deputy assistant chief of staff, G3, at Marine Corps Recruiting Command, said the recruiting offices would keep a count of the women who requested newly available specialties. Meanwhile, MCRC is pushing information out to all the female poolees in the Corps' delayed entry program, he said, to inform them that they have the opportunity to change their desired field if they wish.

Perhaps one of the greatest unknowns is when a woman will make it through the Corps' grueling infantry officer course. To date, 29 female officers have attempted the course, but none have completed it. Officials said Thursday that one woman, whose name has not been released, is now preparing to attempt the course in coming months in hopes of becoming an infantry officer.

Still, Glynn said, the Marine Corps will be able to execute its integration plan even if IOC continues to stymie female Marines.

"I'm not going to sit here and hide behind it; it's definitely a challenge. Would we prefer to have it that way? Certainly we would. And I think if I were that young PFC reporting, I'd prefer to have it that way," Glynn said. "But where we sit right now, part of that experiential learning piece is going to be, we're quite likely going to learn that particular dimension without that in place."

With all units and jobs open to women, it is possible that a female Marine could end up involuntarily assigned an infantry MOS in the future. But Glynn said current demand for infantry jobs makes the chance of that happening slim.

"We haven't had to involuntarily assign someone to the infantry for decades," he said. "We fill that early in the year and it's actually quite competitive."

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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