As military leaders face the looming decision to open all jobs to women, one base in the Marine Corps continues to segregate new enlistees by gender — and there are no plans to change that.

When female recruits arrive at At Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina — one of two training depots of two places where enlisted Marines are made — women are shuffled into their own training battalion there are recruits -- and there are female recruits. The women, many of whom will go on to make up the seven 7 percent of the Corps' total force that is female, train separately in their own unit: 4th Recruit Training Battalion. There, they have with separate living quarters, physical training fields and even laundry facilities.

Their boot camp cycle is just as long as that of the male recruits and comprises the same activities and challenges. But occasionally, subtle differences emerge.

On the obstacle course, for example, a longer climbing rope used by shorter-stature recruits was once informally dubbed the "WM rope" in reference to women Marines, according to a Pentagon report on integrated training. A ladder adjacent to a wall obstacle is known by some as the "4th Battalion ladder," a former commander of a male recruit battalion said. And then there are rifle range qualification rates, a discipline in which the female recruits have, until recently, trailed the men males by 20 percent or more for the last decade, up until this year.

The Marine Corps is the only military branch , the last service to maintain embrace gender-segregated recruit training. Leaders say maintain the approach eliminates distractions and allows for better mentoring.

But critics say it's time for a change, and that integrating boot camp is a necessary step in preparing for the Defense Department mandate that will open all combat fields to women by 2016.

Lt. Col. Kevin Collins, a logistics officer, wrote in the Marine Corps In another Gazette piece published last December, that allowingargued that integrating recruit training was a necessary step in light of a coming Defense Department mandate that will open all ground combat fields to women by 2016 the first of next yearHaving men and women to training together Training male and female recruits together, he wrote, would better prepare them for what they'll face in the fleet. puncture misconceptions from both sides about the other gender and acclimate male Marines to serving with female counterparts in the fleet.

"Male-only recruit training provides an artificial and unrealistic environment that can result in violated expectations of the realities of service in the Marine Corps and misconceptions about female Marines," Collins wrote. "[And] isolating our women during recruit training unfairly implies that our female recruits need to be sheltered and protected."

Performance gaps

A recent investigation at Parris Island highlighted several troubling problems within 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

Lt. Col. Kate Germano, the former head of 4th RTB who was relieved of command June 30 after a command investigation found her command climate "toxic" and her leadership methods "hostile" and "abusive," was on a mission to change double standards she said she saw between male and female recruits.

Germano and her Marines who supporters her say her hard-edged approach helped 4th RTB bring its rifle range qualification rates up by 12 percent in just one year and highlighted other ways the unit needed to become more competitive with its male counterparts.

"Because they aren't challenged to compete with their male counterparts during physical fitness events, most [female recruits] only aspire to achieve female standards for physical performance, which many would justifiably argue are too low to begin with," Germano wrote in an editorial accepted for submission to the Marine Corps Gazette, but spiked after her firing. "The truth is that when female recruits are held to higher standards, they rise to the occasion ... Clearly, it became an insult to 'train like a girl' when it became normal to expect less from female recruits."

Recruits of Papa Company practice sweeping their opponent to the ground July 1, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is designed to increase the warfighting capabilities of Marines and enhance self-confidence and esprit de corps. Papa Company is scheduled to graduate Sept. 11, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Pfc. Vanessa Austin)
Recruits of Papa Company practice sweeping their opponent to the ground July 1, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is designed to increase the warfighting capabilities of Marines and enhance self-confidence and esprit de corps. Papa Company is scheduled to graduate Sept. 11, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Pfc. Vanessa Austin)

Female recruits at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., practice sweeping their opponent to the ground during Marine Corps Martial Arts Program training.

Photo Credit: Pfc. Vanessa Austin/Marine Corps

The rifle range was not the only place on the island where male Marines were outperforming their female counterparts, according to a June investigation commissioned by the commanding general of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, in response to complaints about Germano's leadership style. allegations of a hostile work environment at 4th RTB.according to a recent investigation commi the TECOM report found.

Citing a survey of performance scores, qualification percentages and attrition rates from the last four years, the investigating officer concluded that "historically, the male battalions have out-performed the female battalion in nearly all aspects of measured performance, including drill, [physical and fitness and combat fitness tests], academics and rifle range."

The differences aren't always drastic, and in some areas, women at Parris Island outperform the men. Ten years of data on written test scores, for example, show that female recruits occasionally tie or outperform the average scores for men. And when using the scoring chart for female Marines on the Physical Fitness Test, recruits at 4th RTB outscored the men every year.

For tests that measure upper body strength, though, the male recruits outperform the women. The female battalion tends to score about six to nine points below the male units on the Combat Fitness Test. Parris Island officials credit that difference to because of the ammunition can lift, which requires upper-body strength that men possess in greater amounts than their female counterparts.

Most dramatic was the difference in attrition rates. Female recruits dropped out of boot camp more than double the rate of their male counterparts — 13.3 percent compared to 6.5 percent — over the last four years.

Sgt. Stevie Cardona, an experienced drill instructor at 4th RTB, said she has noticed some of those this performance gap during her time at the recruit depot.

"I have observed a separated battalion composed of females not performing on the same level as their counterparts in areas such as combat conditioning hikes and physical fitness," she said.

For proponents of boot camp integration, the main contention is that female recruits will perform better across the board if given the opportunity to train and compete alongside men, rather than only with their female peers.

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A segregated experience

While entry-level training for the other military services and Marine officers have been integrated for years, Corps all conduct integrated entry-level recruit training, and the Marines integrated their entry-level officer training at the company level in 1977 according to the Marine Corps History Division, officials maintain that separating the genders is the best way to train impressionable young recruits.

Splitting the genders at The single-gender boot camp allows recruits to encounter environment provides positive same-sex gender role models for recruits, limits distractions, removing es the stereotype of men in authority for female recruits, and allows for differences in physical strength and endurance, said Maj. Anton Semelroth, a TECOM spokesman for TECOM. It also helps limit distractions, allows for differences in physical strength and endurance, and enables recruits to report sexual assault and harassment incidents that occurred prior to service [[before the Marine Corps, in their civilian lives? GH]] more freely, he said.

"In general, [recruits] arrive with immature, undeveloped and unfocused thoughts on professionalism and professional conduct," Semelroth said. "The only thing they have in common is their desire to be a Marine," Semelroth said in a statement provided to Marine Corps Times. By capitalizing on that desire, recruit training transforms these individuals from many diverse backgrounds into Marines imbued with a common set of values and standards."

Following the 70 days of boot camp, new Marines not designated for the infantry go to Marine Combat Training, where men and women the genders train together. But those 70 days of segregation, some say, are enough to develop powerful misconceptions and prejudices that are hard to shake.

Retired Lt. Col. David Morgan, a former commander of 1st Recruit Training Battalion, said doesn't he isn't prepared to support the idea of co-ed recruit trainingintegration at the level. But, he said, he found a pervasive negative attitude toward female Marines among their male counterparts, he said, and was forced to conclude the problem started with boot camp.

Drill Instructor Sgt. Michael P. Wentline, Platoon 2053, Golf Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, encourages a recruit to move faster during martial arts training May 4, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is designed to increase the warfighting capabilities of individual Marines and units, enhance Marines’ self-confidence and esprit de corps and foster the warrior ethos in all Marines. Wentline, 30, is from Dunmore, Pa. Golf Company is scheduled to graduate July 10, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)
Drill Instructor Sgt. Michael P. Wentline, Platoon 2053, Golf Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, encourages a recruit to move faster during martial arts training May 4, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. The Marine Corps Martial Arts Program is designed to increase the warfighting capabilities of individual Marines and units, enhance Marines’ self-confidence and esprit de corps and foster the warrior ethos in all Marines. Wentline, 30, is from Dunmore, Pa. Golf Company is scheduled to graduate July 10, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)

Sgt. Michael Wentline, a drill instructor at 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, yells at a recruit during martial arts training. Experts completed a study about integrating Marine boot camp in 1997, and some say the issue should be revisited.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Jennifer Schubert/Marine Corps

With recruits leaving co-ed gender-integrated high schools to enter an artificially segregated environment, the onus was on the Marine Corps, he said, to provide leadership that transcends the potential for sexism and discrimination.

"We basically, in 12 weeks, imprint on them what the future of the Corps going to be," he said. "Ninety-seven percent of the time we're probably doing it the right way — but when we don't, that's pretty unfortunate. ," he said. "...I'm living out here in society today, and nobody's looking at females as not equal. We're calling fire on our own position, to some extent."

A former 4th RTB company commander who remains on active duty and who spoke under condition of anonymity said even good-natured trash talking between the battalions can take on an ugly edge due to the divide between the genders.

"The thing is that Marines s--t-talk. Every unit does it," she said. "It turns into a male-and-female issue just because we're in separate battalions."

Greg Jacob, a former Marine mustang infantry officer and the policy director for the Service Women's Action Network, said his boot camp experience in 1994 impressed on him from the start that the women at Parris Island were adversaries or inferior, rather than peers and comrades.

"We were told by our DIs, the first or second day on the island, 'women recruits are nasty, stay away from them, they'll just get you into trouble.' I've heard that the same thing is said to the women in 4th Battalion," he said. "Right from the get-go, there's sort of this adversarial type of standing between the three male battalions and 4th Battalion."

'We are internally bleeding'

In addition to performance gaps and leadership issues, the investigation into Germano's behavior at 4th RTB also revealed severe manpower shortages in the all-woman unit, and some say the only way to fix it is by making boot camp co-ed. Others say integrating boot camp may be the only way to cure troubling problems within 4th RTB tied to performance and manpower shortfalls.

Current and former members of the battalion say the requirement of a female-only staff that all staff be female often left the unit hard-pressed to fill positions and strained from overwork. Officers and drill instructors out on medical or maternity leave were difficult to replace, they said, and intensified stressors within the unit.

A June investigation commissioned by the commanding general of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, in response to allegations of a hostile work environment at 4th RTB, serves to underscore these reports.

The 25-page investigation report, along with hundreds of pages of supplemental interviews and enclosures, was released to Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request. It details found that manpower gaps and shortfalls within 4th RTB the all-female unit were "a significant issue that continues to go unanswered" and "does not allow for any semblance of comparable respite to the male battalions" due to the demand for staff and the high operational tempo the battalion observed to meet its training goals. In addition, the report found that 4th Battalion's use of a series track schedule, rather than the company schedule the other three battalions used, meant the unit had to facilitate roughly double the number of recruit graduations every year, which took a toll on the staff.

A member of 4th RTB whose name was redacted in the report said the unit was "internally bleeding" when it came to staffing. While most male battalions had five drill instructors per team, the female battalion had three or four at best, she said testified. The unit, she said, had been was short-staffed on enlisted manpower for a full year the last 12 months, due in part to a series of pregnancies, other medical issues and temporary duty assignments that left drill instructor billets unfilled, she said.

"I think temporarily having male officers in 4th Battalion would help alleviate our problems," she testified.

Sgt. Simone L. King, a Drill Instructor School student, encourages recruits of Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, to move faster through a combat training course June 9, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. The course is part of Basic Warrior Training, held during the ninth week of boot camp, which focuses on basic field-related skills all Marines must know. These skills will be broadened during follow-on training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. King, 25, is from Long Beach Island, N.J. Papa company is scheduled to graduate July 2, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Pfc. Vanessa Austin)
Sgt. Simone L. King, a Drill Instructor School student, encourages recruits of Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, to move faster through a combat training course June 9, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. The course is part of Basic Warrior Training, held during the ninth week of boot camp, which focuses on basic field-related skills all Marines must know. These skills will be broadened during follow-on training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. King, 25, is from Long Beach Island, N.J. Papa company is scheduled to graduate July 2, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Pfc. Vanessa Austin)

A drill instructor student encourages recruits of with 4th Recruit Training Battalion to move faster through a combat training course at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Female drill instructors with 4th RTB say they like the gender-split approach to boot camp.

Photo Credit: Pfc. Vanessa Austin/Marine Corps

Another female Parris Island officer, who spoke to Marine Corps Times under condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, said integrating unit staff by gender was the only way she knew to solve the persistent manpower problem. Since less than 10 percent of Marines are women, there's a That problem, she said, was exacerbated by the small proportion of female Marines within the Corps to begin with, and the high demand for them throughout the fleet, she said.

"It would alleviate a lot of concerns for when we do have an officer that does go down or an enlisted marine who does have an emergency, because they can just fill in either to assist or just to help," she said.

Both TECOM and Parris Island leadership, however, dispute that the unit has systemic manning issues. Lukeman disapproved the investigating officer's opinion finding staffing shortfalls, saying "there is no indication of inadequate support to 4th Recruit Training Battalion."

Col. Jeffrey Fultz, the chief of staff for Parris Island, said the female unit was staffed to the same specifications within its table of organization as the male units, though he acknowledged the numbers sometimes fluctuated due to medical leave considerations. And the drill instructor-to-recruit ratio was actually better at 4th RTB than at the other battalions, he said.

"Forget how many hats are on a team," he said. "Female platoons are smaller than male platoons."

Marines push back

Even proponents of recruit training integration, however, acknowledge that the ideas is unpopular with the do not pretend the idea is popular among a majority of Marines. Enlisted Marines — male and female — treasure the gender-separate aspect of their boot camp experience, and drill instructors defend it as a key component of the legendary mentoring relationship that they foster with their recruits.

Sgt. Maj. Angela Maness, the first female enlisted leader at Parris Island and a former drill instructor, said she saw only benefits to keeping the genders apart for training during the first 12 weeks.

Rct. Kyle J. Verbeke, left, and Rct. Euseth T. Willis, both with Platoon 2042, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, slide down a Confidence Course obstacle March 31, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. Recruits tackled, scaled and weaved their way through the course’s 15 obstacles, which are designed to increase self-confidence. Verbeke, 19, from Marysville, Mich., and Willis, 21, from Piscataway, N.J., are scheduled to graduate June 5, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)
Rct. Kyle J. Verbeke, left, and Rct. Euseth T. Willis, both with Platoon 2042, Fox Company, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, slide down a Confidence Course obstacle March 31, 2015, on Parris Island, S.C. Recruits tackled, scaled and weaved their way through the course’s 15 obstacles, which are designed to increase self-confidence. Verbeke, 19, from Marysville, Mich., and Willis, 21, from Piscataway, N.J., are scheduled to graduate June 5, 2015. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 20,000 recruits come to Parris Island annually for the chance to become United States Marines by enduring 13 weeks of rigorous, transformative training. Parris Island is home to entry-level enlisted training for 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)

Male recruits with 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, complete an obstacle course at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Some say male-only training battalions at the recruit depots don't prepare new Marines for the fleet.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Jennifer Schubert/Marine Corps

"For our recruits as part of their training, they see what right looks like; I've said that my whole career," she said. "They need to be focused on one thing, and that's the training that we give them."

While incidents such as male recruits being ordered to turn their backs on their female counterparts had occurred in the past at Parris Island, Maness said these events were examples of "drill instructors acting like an idiot" and were neither encouraged nor permitted at the recruit depot. Overall, she said, she did not observe negativity between the genders during training.

A 4th RTB senior drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Rocio RamirezMartinez, said she was glad for the opportunity to give female recruits a role model they could aspire to emulate, even in a male-dominated Corps.

"[The recruits] most likely will end up working for a male staff noncommissioned officer and a male recruit can end up working for a female staff NCO. They will continue to be mentors and role models to those recruits," she said. "However, we can assure that their introduction to the Marine Corps was with a positive role model that the recruit can aspire to be like."

Gunnery Sgt. Amina Saracay, a chief drill instructor for 4th RTB and a uniformed victim advocate, said she had found isolating the recruits by gender allowed her to bond with and mentor victims of previous sexual assault in ways a male drill instructor could not.

And these viewpoints are not devoid of scientific backing. A diverse and bipartisan Pentagon panel assembled in 1997 to study gender-integrated training found, among other things, that the co-ed integrated recruit training employed by the Army, Navy and Air Force resulted in "less discipline, less unit cohesion, and more distraction from the training programs."

At Parris Island, the investigators raved about the success of female-only training.

"The committee observed impressive levels of confidence, team-building, and esprit de corps in the all-female training platoons at the Marine Corps Parris Island base," they wrote in a report summary.

But with much changed in the 18 years since the study, evidence of systemic problems at 4th RTB and massive changes on the horizon with combat integration, some say it's it may be time to conduct a new nother evaluation.

"We were studying this at a time when there were a significant minority of [Marine] recruits who had essentially been sent there by judges, sent there in the hope that the Marine Corps had put them on the right path," said John Walcott, a panel member at the time of the study, who is now the team leader for National Security and Foreign Affairs at Bloomberg News. He added that he suspected the makeup of the recruit population had changed significantly since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"There's so many variables and such self-selection among recruits ... I think, first of all, you can't give a good answer to [the question of whether to change Marine boot camp] without giving another survey," he said.

Jacob, the SWAN policy director, said he couldn't see a way to successfully integrate the historic boys' club that is the Marine Corps infantry in keeping with the Pentagon directive without starting at boot camp.

"I think the time is now," he said. "It should have happened 20 years ago, to be honest."