A House panel would require Marine Corps officials to integrate women into recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina, within five years and at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego within eight years under draft legislation advanced Wednesday.
Advocates said the plan, which passed the House Armed Services Committee along party lines, is needed because of the slow pace of Marine Corps officials in bringing women recruits in step with their male colleagues. The service is the only branch that has not fully combined training for male and female recruits.
“Fully integrating women is not only the right thing to do, it makes our military stronger,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and head of the committee’s personnel panel, in introducing the plan.
“Gender-integrated units have strengths that all-male units lack. Women’s diverse perspectives help units develop innovative approaches to challenges, increase units’ mutual respect and focus, and make them more lethal.”
Marine Corps officials announced earlier this year that it would integrate one female platoon with male platoons at Parris Island, South Carolina, in an effort to evaluate what changes that would make to recruit training.
The move was not announced as a permanent change, and female drill instructors worked exclusively with the female recruits. Female recruits were housed in barracks with male counterparts, but in different squad bays.
But Speier and critics of the Corps say those half-measures don’t do enough to meet military goals of equitable treatment for women service members. The new legislation would mandate integration at the company level, not just within a few platoons.
“They deserve a chance to prove themselves alongside their male colleagues,” Speier said.
During the Parris Island integration experiment, side-by-side training between males and female recruits was minimal because Marines train by platoon at boot camp.
Advocates argue true gender integration requires mixed male and female platoons, an issue Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller routinely said he would not approve.
“Our drill instructors stay with their recruits 24 hours a day, seven days a week the entire time they are there,” Neller told reporters in May 2018. “So I am not considering having men and women live together in an open squad bay.”
But incoming commandant Lt. Gen. David Berger told senators during his April confirmation hearing that he was open to another examination of gender integration at Parris Island, saying the previous effort “went great.”
“The program of instruction that we use in the Marine Corps, we didn't change. We just changed where they were billeted,” Berger told lawmakers.
The Corps does not currently train female recruits at the San Diego depot, but there are some female drill instructors at the West Coast boot camp.
Republicans on the committee were silent on the issue but voted together against the proposal.
The measure still must survive the Republican-controlled Senate before it can become law. Lawmakers there did not include any such language in their annual defense budget policy bill, and could insist on its removal during negotiations between the chambers.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.