Three more women are about to attempt the challenging 13-week Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Virginia.

To date, only 35 women have attempted the notoriously challenging infantry school. Come the first week of April, that number will be 38.

So far, only one woman has successfully passed the IOC, earning a coveted spot as an infantry platoon commander. Only five women have attended since the actual 0302 infantry officer job field was opened to women.

The next class is penciled in to start the first week of April and last through the end of June, Training Command told Marine Corps Times.

The development comes as the IOC has once again been thrust into the public spotlight. Over the past few years the school has tweaked graduation requirements, which some argue is a sign that the Corps is reducing standards to help boost graduation numbers of female Marines.

In one controversial move, Marines will no longer be required to pass the physically demanding Combat Endurance Test to graduate the IOC, although the Corps argues a low score can still weigh in on a student’s overall successful completion of the course. In another move, the Corps reduced the number of evaluated hikes needed to graduate from five to three, though Marines at IOC will still be required to participate in all nine tactical movements.

Marine officials contend the changes have nothing to do with gender integration, but an overall attempt to ameliorate high attrition rates that were plaguing the course. In 2014 attrition rates soared to nearly 25 percent, severely hampering the Corps’ ability to ship qualified infantry officers to the fleet.

We found “that the standards that were implemented at IOC were done by a local commander, you know based on his experience, but we’re breaking people ... we were putting 150-160 pounds on Marines and breaking them at a very young age,” Lt. Gen. Michael G. Dana, the deputy commandant of Marine Corps Installations and Logistics, said to lawmakers at a Tuesday readiness hearing.

The Corps also made changes to an oft criticized hike known as the weapons company and weapons platoon hike that had Marines carrying loads from 125 lbs. to 150 lbs. The hike is no longer conducted as a forced march, and Marines can now use a buddy to help spread load and disperse the weight during the movement.

Marine officials argue the change to the hike mimics how infantry platoons and companies actually operate in the real world.

The three new female candidates at IOC is yet another step for the Corps as it continues to integrate women into the combat arms. So far, about 92 women are serving in previously restricted combat billets.

As the Corps continues its gender integration road map, female Marines are now attending a combat course for non-infantry Marines known as Marine Combat Training, or MCT, aboard Camp Pendleton, California, for the first time.

But don’t expect the recruit depot in San Diego to open its doors to female recruits any time soon. Top Marine, Gen. Robert B. Neller said “we don’t need it right now,” in response to questions from reporters about the prospect of female recruits training in San Diego.

The Corps is still trying to reach its 10 percent for total number of women in the Marines, and right now the recruit depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, can meet that capacity, Neller explained.

However, there are female drill instructors training male Marines at the San Diego boot camp, furthering exposure of female leadership to young male Marines early in their careers.

Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.

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