- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2013

She won’t head into ground combat as an infantry Marine anytime soon, but she is heading into the Corps’ all-male infantry training school this March, the first of two to do so since the Pentagon last week lifted its ban on women in combat roles.

“The reason I’m doing it is because I don’t want to look back and wonder what if I hadn’t done it,” the volunteer, a 28-year-old second lieutenant, told The Washington Times. She asked not be identified to avoid undue publicity.

Women who volunteer for the Marine Corps‘ grueling Infantry Officer Course won’t get official credit for taking part in the three-month-long program or be allowed to join the infantry if they pass.

The Marine Corps wants to test about 90 female volunteers in the course at Quantico, Va., and use their performances to inform decision-makers on allowing women into the program and the infantry, Marine officials said.

The volunteer who spoke to The Times said she sees her admission to the Infantry Officer Course as an opportunity to attend one of the best schools the Corps has to offer.

“And I’ve never been one to pass up an opportunity,” said the volunteer, a 2011 Naval Academy graduate.

The two volunteers are the third and fourth women to sign up for the course since September, when the Corps began accepting female Marines for research on performance standards. The first two did not complete the course. One washed out on the first day, as did 26 of the 107 men, and the other dropped out two weeks later for medical reasons, a Marine spokesman said.

The Pentagon’s new policy opens 237,000 jobs that had been closed to women.

Marine officials said they will gradually implement the policy using a two-pronged approach — one for open jobs in previously closed units, the other for previously closed jobs.

The Corps last year began allowing women to serve in some closed units on a trial basis, and 55 female officers and noncommissioned officers were permitted to work in 19 battalions. As a result of the decision announced last week, those numbers will be expanded.

For the other closed units, including infantry, the Corps will develop a plan to begin assigning female officers and noncommissioned officers in already open jobs.

The more difficult effort will be opening 28 previously closed jobs, a senior Marine official said.

The Corps will identify the physical requirements for those jobs, then test 800 male and female Marines this summer. Afterward, Marine officials will correlate those test scores to their physical and combat fitness test scores in order to devise a test recruiters can use to assign recruits to new combat jobs.

“We have 335 [jobs] in the Marine Corps. We’re going through as part of our very measured, deliberate and responsible process of evaluating and validating all of the thousands of tasks in all of those 335 [jobs] and schools,” a Marine official said.

The Infantry Officer Course’s gender-neutral standards have been reviewed and validated, and will not be raised or lowered, the official said.

There has been no word on when women will be allowed to receive official credit for completing the course.

The most physically demanding jobs in the Marines might not be integrated at all.

“If the only women that can qualify are Olympic-class athletes, then maybe that will be a specialty that remains closed to women,” a senior defense official told The Wall Street Journal.

The Marines have begun moving toward gender-neutral standards: Beginning next year, female Marines of all ages for the first time will have to perform at least three pull-ups, instead of a 15-second flexed-arm hang, to pass their annual physical-fitness test and perform eight pull-ups for a perfect score, instead of a 70-second flexed-arm hang. Men must perform at least three pull-ups to pass and 20 for a perfect score.

The armed services must submit to the defense secretary plans for implementing the policy by May 15. Thirty days after Congress has been notified, the services can begin making changes, with full implementation of the policy to be completed by January 2016.

The defense secretary can grant exceptions for any jobs that the services deem should remain closed to women, based on the requirements of those jobs.

“The assumption is that it’s going to be opened. If it shouldn’t be opened, it’s because we have a really darned good, strong argument as to why not,” a senior Marine official told reporters.