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Four female Marines have passed what is considered the most strenuous aspect of enlisted infantry training, prompting officials here at the Marine Corps' School of Infantry – East to surmise that at least some of the 15 women who began the course in September will graduate next month.
The women are assigned to Delta Company, part of the Infantry Training Battalion to which all prospective grunts are shipped after they complete boot camp. They are the first group of enlisted women to conduct such training as part of the service's ongoing research to determine what additional ground combat jobs may lift gender restrictions.
New female Marine officers have been allowed to enroll in infantry training since last year, but as yet none has passed that course, which is considered among the U.S. military's most arduous.
"Given the performance of female Marines with Delta Company, there is a high probability that some will be standing in formation at graduation," said Col. Jeffrey Conner, SOI-East's commanding officer.
The key test came Monday, when seven women and 246 men stepped off at 3 a.m. for a 12½-mile hike. Three women and 26 men were unable to complete it, said Staff Sgt. Billy Shinhault, an instructor here.
Marines who failed to complete the hike will be given another opportunity. Two of the three women who failed the hike intend to try again while one elected to drop out of ITB and report to her non-infantry military occupational school. Because they volunteered for the research, the female Marines here at ITB are allowed to back out at any time.
All seven female Marines have successfully completed the first phase of training, which teaches basic combat skills. Monday marked the start of phase two, in which Marines concentrate on learning the necessary skills to become riflemen or to obtain another infantry occupational specialty.
These women are working towards completing the 0311-specific curriculum.
And although there are more tests ahead, Monday's hike represented the course's last significant physical challenge. The only potential hurdle remaining, Conner said, is a final Physical Fitness Test. To pass it, the women will have to perform pullups as the men do.
Starting Jan. 1, pullups will be required for all female Marines conducting their annual PFT. That's a new requirement. Heretofore, women executed a flexed-arm hang as a test of upper body strength. As part of this research, however, officials have stressed that women will be held to the same standard as men.
Beyond the women assigned to Delta Company, another 13 female Marines began infantry training Oct. 15 with ITB's Echo Company. After two weeks, 10 of the 13 remain with that unit. Another class is set to begin Tuesday, although the number of women who volunteered was not yet finalized, officials said.
The testing at ITB is part of a wider study across the Defense Department to analyze the impacts and feasibility of opening more combat roles to women. Last year numerous billets in combat units were opened to women, but jobs that would place them in direct combat roles remain closed.
Women who complete ITB successfully will not be assigned to an infantry unit, said Lt. Col. David Wallis.
For now, direct combat roles in the Marine Corps remain closed to them, but that could change.
"The FY 12 National Defense Authorization Act required the services to provide a review of laws, policies and regulations restricting the service of women in the Armed Forces," said Capt. Geraldine Carey, the SOI-East public affairs offiver. "The SecDef subsequently rescinded the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Assignment Restriction regarding assignment of women on January 24, 2013. The services have until January 1, 2016 to fully integrate women or request an exception to policy for certain MOSs.
But those who pass ITB will receive credit in their official personnel files.