Top Marine General Wants More Women Serving in Ground-Combat Jobs

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Marine participates in an exercise during the Infantry Officer Course
A Marine participates in an exercise during the Infantry Officer Course at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, Sept. 18, 2017. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Gregory Boyd)

The Marine Corps' top general wants to see more female officers leading infantry battalions and will consider bringing back women who've left active duty if they're willing to serve in ground-combat jobs that were once open only to men.

Commandant Gen. David Berger said Friday that he wants to see more active-duty female company-grade officers volunteering to attend the Infantry Officer Course and assigned to infantry battalions if they complete it. The course, known to be one of the service's most grueling, prepares officers to lead grunts in combat.

Berger also wants officials to "determine feasibility of identifying and recruiting for return to active duty selected female Marines" to fill jobs that were previously closed to women. The Marine Corps has had a hard time getting female volunteers for some of those military occupational specialties.

Even though two women completed the Infantry Officer Course, neither was leading infantry platoons as of June, Marine Corps Times reported last year.

Berger announced the effort to get women serving in those roles on Twitter late last week. It was one of several new initiatives he announced on social media, including a possible move toward year-long paid maternity leave policies for new moms and updated parental leave for same-sex adoptive parents.

Related: Marines to Review Proposed 1-Year Maternity Leave Policy for New Moms

Berger called the moves "some of my most important matters for immediate execution."

The general did not elaborate on the drive to get women into ground-combat units, but female Marines have been slow to move into those roles since they opened to women in 2016.

Former Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said several times that service leaders didn't expect many women would want to serve in infantry roles. By the time Neller retired, there were about 30 women serving in infantry jobs. The Army had more than 10 times that number, NPR reported last year.

By seeking more qualified active-duty female volunteers for the Infantry Officer Course, Berger said he'll allow lateral moves for those Marines seeking careers in previously restricted fields.

Before ground-combat jobs were opened to women in 2016, 29 attempted to pass the course during an experimental phase, said Teresa Ovalle, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Training and Education Command. Twenty-six of those Marines were lieutenants and three were captains.

None of them graduated.

Since infantry jobs opened to women, nine more have attempted the course. Two graduated: One became an infantry officer and the other a ground intelligence officer.

One more woman will attempt the course this year, Ovalle said.

All the women who've attempted the course since 2017 have been lieutenants.

"There is no known instance of any [lateral-move] officer attending IOC," Ovalle said.

Enlisted female Marines have broken through several barriers since combat roles opened to women. A woman became the first-ever female force reconnaissance Marine last year, and another was the first to complete the arduous second phase of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command's Assessment and Selection course.

When that Marine told Military.com that she was leaving the service after completing that training, Neller personally invited her to rethink that decision and consider becoming an officer.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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