Women Soldier of the Month (November)

First women complete US Marine infantry course
20 hours ago

US Marines navigate an obstacle course wearing protective chemical biological gear November 1, 2001 at Camp Geiger, North Carolina

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US Marines navigate an obstacle course wearing protective chemical biological gear November 1, 2001 at Camp Geiger, North Carolina (AFP Photo/John Althouse)

Washington (AFP) – Three women graduate Thursday for the first time from the US Marine Corps’ grueling infantry training course, as the military prepares to send female recruits into ground combat.

Out of 15 who started the pilot program, three women completed a 59-day course that includes training on firing ranges and long treks in the woods with heavy gear, according to Marine Corps officers.

“They have done a great service to the Marine Corps,” Captain Richard Ulsh told AFP.

The graduation is a historic step and officials said no rules were relaxed for the female volunteers who kept pace with their male counterparts in field exercises and hikes totaling 50 kilometers.

But the trio graduating at a ceremony at Camp Geiger in North Carolina will not join infantry units, as the Marine Corps plans more research to assess how to integrate women into combat roles.

The Pentagon has been criticized by some lawmakers and rights advocates for moving too slowly to open the door for women to take the fight to the enemy in ground combat.

The Marine Corps hopes to have 250 to 300 women enroll in the infantry training course over the next year as part of the 12-month research effort, said spokeswoman Captain Geraldine Carey.

The course includes live fire on ranges, with a 120-member company expending about 300,000 rounds of ammunition, and instruction on 16 different weapons.

The students have to complete a physical fitness test and four hikes, culminating in a 20-kilometer walk while hauling nearly 90 pounds (40 kilograms) of combat equipment.

Carey said the 12 women who withdrew from the course “did so for several reasons to include personal choice, failing to meet the standard on a graded event and due to injuries.”

More women have signed up to take the infantry training course, with 39 enlisted female troops volunteering from three companies for the next round, she added.

The Marine Corps also has invited women to enroll in infantry officer training, considered even more difficult than the course for enlisted troops.

But so far the 10 females who started the training at the Quantico base in Virginia did not successfully graduate.

Former US defense secretary Leon Panetta in January lifted a ban on women holding ground combat jobs, after years of appeals by retired female officers and activists.

The decision recognized that women had already proved themselves in combat in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where counter-insurgency warfare blurred traditional front lines.

Out of 1.4 million active US troops, 205,000 are women, or nearly 15 percent.

But among the military services, the Marine Corps is the most male-dominated, with women comprising only seven percent of the force.

More than 280,000 women have deployed to Afghanistan and other operations since 2001, and 152 died while on duty.

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