The Marine Corps' first-ever mixed-gender training battalion will graduate from boot camp Friday, and it could serve as a model for more co-ed training companies moving forward.
Fifty new female Marines completed their training with the typically all-male 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, this week. Having women train alongside men for the past 13 weeks was historic for the Marine Corps -- the only military service that still separates male and female enlisted recruits during entry-level training.
The new Marines trained with 3rd Recruit Training Battalion's India Company, which included the female platoon and five male platoons. The recruits lived in different squad bays but otherwise completed much of their training together.
Now, Marine leaders will review the company's performance as the service assesses whether to duplicate the model in the future.
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"Combining platoons into a single company this training cycle offered an initial opportunity to assess some opportunities, challenges, outcomes and achievements in training, logistics and resources," said Jessica Hanley, a spokeswoman with Marine Corps Combat Development Command. "Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island will assess the results of India Company's training and future opportunities that may permit this company training model."
Aside from the company including men and women, all other aspects of the recruits' 13-week boot camp experience remained the same as recruits at Parris Island typically face, Hanley said.
And so far, she added, "no major performance indicators have emerged between India Company and other companies that have recently graduated" that show the Marines performed better or worse than companies that trained separately.
Female recruits at Parris Island typically train exclusively with 4th Recruit Training Battalion. Rather than waiting for enough female recruits to fill out the battalion later this year, Marine officials decided to integrate them into 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
The Marine Corps has struggled with the perception of gender bias and cultural problems, even as women have moved into the infantry and other fields that were previously closed to female service members. The Marine Corps was the only service to request an exemption from the decision to allow women to serve in those roles, but it was ultimately overruled.
The service also faced a high-profile scandal in 2017 when news broke that male Marines were sharing nude photos of their female colleagues online without their permission. The incident led to the creation of a task force, which was designed to identify areas in which women face mistreatment or bias in the Marine Corps.
Lt. Col. Misty Posey, 4th Recruit Training Battalion's commanding officer, told ABC News that having men and women train together at Parris Island sets the Marines up to see each other as equals throughout their careers.
"We carry the same pack, the same weight, so when they see us sharing that experience, that hardship, together, it creates bonds that are formed here at the very beginning, and then they carry it with them throughout the rest of their training," she said.
The new Marines will now leave Parris Island for the next phase of their combat training with the School of Infantry in North Carolina.
If Parris Island does decide to create more co-ed recruit training companies, Hanley said it won't happen until at least October.
"During this fiscal year, up to September 2019, there are no opportunities where the conditions permit repeating the single company structure," she said. "As we assess India Company's training cycle, we will examine future opportunities that may permit this company training model."
-- Gina Harkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.