When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. --Lao Tzu

To Earn The Title: Women And The Marine Corps

First Posted: Dec. 7, 2015, 9:56 p.m. CST
Last Updated: Dec. 7, 2015, 9:56 p.m. CST
214,098 women currently serve in the US military. They account for 14.6% of its collective strength. There are 1,853,690 female veterans. The Marine Corps has 13,677 female Marines. Of all of the Armed Services, it has the lowest percentage of females. They only account for 6.8% of the Corps’ total strength. All three of the other services have their numbers in the double digits. Despite the fact that the Corps has the lowest percentage of female service members, it has the highest incident of Military Sexual Trauma of all the service branches in the armed forces. In 2012, there were 453 reported incidences. In 2013, there were 876, and in 2014, there were 855 reports. Almost 10% of the females in the Marine Corps experience sexual trauma. The next highest incident rate is the Navy with 1.4%. The Marine Corps had the highest level of so-called penetrative sexual assault, or rape, with an estimated 4.3 percent of women and 0.63 percent of men experiencing such crimes according to a 2014 report.

To earn the title.

There is a line in the Marine Corps Hymn that every Marine commits to memory in boot camp: To earn the title of a United States Marine. For women, there is only one place they can go to earn that title, and that is in the Marine Corps’ legendary training base: Parris Island, South Carolina. Unlike the other services, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is only one of two “boot camps” that the Marine Corps has; the second being Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Parris Island is the only facility that houses the only all-female unit in the US military. The 4th Recruit Training Battalion only trains female recruits, and its subordinate companies are staffed exclusively by female drill instructors and officers. That is because it is the only place that female Marine recruits go to boot camp. The battalion has three companies: November, Oscar and Papa. Each company contains an average of two 50- to 60-recruit platoons. 16,000 Marines pass through Parris Island every year. Of that number roughly 2,400 are female recruits.

In 1997, Marine Combat Training was removed from the female recruit training schedule with the introduction of the Crucible, resulting in the current 12-week schedule for both male and female recruits. The Crucible is the physically and mentally grueling “final test” for all Marine recruits. When I went through boot camp in 1985, there was no such test – it does not mean boot camp was a cake walk for us “Old Crops” Marines. One of my fellow recruits had a mental break down and it took all three Dis and several MPs to wrestle him to the ground and subdue him. 3 or 4 others attempted suicide. Upon completing the Crucible, today’s Marines are then presented with the coveted EGA or Eagle, Globe, and Anchor - the iconic and fabled symbol of the Marine Corps. With this presentation, the recruits are officially recognized as Marines.

Female Marines subsequently began attending Marine Combat Training at the School of Infantry (SOI) in North Carolina prior to their primary occupational specialty training. For many female Marines, prior to the Global War on Terror, this would be the last time they would handle a weapon.

Today, female Marines throughout the Marine Corps also must perform the same physical fitness test as that of their male counterparts, adding additional physical training into their schedule.

Like its boot camps, the Marine Corps operate two Schools of Infantry; one in San Diego, CA. and one in Jacksonville, NC. The School of Infantry (SOI) is the second stage of initial military training for enlisted Marines after Recruit Training. All female Marines go through MCRD Parris Island and SOI East in Jacksonville, NC. The School of Infantry's training mission ensures “Every Marine is, first and foremost, a Rifleman.” At SOI, Marines with the Military Occupational Specialty of infantry (0300 occupational field) are trained at the Infantry Training Battalion (ITB), while all non-infantry Marines (at present, this includes all female Marines) are trained in basic infantry and combat skills at the Marine Combat Training Battalion (MCT Bn).

Infantry Training is a 59-day training course (prior to September 2008, it was 52 days) that develops new Marines into infantrymen "who can fight, survive, and win in a combat situation". The first two weeks are a common skills package that all infantry MOSs share, where Marines receive instruction in combat marksmanship, use of grenades, identifying and countering improvised explosive devices, convoy operations, Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT), tactical formations, land navigation, and patrolling. Afterward, Marines receive instruction specific to their infantry MOS, regarding machineguns, mortars, reconnaissance, LAV-25s, or anti-tank warfare. The training cycle includes physical conditioning via physical training, conditioning marches, and sustainment training in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program. Leadership traits and the application of the core values in every aspect of the Marine's life are also emphasized.

For non-grunts, Marine Combat Training is half the length at 29 days (prior to September 2008 it was 22 days). Here entry-level non-infantry Marines are taught the common skills needed in combat. Marines learn the basics of combat marksmanship, counter-improvised explosive device techniques, how to conduct the defense of a position, convoy operations, combat formations, fireteam assaults, patrolling, MOUT, use of the AN/PRC-119 radio, reporting military intelligence, land navigation, and the use of hand grenades, the M203 grenade launcher, M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, and M240 machine gun.

In addition to basic SOI, grunts who have advanced to junior NCO or noncommissioned officers like sergeant and above have the ability to go to Advanced SOI which teaches infantry leadership skills, reconnaissance, scout sniper, heavy support weapons like mortars and anti-armor weapons, and tactical employment of the Light Armored Vehicle.

At first glance, it would appear that the Marine Corps has taken positive steps in the direction of integration and seeking parity in male and female training. So, what is the resistance to allowing women into the Marine infantry and reconnaissance units? Currently women are prohibited to attend SOI and advanced SOI, and only receive the basic 29 day combat training course, and then move on to their primary MOS schools. For many, prior to the Global War on Terror, this is the last time they see or handle a weapon. One should note that in SOI, grunts are trained in convoy operations. In the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, given the lack of manpower, very often infantry units are used for direct offensive operations and convoy security and operations fell to non-grunts in the military police units and other non-grunt units. After the blitzkrieg at the beginning of the war, there were no Iraqi armored units to speak of, and the Iraqi air force was neutralized, the ensuing insurgency wars that marked the greater majority of the war, and still continues today, like the trench warfare of the “war to end all wars,” reduced the conflict to an infantry war.

So early in the war, other combat arms, like tanks and artillery were cannibalized and turned into
‘infantry units’ for patrols, searches, and door kicking missions. This also included non-grunt units like engineers, supply, and such. They would also man the check points and entry control points in major cities like Fallujah or Baghdad. When a suicide bomber targeted a convoy of female Marines in Fallujah in 2005, the bomb killed 3 female Marines and wounded another 11. These Marines were returning to Camp Fallujah after their shift manning check points and control points in the city. It was the deadliest attack on female Marines of the entire war. When General Robert Neller took over the Marine Corps as Commandant, he said, “I buried three women in Iraq in 2006 and they died alongside 311 men.” He added, “To me it’s personally insulting to talk about women in combat. Women have been in combat.”



This article was written by Joaquin Rafael Roces. Joaquin is a Marine Corps Veteran, is active in his faith community, and has served as a Eucharistic Minister and Religious Education Instructor for over 15 years. He is a member of the Knights of Columbus, and recently became involved in the parish’s Youth Ministry. He has a dual diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder and has been in recovery for three years. In 2015 Joaquin was trained by the National Alliance for Mental Illness to be an In Our Own Voice Presenter. Joaquin travels throughout Northern Nevada working with NAMI to change attitudes, assumptions and stereotypes by describing the reality of living with mental illness and sharing his recovery story. Through the In Our Own Voice presentations, people with lived experience with mental illness share their powerful personal stories.

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