- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 25, 2012

Female Marine officers are unlikely to join the infantry anytime soon, in part because of a lack of volunteers for the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course, which was opened to women in September.

Only two of about 80 eligible female Marines have volunteered for the course — a grueling, three-month advanced regimen conducted at Quantico, Va., that was opened to women to research their performance.

Of the two female volunteers, one washed out on the first day, along with 26 of the107 men, and the other dropped out two weeks later for medical reasons, a Marine Corps spokesman said.

The research effort was launched after the Pentagon opened to women more than 14,000 jobs that could place them closer to front lines and combat.

The Marine Corps wants to test at least 90 more women in the course before making any decision about women serving in infantry roles, the spokesman said.

Getting 90 more female volunteers may be difficult. About 125 female officers each year enter the Basic School, a prerequisite and candidate pool for the Infantry Officer Course, the spokesman said.

Since September, women in every new class of the Basic School have been given the opportunity to volunteer for the Infantry Officer Course, and they will continue to be offered the chance, he said.

A Marine Corps spokeswoman said no women have volunteered for the next Infantry Officer Course, which begins in January.

Testing and evaluating

The Marines have yet to implement the research option for female enlisted Marines who volunteer to train at the Infantry Training Battalion, the all-male advanced regimen at the Corps’ School of Infantry at Camp Geiger, N.C., a spokeswoman said.

The research is part of efforts to gather information that could help guide decisions on what opportunities can be opened to women.

The Pentagon ordered the services to issue a progress report on the jobs it opened to women and to look into other areas, including the infantry, that could be opened to women.

Those reports and research are to be sent by the end of this month to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who will issue any policy changes and recommendations to Congress.

Since May, the Marine Corps also has been testing women’s endurance and strength.

Tests include lifting a 72-pound machine gun above their heads while wearing a 71-pound rucksack, marching 12 miles in less than five hours carrying a 71-pound rucksack and evacuating a mock casualty weighing about 200 pounds.

The scores will be used to compare male and female performance and to gauge whether the current combat fitness test and physical fitness tests are appropriate measures for combat fitness.

Female Marines interviewed by The Washington Times said they are nervous and excited about the outcomes of the research, which could decide the future of women in the Corps.

Although the two female volunteers for the Infantry Officer Course did not complete it, there will be others who will, they say.

Only new female lieutenants are offered the chance to volunteer for the Infantry Officer Course. This has upset some senior female officers, who say they would jump at the chance and might better handle the stress of being the only woman in an intense, all-male environment than brand-new female officers.

All created equal?

The senior women attribute the lack of female volunteers to the fact that they would not be assigned to infantry jobs even if they complete the course. Successful candidates would have to return to their previously assigned jobs.

They are also worried about the impact made by a female combat engineer whose article in the Marine Corps’ official magazine questioned whether women can stand the physical strain of combat and received national attention.

In a July article in Marine Corps Gazette titled “Get Over It! We Are Not All Created Equal!” Capt. Katie Petronio said she suffered from restless leg syndrome, severe muscle atrophy and infertility resulting from 10-month and seven-month deployments, respectively, to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Afghanistan, she commanded 30 Marines who were building patrol bases in Helmand province, one of the most dangerous areas at that time.

“At the end of the seven-month deployment, and the construction of 18 [patrol bases] later, I had lost 17 pounds and was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (which personally resulted in infertility, but is not a genetic trend in my family), which was brought on by the chemical and physical changes endured during deployment,” Capt. Petronio wrote.

Capt. Petronio discussed her article on CNN, upsetting female Marines by appearing in uniform and not mentioning that she was about five months pregnant at the time. She gave birth in October.

Corps leaders say they are aware of sensitivities and hope to get past the hyperbole with facts-based research, a spokesman said.

The Corps also will submit the results from a servicewide online survey of active-duty Marines and some reservists about their experiences with female Marines and the potential challenges of opening more units and positions to women.

After this, “I’ll be able to look Congress, secretary of defense, secretary of the Navy in the eye and say, ‘Sir, this is my recommendation when we’re all through,’” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James F. Amos said in August.

• Kristina Wong can be reached at kwong@washingtontimes.com.

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