1:15AM EST October 3. 2012 – QUANTICO, Va. — It was 10 a.m., and the Marines trudging along the road bordered by thick Virginia woods had been up for seven hours already.
Their uniforms were soaked with sweat, and their faces showed signs of the pain in their muscles. Their day was far from over.
The demanding training was a typical first day in the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course except for one thing: For the first time, two women were part of the class.
“The women are expected to do everything that the men do,” says Marine Col. Todd Desgrosseilliers, who commands the organization responsible for basic Marine officer and infantry training. “We haven’t changed anything.”
Women have been steadily moving into many ranks previously barred to them, living at forward bases, flying combat aircraft and serving on submarine crews. Women remain barred from the infantry and other combat-arms specialties, but for the first time are being allowed to enter the Marines infantry officer training.
Allowing the women to volunteer for the course is part of an “experiment” to determine how they perform in the rigorous regimen of physical and psychological stress that Marine infantry officer candidates are put through. Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course is a course in which about 25% of men don’t make the cut or voluntarily drop out.
Critics say the move is taking gender equality too far. They worry that some efforts to accommodate women could lead to changing standards and ultimately hurt military readiness.
“In the end, when all is said and done, what they should be focusing on is combat effectiveness,” said Rep. Duncan Hunter, R.-Calif., a member of the Armed Services Committee. “Does it make us better at literally killing the enemy? That’s what their job is going to be.”
The Marine Corps say its experiment is an attempt to collect data for the Pentagon as it considers expanding the number of positions available to women in the military. The infantry is the most elemental and personal form of warfare, and remains off-limits to women.
For those who advocate the breaking down of barriers throughout the military, the infantry is the final frontier. Women who complete the Marine course will not become infantry officers since Pentagon policy still prohibits it, but some are pushing for the ban to be lifted.
David Barno, a retired three-star Army general now a senior adviser at the Center for a New American Security, says the infantry is a brutal form of warfare and the military should consider any lifting of the ban carefully.
Infantrymen engage in close-in fighting, sometimes “with knives, rocks and shovels,” Barno says. “I don’t rule that out, but I think we should take a hard look at that.”
Article courtesy of USA Today.
Photo: H. Darr Beiser, USA TODAY