Marines open infantry training to women

Julie Jacobson/AP

The Marine Corps will allow women to enroll in its infantry course for the first time in its more than 200-year history, according to news reports.

The service is accepting female students this year into the school that trains officers to serve and lead troops in combat, according to a report Wednesday in The Marine Corps Times. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Corps’ assistant commandant, told the newspaper that Marine Corps is recruiting volunteers. Prior to the announcement, women were not allowed to participate in the infantry training program.

Also, the Corps in May will begin considering women for 400 positions in six battalions, including amphibious assault, artillery and combat assault.

The Marine Corps is devising new physical fitness tests as a result of the change and is striving for “gender-neutral” standards, the news report said. It’s not yet clear how many women will participate, or the trajectory for those who successfully complete the program.

The changes are part of a Defense Department review of the military’s policies on assigning women to combat roles. The initiatives are part of a “research effort in order to provide the commandant with meaningful data so that he can make a fact-based recommendation to the senior leadership of DoD and Congress,” said Corps’ spokesman Capt. Kevin Shultz, in an email. 

“This is an important issue, which will lead to a lot of debate; therefore, these experiences and opinions will be invaluable to our senior leaders,” Shultz said. “We owe it to the Corps and to the American people to have a rational, open-minded, and, most importantly, fact-based discussion on this issue.  Finally, the commandant expects all leaders to be fully committed to providing every Marine the opportunity to compete and excel.”

In February, Defense removed restrictions preventing women from serving in certain combat roles in the military. That move opened up 14,000 jobs for women at the battalion level, mostly affecting women serving in the Army and Marine Corps. In March 2011, the Military Leadership Diversity Commission called on the Pentagon to scrap the policy that prevents women from serving in combat roles. The Congressional Research Service also examined the issue last November.

In 1994, the Pentagon established a departmentwide rule that excluded women from direct ground combat assignments to units below the brigade level. But that policy does not preclude women from being involved in ground combat. As a practical matter, women still have experienced combat as a part of attached units, in various jobs such as drivers.

The story was adjusted to clarify the Congressional Research Service's role.

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