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Marine Corps concerned about injuries as women join enlisted infantry training

As enlisted women enter grunt training, there's heightened awareness of physical risks

Sep. 10, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  

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MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, VA. — Enlisted female Marines who volunteer for basic infantry training this fall will be closely monitored to ensure they are not put at risk of sustaining career-threatening injuries, according to the general overseeing research to determine what additional ground combat jobs may eliminate gender restrictions.

These monitors will be women more senior in rank who also will serve as mentors for the young female Marines attending Infantry Training Battalion, said Maj. Gen. Tom Murray, commanding general of Training and Education Commandin Quantico.

“We’re ... going to have them there in the barracks to talk with the women who are going through the training if they have problems, if they have concerns, if they need advice on stuff,” Murray said.

As Marine Corps Times first reported in August, this marks the first time women will attend the course, a nine-week program conducted at the Marine Corps’ School of Infantry. It’s the first stop for all new enlisted Marines destined to serve in the infantry.

Requirements for women to join the program and pass it will be the same as they are for men, Murray said. The training will be conducted at the School of Infantry East aboard Camp Geiger, N.C., and observed by researchers from the Defense Department and the Office of Naval Research as well as the Marine Corps, he said.

It’s unclear how many women have volunteered.

A parallel research effort involving new female officers has been underway for about a year. That program, the 13-week Infantry Officer Course, is decidedly more arduous, featuring a pass-or-fail endurance test spanning several hours at the outset.

To date, six female lieutenants have volunteered for infantry officer training, but none has completed the course. Only one woman has passed the initial endurance test, but she was later dropped from the program after developing stress fractures in her foot.

Injury risk and prevention is a focus as the Marine Corps enters this next research phase, Murray said. The senior enlisted women acting as monitors at Infantry Training Battalion will “really understand the environment,” he said, and they’ll “make sure that, physically, we’re not putting anyone in danger.”

The Marine Corps already has athletic trainers in place at its entry-level training schools. That includes boot camp, School of Infantry and Marine Combat Training Battalion on the enlisted side and Officer Candidates School and The Basic School on the officer side.

The trainers help to identify injuries quickly and begin rehab immediately. Having them staged at the training venues has been tremendous in reducing recovery time, Murray said — allowing them to get back to what they need to do sooner and with fewer recurring injuries.

School of Infantry East also embraces the Marine Corps’ High Intensity Tactical Training program, which is designed to optimize combat readiness and prevent injuries. Leaders there sent physical training instructors out to a nearby air station in the spring to get certified in teaching the program to new grunts. They said the tactical training program helped them to turn out optimally trained infantrymen.

The curriculum Marines go through at Infantry Training Battalion features a mix of physical training, classroom work and overnight field exercises. Future grunts learn a host of skills while attending Infantry Training Battalion, including weapons handling and marksmanship, patrolling and land navigation, and how to spot and react to improvised explosives. They live in tents through some of the program and at times sleep outside in fighting positions.

Women who complete the program will not be assigned infantry as a military occupational specialty, nor will they be placed in an infantry unit. Instead, their performance will be used to inform a recommendation from the service to the defense secretary as to whether women should serve alongside men in such ground combat jobs.

To that end, the research won’t end once these women leave the School of Infantry. The Marine Corps intends to keep tabs on them to learn whether they develop any injuries as a result of their experiences, Murray said.

“This [research] could last a year,” he said. “We’re going to follow the progress of these women as they go on in their own [military occupation specialties] later to make sure that there aren’t some kind of injuries that have surfaced later.”

The inclusion of women in infantry training is part of the Marine Corps’ extensive research process stemming from the Defense Department’s historic decision earlier this year to repeal its Direct Combat Exclusion Rule, enacted in 1994. The move opened about 237,000 jobs to women across all of the services, including nearly 54,000 jobs in the Marine Corps. While some troops see it as a step toward equal rights, others contend it will weaken the military’s combat units.

Marine officials have said no women will join infantry units before 2015. And even then, the services will be allowed to ask for exceptions that, if granted by the Pentagon, could keep some jobs closed to women.

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