The commanding general of the Marine Corps' A Marine one-star general who leads the Corps’ all-male recruit training depot is defending defended the service’s stance on training men and women separately at boot camp — even as the first-ever female grunts head to the infantry.

As the Marine Corps’ first female grunts prepare to head to the infantry, kKeeping young men and women separate for the first few months first 12 weeks of their military careers is as important as ever, said Brig. Gen. James Bierman, the commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, at the Sea-Air-Space conference outside Washington, D.C. and Western Recruiting Region

"Certainly I can understand why at a time when we all have our marching orders to open previously closed units and MOSs [to women], I can see why some people look at the way we do recruit training and say it’s not keeping up with the times," the career infantryman said at a Tuesday roundtable on recruiting, training and retaining. at the Sea, Air and Space expo outside Washington, D.C. However, But training men and women separately keeping boot camp segregated does not run counter to gender integration, he added, calling it but is still "absolutely the best thing for Marines."  Bierman said.

Rct. Ryleigh L. Stayrook, front, and Rct. Mariah A. Sanchez, both with Platoon 4003, November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, climb a Confidence Course obstacle Nov. 18, 2015. The course is comprised of 15 obstacles designed to help Marine Corps recruits build confidence by overcoming physical challenges. Stayrook, 20, from Dayton, Ohio, and Sanchez, 18, from Chandler, Ariz., are scheduled to graduate Jan. 22, 2016. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 19,000 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 approximately 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)
Rct. Ryleigh L. Stayrook, front, and Rct. Mariah A. Sanchez, both with Platoon 4003, November Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, climb a Confidence Course obstacle Nov. 18, 2015. The course is comprised of 15 obstacles designed to help Marine Corps recruits build confidence by overcoming physical challenges. Stayrook, 20, from Dayton, Ohio, and Sanchez, 18, from Chandler, Ariz., are scheduled to graduate Jan. 22, 2016. Parris Island has been the site of Marine Corps recruit training since Nov. 1, 1915. Today, approximately 19,000 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 approximately 50 percent of males and 100 percent of females in the Marine Corps. (Photo by Sgt. Jennifer Schubert)

Recruits climb a confidence course obstacle at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C.

Photo Credit: Sgt. Jennifer Schubert/Marine Corps

The reason, he said, is that vulnerable young men and women develop the thick skin all leathernecks need during that time. The Marines also form much better while segregated through the critical bonds with their formed with same-sex drill instructors and other recruits, without being distracted by members the distractions of the opposite sex.

"I don't think anybody would disagree with me when I say young men and women that age can become tremendously distracted," he said.

The Marine Corps is the only military service that still trains its male and female recruits separately. After Pentagon leaders opened all military jobs to women this year, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered the Marine Corps to change the way it trains its prospective Marines. He gave Commandant Gen. Robert Neller 90 days to come up with a plan to make the Marine Corps' entry-level training coed.

The Marines fought back, though, and enlisted men and women continue training separately. Neller and Mabus agreed that the service would look for ways to further integrate its entry-level training.

Bierman said the men and women who attend boot camp at the Marine Corps' East Coast training depot spend roughly do have share some training time, though. About Even though segregated, male and female recruits actually spend approximately 65 percent of their time boot camp experience in the same location as it is, training side-by-side in the same activity, Bierman. They just don’t live together in open squad bays under the watchful eyes of a DI, he said.

"If the decision's been made to integrate the Marine Corps, we support that with a happy heart," Bierman said. "But we don't think it's too much to ask that these young men and women ... have a small period of 12 weeks where a transformation occurs, where they canfocus on learning the right lessons among their fellow men or women in an undistracted environment."

Adding women to the ground combat jobs essentially doesn’t change anything for the Marine Corps, according to Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green said that once Marines hit the fleet, they're free to move into ground combat jobs as long as they can meet new gender-neutral requirements.

asked by Congress to be the nation's force in readiness, Marines carry everything they take into combat on their back, he said.

"Until we can get ... something like Ripley in Alien, some exoskeleton that’s going to carry the Marines’ load, it’s going to be on their backs," Green said. "Those are the things we have to do — male or female. If you can carry it, if you can do what the Marine Corps standards say, you can do the job."

Earlier this month, the Marine Corps approved lateral moves for a female rifleman and machine gunner to join the infantry. Those Marines met the standards by completing Infantry Training Battalion. This fall, Marines will begin shipping women to previously closed ground combat MOSs. 

As a result of these new opportunities, Bierman said , the Marine Corps is taking has begun taking a much more aggressive approach to recruiting women, Bierman said.

"We want to make sure we are selling those jobs effectively, the right way," he said. "We want to make sure we're sparing no effort to find young women who can meet the upfront very tough requirements."

"We want to make sure that we're picking and choosing from the very best out there," he added.

Matthew L. Schehl covers training and education, recruiting, West Coast Marines, MARSOC, and operations in Europe, Africa and the Middle East for Marine Corps Times. He can be reached at mschehl@marinecorpstimes.com.