University of Pittsburgh to study gender integration at Marine Corps boot camps

Recruits with Oscar Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, clean their rifles during the crucible on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Sept 24, 2020. The University of Pittsburgh is conducting a study to determine the best way for the Marine Corps to approach gender integration at its two boot camps, the service announced on Oct. 20, 2020.


By CAITLIN M. KENNEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 20, 2020

WASHINGTON — The University of Pittsburgh is conducting a study to determine the best way for the Marine Corps to approach gender integration at its two boot camps, the service announced Tuesday.

The study comes as the Marine Corps faces a looming deadline set in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that mandates the service end gender-segregated training within five years at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., and integrate training within eight years at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif.

The Marine Corps wants “an independent, scientifically credible study of the models of entry-level military training to identify potential alternatives to increase gender integration of entry-level training,” Bradley Nindl, a co-principal investigator and senior adviser for the study, said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The study is a $2 million contract between the Marine Corps and the university’s Neuromuscular Research Laboratory and Warrior Human Performance Research Center, where Nindl is the director. He is also a professor and vice chairman for research in the school’s Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences also will partner on the study with the University of South Carolina’s Department of Exercise Science, Insight Policy Research, and representatives from the University of Maryland’s Department of Sociology, according to the Marine Corps.

The study will start Wednesday and is expected to last 18 months, according to Nindl. The results are to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, however which one is still to be determined, he said.

“Synthesis of the results of this study by a non-Defense Department entity will ensure that the findings of the study are unbiased and that actionable recommendations are grounded in evidence. Vetting of the findings through the peer-review process will further substantiate the results,” Nindl said.

The Marine Corps remains the only service that does not fully integrate recruits in all levels of training and it only trains female recruits at Parris Island. While the service has recently begun integrating male and female recruits at the company level at Parris Island, it is only done when there are smaller numbers of female recruits during the slower training months.

The study will include interviews, focus-group surveys, physical performance data collection, saliva samples for cortisol -- a marker for stress, and injury surveillance, according to Nindl. One goal of the study is to look at “best practices” from the other military services and see how they can be adapted to the Marine Corps, he said.

The study will specifically address “the sociological effects to increased gender integration, and consider training models which maintain the same level of discipline, physical fitness, attention to detail, and camaraderie,” according to the Marine Corps statement.

Last month, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said the Marine Corps faces two challenges with fully integrating the boot camps: finding enough female Marines to be drill instructors at each recruit depot and infrastructure.

Parris Island has limited barracks space for women, and San Diego has none, so even getting women and men to train on both coasts immediately cannot happen, Berger said.

“It's definitely not as simple as build a couple buildings, and we'll be there,” he has said about infrastructure concerns at boot camps.

In the meantime, the Marine Corps will conduct its own study in the winter by sending a group of female drill instructors to Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego to see how the service can train female recruits at the base for the first time, Berger said last month.

Despite the challenges, Berger said in five years he would like to see as many companies as possible training platoons comprised of men and women.