Beginning Saturday, a platoon of female Marine recruits will train within a company of male recruits, marking the first time women will be integrated into a previously all-male unit at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.
Marine Corps officials said Friday that a platoon of 50 women will start training with 3rd Recruit Training Battalion on Jan. 5. The news was first reported early Friday afternoon by ABC News.
Officials said the company will be smaller than "what is typically part of the training cycle" but was made to support "training efficiency."
Normally, all women attending Marine Corps boot camp train in a single unit, 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
But the service decided to integrate the 50 women into the previously all-male battalion rather than make them wait until later in the year, when there would be enough women to activate the female battalion.
Officials said the change is not permanent, but it "presents an opportunity to assess outcomes, achievements and challenges" of this training model.
Unlike the other military services, the Marine Corps has not fully integrated women and men in recruit training. Women train in their one battalion at Parris Island; no women attend boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
The Corps has the lowest percentage of women serving in its ranks, 8.6 percent. In fiscal 2018, 10.5 percent of enlisted and officer accessions were women, and Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has said he'd like to grow the Marine Corps to 10 percent female.
Marine officials said in November that the service is increasing its outreach to potential female recruits, launching a number of female-specific "marketing and advertising initiatives to generate awareness about what it means to be a Marine and to highlight opportunities for females in the Marine Corps."
"We also are sending recruiting mail to female high school juniors and seniors, updating websites to remove gender-qualifying language and reaching out to female rugby, wrestling and sports organizations," said Maj. Thomas Craig, a spokesman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps.
The Marine Corps has maintained that gender-segregated recruit training allows for better mentoring -- women are trained by female drill instructors and female officers -- and the approach eliminates distractions.
In 2015, however, a number of critics said boot camp integration is a necessity in a Defense Department where women are allowed to serve in any military occupational specialty.
Lt. Col. Kevin Collins, a logistics officers, wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette in December 2014 that "male-only recruit training provides an artificial and unrealistic environment."
"Isolating our women during recruit training unfairly implies that our female recruits need to be sheltered and protected," he wrote.
In 2015, Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano was relieved for what she said was an effort to hold women to the same standards as men, to include driving an effort to improve range qualification rates for female recruits.
She went on to write a book advocating gender integration at boot camp and in the Corps and the importance of holding all service members to high standards.
Germano said Friday that the women in the historic platoon "won't know any different," but the move is going to make the institution better.
"The recruits aren't going to know the difference, and they aren't going to let anything get in their way and they are going to excel," she said.
As for the Corps, "what they are going to find is, once they put this toe in the water, it will be difficult to go backward because, as the other services have experienced, when you integrate men and women in boot camp and they train side by side with each other, it improves cohesion, it builds trust, it builds camaraderie. And both and men and women experience physical gains as a result of training in close proximity," Germano said.
According to the Corps, the female recruits will continue to be led by female drill instructors within the platoon. Company staff will be both female and male and will follow a typical recruit training schedule.
Training already is integrated for Marine officers, with female platoons training together with male platoons at Officer Candidates School and in fully integrated companies at The Basic School, a six-month required course for all new officers.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
-- Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this story.