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Females begin infantry training at all-male school

The former all-male Infantry Training Battalion East issued its first combat load to 15 female Marines to research gender integration in combat specialties.

The Marine Corps announced Wednesday the arrival of 19 females to the battalion. Of that group, four have voluntarily withdrawn. The group will train with Delta Company. It is the first of 17 groups to train at the battalion in the next year. The Corps' goal is for at least 300 females to attend through August 2014.

In January, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta overturned a policy prohibiting females in combat specialties. Panetta's decision mandates full integration by 2016.

Leon Pappa, the lead investigator overseeing research for the Marine Corps' training and education command at Headquarters Marine Corps, said females will endure 59 days of basic rifleman and infantryman instruction, during a media telephone interview Wednesday.

"There will be no standards changed for this research," he added.

Infantry Training Battalion has five training companies and is among three schools making up the School of Infantry East, which trains 17,600 students annually. ITB trains infantry and Marine Combat Training Battalion trains non-infantry Marines. The Advanced Infantry Training Battalion trains Marine leaders in advanced infantry tactics.

During recruit training at Parris Island, S.C., 114 females were screened with fitness test scores. Of the 42 qualified females, 19 volunteered.

"Volunteers not meeting the standards will receive the same remediation as their male counterparts," Pappa said. "A volunteer may recycle to a follow-on company no more than once to complete the ... periods of instruction."

At Parris Island, the females learn they can withdraw any time without penalty. By Day 29 of training, females must pass the curriculum or they are sent to MCT. Students must maintain an 80-percent average to graduate.

The female graduates will earn the infantry designation, but won't operate in the Corps as part of the infantry, Pappa said.

The results are due for the Commandant of the Marine Corps' review by October 2014.

Each female, regardless of completion, will be given an exit survey analyzing injuries, medical issues, academics and more, said Pappa.

"Females will be subject alongside the males to a physical and medical pre-screening as well as weekly physical checks to ensure they are not hiding injuries (during training)," Pappa said. "We've also inserted reconfirmation briefs where essentially we will sit down face-to-face with the volunteers at different points during the ITB training to reconfirm their volunteer status."

The confirmation briefs, Pappa said, will be "subtle" and without "excess scrutiny" on the female Marines.

"The reason we want to reconfirm them is because ... attitudes do change," Pappa said. "Males are not given that opportunity because this is their military occupational specialty assignment."

Data collectors are embedded with the training company to track volunteers. Three female combat instructors from MCT have been assigned to mentor and advise the ITB staff. A senior enlisted female Marine will advise the command and assist the three combat instructors, according to Pappa.

Female Marines will not be segregated during training, but will be housed separately from the males in the barracks. In the field, the Marines will berth together but will not share tents, Pappa said.

The training marks the first phase of the integration, which consists of preparation, research and evaluation. Phase 2 will set conditions for implementation during Phase 3.

Thomas Brennan / 910-219-8453 / thomas.brennan@jdnews.com

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