The Marines Are Paying a University $2M to Study the Best Way to Run Coed Boot Camp

female Marines at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island
Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Facebook page

The Marine Corps will be getting an outside opinion on how best to train men and women together at boot camp.

The Neuromuscular Research Laboratory and Warrior Human Performance Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh was awarded a $2 million contract to study gender integration at the Marine Corps' two recruit depots, service officials announced Tuesday morning.

"The study will analyze combinations of gender-integrated training and make recommendations for models that integrate genders to the greatest extent possible while continuing to train Marines to established standards," the announcement states. "The final results of the study will be published in a peer-reviewed journal."

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The Marine Corps, which has for decades separated men and women at boot camp, is facing a congressional mandate to make its East Coast training depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, coed within five years. It must make its all-male West Coast training depot in San Diego coed within eight years.

Training and Education Command, which oversees the Marine recruit depots, solicited the study in August. That was the second call for researchers after, as reported in May, the first contract solicitation received no applications.

The final report will be due back to the Marine Corps by September 2021, said Capt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for Training and Education Command. The goal, according to the public request, is to have a university -- outside the Defense Department -- examine options for coed recruit training.

"The Marine Corps is committed to using an objective, data-driven approach to inform changes to existing policy guided by the results of non-DoD university research," the contract call states.

Now-retired Maj. Gen. William Mullen, the former head of Training and Education Command, told last year that he sought the study to get an honest, impartial assessment on how best to train recruits.

"If an independent study, not affiliated with the Marine Corps, comes in and takes a hard, honest look at things in an unbiased way, how do you argue with that?" Mullen said. "We think we have it right ... but how much of that is our own biases?"

The University of Pittsburgh will partner with the University of South Carolina’s exercise science department, Insight Policy Research, and members of the University of Maryland’s sociology department.

The study will incorporate data from Parris Island and San Diego, as well as sister-service recruit training, according to the Marine Corps.

"The University of Pittsburgh's Neuromuscular Research Laboratory/Warrior Human Performance Research Center … has a 15 year history of conducting military-centric research focusing on human performance optimization and injury prevention and has effectively translated their scientific findings for military decision leaders for improved military readiness," said Bradley Nindl, Warrior Human Performance Research Center's director.

The contract call lists several requirements for progress reviews and interim reports that will be due back to the service throughout the course of the study. It's not immediately clear when the final report and findings are due back to the Marine Corps.

This is not the first time the University of Pittsburgh's Warrior Human Performance Research Center has worked with the Marine Corps. Before combat jobs opened to women, the service in 2015 ran a series of experiments as part of the Marine Corps Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force.

The university gathered data on the performance of Marines involved in the experiment and researched possible connections between screening requirements for some jobs and musculoskeletal injuries. It was one of several external agencies involved in the study.

After that study, the Marine Corps requested that women be banned from some combat jobs. That request was ultimately overruled.

The service is studying a variety of options for meeting the congressional mandate to make boot camp coed. That includes the possibility of creating a new boot camp location where men and women would train together rather than spending money on construction projects at its two aging recruit depots on each coast.

That plan has been met with opposition from South Carolina politicians, who say Parris Island is vital to the state's economy and history.

Nine coed companies have graduated at Parris Island since March 2019. The companies include several platoons, which are still segregated by gender.

That model is expected to continue in 2021, likely giving researchers a chance to observe how coed companies train.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

Related: New 'Parris Island Protection Act' Would Prohibit Marines from Closing East Coast Boot Camp

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