The Marine Corps made history Thursday as three enlisted female Marines with infantry jobs join an infantry battalion that was closed to them at this time last year.
The milestone comes more than four years after the Corps began to study the effects of opening infantry units to women and just over a year after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter issued a mandate in December 2015 requiring all services to open previously closed jobs to women.
The three Marines are all bound for 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, 2nd Marine Division spokesman 1st Lt. John McCombs told Military.com. While McCombs would not identify the women or reveal their ranks, citing privacy concerns as they acclimate to the fleet, he said they have the military occupational specialties [MOS] of rifleman, mortarman and machine gunner.
Marine Corps Times, which first wrote about the arrival of the Marines, reported that all three graduated from the School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune as part of the Corps' multi-year effort to study the gender integration of the ground combat ranks.
During this test period, some 240 female Marines graduated from Lejeune's Infantry Training Battalion course. While at the time this accomplishment did not make them eligible to hold an infantry MOS or serve in an infantry unit, the Marine Corps announced last January that these infantry graduates were now eligible to request a lateral move to serve in a grunt unit.
In keeping with the Corps' plan to help female infantrymen adapt to the new environment, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, has incorporated a small "leadership cadre" of more senior female Marines in support specialties, placed within the unit ahead of time, McCombs said.
"That leadership consists of a logistics officer, motor transportation officer, and a wire chief," he said. "They will have been in place for at least 90 days prior to the first female infantry Marines arriving to the unit. This process ensures the Marine Corps will adhere to its standards and will continue its emphasis on combat readiness."
McCombs said he could not speak to why that battalion had been chosen to receive the first female infantry transfers, and did not immediately know when the unit is next slated to deploy.
More female infantrymen may soon join the fleet. Military.com broke the news last week that the first group of female infantry enlistees is set to graduate boot camp this month.
The Corps reaches the milestone of adding female infantrymen to its ranks despite previous misgivings at the most senior levels. In September 2015, the service released the summary results of a study showing that in a year-long test of gender-integrated infantry units, teams with both male and female Marines had shot less accurately and performed more slowly than all-male teams.
Ultimately, then-commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, now the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, requested to exempt women from certain infantry units, a request that was denied by Carter. The nominee for secretary of defense, retired Marine Gen. James Mattis, has also voiced concerns about whether women are suited to the "intimate killing" of close ground combat.
Asked about women serving in infantry units at a Washington, D.C., event in December, Commandant Gen. Robert Neller noted that women have been serving in combat while deployed for years, and said the Marine Corps is implementing its current guidance.
Neller declined to speculate about whether the question of women in ground combat roles would resurface during the administration of President-elect Donald Trump, but said service leadership would address the issue if called upon.
"If we're asked what our best military advice is, we'll make that known at that time," he said.