The coming year will bring an end to speculation over the future of combat integration for the Marine Corps. Like the leaders of the other service branches, Commandant Gen. Joe Dunford musthas to make a recommendation to the defense secretary by the end of 2015 — either supporting the opening of every combat job to women or requesting specific exceptions.

As the decision point draws near, the Marine Corps' data-gathering operation on the subject is in full swing.

To date, 98 female enlisted Marines have graduated from the rifleman track at Infantry Training Battalion aboard Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for a 44 percent female graduation rate since the course began to accept female volunteers in late 2013, said Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs. Four female officers have completedmade it through the grueling combat endurance test that kicks off the Infantry Officers Course since it opened to female volunteers in 2012, but none has yet graduated the course.

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Though earlier this year IOC was opened to female lieutenants and captains from the fleet as well as new graduates of The Basic School in an effort to draw more volunteers through, participation numbers remainhave stayed low. The next course, set to begin Jan. 8, will include two female TBS graduates, Krebs said.

Meanwhile, the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, in which male and female Marines train in ground combat units to develop gender-neutral job standards for each specialty, is preparing for a "deployment" to the West Coast in order to test existing training and readiness standards.

All research, including the volunteer tracks at the infantry training courses, is set to end this spring, said Krebs.

"That will allow us the time to analyze and collate the data and give [Dunford] time to make an informed recommendation to the Secretary of Defense," she said via email.

Ahead of the final decision, the Marine Corps has introduced a "commander's tool kit" of optional training focusing on unconscious bias and organizational change to prepare Marines for gender integration. These courses may see greater use among units as the year wears on.

Beforethe year's end, the Marine Corps is also due to require male and female alikeMarines to complete pullups. The Marine Corps has delayed this new requirement on multiple occasions acknowledging earlier this year that only 45 percent of female Marines had been able to complete the minimum three pullups in testing.

Currently, a maximum score for female Marines who opt to complete pullups for their physical fitness test is eight pullups, compared with 20 for men; officials say these standards could change after the Corps completes its research efforts.

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