The first three female Marines graduated from the Marine Corps School of Infantry this Thursday at Camp Geiger, N.C., a year and a half after the Marine Corps announced it would begin accepting female service members in its infantry training courses. The course began with 15 female Marines who volunteered for the training.
In addition, Harlee Bradford, a Marine who completed most of the required training before sustaining an injury, is expected to graduate with the following class. There are 19 additional female Marines attending the infantry school in later classes.
While the School of Infantry, the Marines' training course for the enlisted ranks, can now boast of its first female graduates, the Marines' officer training course has not yet had a woman successfully complete training since they first began attending last year.
Although the three Marines who graduated Thursday successfully completed the demanding training course, meeting the same requirements as their male peers, they will not be allowed to serve in infantry roles. Marine Corps regulations still restrict which positions women can serve in, a policy that is under review and expected to be amended based on evaluations of the pilot program being run in training environments like the infantry school.
Female graduates will report to another school to complete an additional training course in the job field where they will eventually serve.
Meanwhile, the 221 male service members that passed the training will go on to serve in infantry positions in the Marine Corps.
Marine officials say they want to study how female service members perform in the course and evaluate their completion rate as part of a three-year review to determine how to integrate women into combat roles.
The three graduates began training in September, completing extensive field exercises, training on weapons systems, patrolling and other tactical tasks. Men and women trained together during the infantry school but, per Marine policy, the female Marines were housed in separate barracks.
The Marines’ research fits into a military-wide effort to integrate servicewomen into combat arms jobs from which they have been excluded. In February, the Department of Defense said it planned to open 14,000 combat positions to qualified female service members by 2016.
The first major change in Marine Corps policy occurred in April 2012, when the service announced it would allow female Marine officers, senior non-commissioned officers, and a select group of other Marines in specialized jobs to serve in non-combat positions in what had been all-male units. The Army has enacted a similar policy, which allows female soldiers to serve in combat arms battalions, which are smaller units than they had been allowed to serve in that are typically closer to ground fighting, though female soldiers are still relegated to non-combat arms positions.
There are around 240,000 combat positions within all branches of the military that female service members are not permitted to fill, around one-fifth of the total number. The majority of jobs excluding women are within the Army, the military’s largest branch, and the Marine Corps. Seven percent of the Marine Corps is female, compared to 15 percent overall in the military.