Four female Marines completed a grueling 20-kilometer hike during enlisted infantry training this week, a key benchmark at the course designed to train Marines in small unit tactics, physical endurance and weaponry.
The women in infantry training at Camp Geiger, North Carolina, were among the first females allowed into the course, part of an experiment to help the service integrate women into ground combat jobs, such as infantry.
"Given the performance of female Marines with Delta Company, there is a high probability that some will be standing in formation at graduation," Col. Jeffrey Conner, commander of the School of Infantry-East, told the Marine Corps Times.
Seven women started the hike Monday. Of the three that did not complete it, two will try again and one has elected to go into another specialty, the Marine Corps said in a statement Tuesday.
The Marines said 26 men out of the 246 who started also did not complete the hike.
In order to satisfy the requirements for the hike, the Marines must keep up with a brisk pace carrying equipment weighing more than 80 pounds on their backs.
Women have been serving in jobs that have exposed them to combat over the past decade in Iraq and Afghanistan. But ground combat jobs have remained off-limits.
This year the Pentagon ordered the military lift the ban on women serving in ground combat jobs, such as the infantry and special operations. The services have until January 2016 to do so. Exceptions would require approval of the defense secretary.
All the women Marines in infantry training at Camp Geiger are volunteers and those who pass will not go into the infantry, since it remains off-limits to females. The results of the study allows the Marine Corps to determine how best to open ground combat jobs to women.