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Marines' decision on women in combat expected in weeks

The Marine Corps is just weeks away from a decision on whether to open all combat jobs to women or ask for exceptions, a spokesman for the cCommandant Gen. Joseph Dunford said Thursday.

Dunford awaits a comprehensive report containing data on the feasibility of women entering ground combat jobs. The report will lean heavily on findings derived from a nine-month infantry experiment that monitored male and female volunteers in a simulated ground combat unit as they worked together to complete infantry tasks. The task force wrapped up its assessments earlier this summer and disbanded last month.

The report It will also include data from other Marine Corps integration experiments dating from late 2012, when the service Marine Corps temporarily opened its infantry officer training to female volunteers. The following year, the Corps It opened its enlisted infantry training to women the following year. In all, 122 enlisted women graduated from the Infantry Training Battalion Course for a pass rate of 34 percent; none of the 27 female officers who attempted the Infantry Officers Course within the testing period graduated.

Cpl. Caroline Ortiz, a Marine with the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, carries a shell during an artillery assessment at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Friday, April 10, 2015. In addition to artillery, the GCEITF is also evaluating the integration of female Marines into infantry and mechanized MOS's. (Mike Morones/Staff)
Cpl. Caroline Ortiz, a Marine with the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, carries a shell during an artillery assessment at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Friday, April 10, 2015. In addition to artillery, the GCEITF is also evaluating the integration of female Marines into infantry and mechanized MOS's. (Mike Morones/Staff)

Cpl. Caroline Ortiz, a Marine with the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, carries a shell during an artillery assessment on April 10 at Twentynine Palms, Calif. Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford is expected to make a decision soon on whether the Marine Corps will allow women into closed combat jobs, or request a waiver from the Defense Department.

Photo Credit: Mike Morones/Staff

"In the next few weeks I anticipate the commandant will have time to make a recommendation and determine the way ahead," Lt. Col. Eric Dent, Dunford's spokesman, told Marine Corps Times.

Also this week, oOutgoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert announced that he expected the elite Navy SEALs to open their training to women next year.

"So we're on a track to say, 'Hey look, anybody who can meet the gender-nonspecific standards, then you can become a SEAL,'" he said in an exclusive interview with Defense News and Navy Times, Marine Corps Times' sister publications.

This news comes on the heels of game-changing developments from two other services also working to comply with a Defense Department mandate to open all combat jobs to women or secure exceptions by the beginning of next year.

The Army announced Monday that two officers would be the first female graduates of its grueling Ranger course, after it opened the training course to female volunteers on an experimental basis four months ago. These female soldiers, Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shaye Haver, are not yet authorized to join Ranger units, which remain closed to women. However, their success could impact the Army's final decision on opening its ranks later this fall.

Marine Corps leaders have remained rigorously neutral on the subject of women in combat roles ahead of a final decision.

"We have looked at this issue pretty hard," Dunford told a Senate panel at his confirmation hearing to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff last month. "I expect the data that we've collected over the past 18 months in a very deliberate, responsible way to be available to me in the August-September timeframe. And we'll meet the timeline established by Secretary [Leon] Panetta and General [Martin] Dempsey in the letter from 2012."

The previous commandant, Gen. James Amos, said the service would be prepared to ask for exceptions to the integration mandate, but did not describe any specific waiver requests exceptions that might be considered.

Though Lt. Gen. (sel.) Robert Neller is set to become commandant next month, multiple officials said Dunford plans to make the recommendations regarding women in combat roles before he assumes his next post.

The Marine Corps is the most male-dominated of all the services, with women making up just 7 seven percent of the force. The service opened 11 previously closed military occupational specialties to women last summer, leaving 20 combat jobs that are now exclusively available to men.

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