The Marine Corps will continue looking at ways for men and women to train together at both of its recruit depots, the service's new top general said, even though one of the bases is currently closed to women.
Men and women will "definitely" train in the same companies at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, Commandant Gen. David Berger said this week. About 50 women recently graduated from a typically all-male training battalion there in March.
But hurdles remain when it comes to integrating training at the Marine Corps' all-male recruit depot in San Diego despite a congresswoman's call to make the base coed by 2028.
"The West Coast is different because we have not shipped female poolees to San Diego for recruit training in the past, so they're not built for it today," Berger told Military.com in an exclusive interview. "[But] we'll look at what makes sense going forward as far as on both coasts and when it makes sense to do what level of integration."
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Berger told lawmakers the coed company at Parris Island performed "very well" and that Marine leaders would "absolutely" look at adding more gender-integrated training. But the commandant still wants to protect the important relationship between recruits and their drill instructors, he said this week, which has long been an argument for separating recruits during entry-level training.
"Gender matters," he told Military.com during an interview at the Pentagon. "It matters in that it's a struggle to get through that basic training for officers and enlisted. It's designed to be hard. There are times ... during that first portion of training where you're wondering, 'Can we make it through this?'"
That's where the drill instructors' powerful influence comes in, he said. Female recruits typically have women drill instructors while men usually train male recruits.
"My view as a commandant is the success of recruit training and officer candidate training ... begins with the platoon," Berger said. "That is the centerpiece. That's the core."
Marine officials have said they're unlikely to have another coed training company at Parris Island this fiscal year. In the meantime, Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who chairs the House Armed Services Military Personnel subcommittee, tried to push the Marine Corps toward coed boot camp when she added an amendment to the 2020 defense authorization bill that would have required the service to stop separating male and female recruits.
The amendment didn't make it into the Republican-led Senate's version of the bill. Speier, who wanted to see men and women training together by 2025 at Parris Island and within eight years at San Diego, said doing so would make the military stronger.
"Women Marines ... have had to prove themselves, over and over again, to male peers and superiors," she said last month. "... Having men and women work together from day one shows that they are all Marines."