The top Marine does not plan to make any more gender integration changes at the recruit depots anytime soon.
The Corps has come under criticism from vocal activist groups who perceive the Corps’ efforts at integrating and creating a coed recruit training environment at boot camp as unsatisfactory.
The issue, according to Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller, is a federal statute that mandates men and women live with their same gender, and the Corps trains it recruits by platoon. The top Marine did not cite what statute he was referring to.
“Our drill instructors stay with their recruits 24 hours a day, seven days a week the entire time they are there,” Neller told reporters at a televised Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. “So I am not considering having men and women live together in an open squad bay.”
Parris Island, South Carolina, is the only partially gender integrated recruit training depot in the Marine Corps. Female Marines do not attend boot camp at the Corps’ other recruit depot located in San Diego.
"Army, Navy and Air Force managed to integrate boot camp without violating the statute,”said ret. Navy Capt. Lory Manning, director of government operations at the Service Women’s Action Network. “Why can't the Marine Corps do the same? Drill instructors may be present 24-7, but they are not housed in the recruit barracks, so their continual presence is not a violation of the statute he mentions.”
And that federal statute Neller referenced may have been about title 10 U.S. Code § 4319. But this states that male and female recruits at Army recruit training must live separately, and says nothing of cadre or drill sergeants, as the Army calls them.
Nevertheless, about 65 to 75 percent of training aboard Parris Island has males and females working together, Neller said.
Male and female recruits train together at the rifle range, during swim quals, fitness tests, the battle skills test, and sit in classrooms together during the newly added fourth phase of boot camp, Neller explained.
“We train our recruits by platoons,” Neller said. “And I am not considering having recruits fall out and go from one platoon to another.”
Neller described the training of Marines by platoon as the “most effective way to make Marines.”
But groups like the SWAN, an advocacy group based out of Washington D.C. for female service members, argues that gender segregation in recruit training leads to female Marines being castigated as second class among their male peers over their false perceptions that women have it easier in recruit training.
“What truly disadvantages women is training that separates them from their fellow Marines from the outset,” Manning said in an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times. “The Marines should fully integrate enlisted boot camp from the first day so all new Marines soak up the Marine Corps ethos together and learn, together, that the unit bond includes both men and women."
“We don’t do it to disadvantage women,” Neller said. “We want them focused on learning how to be a Marine.”
The Corps has made some gender integration strides over the past several years. Previously restricted ground combat job fields are now open to women and nearly 100 women are serving in those career fields.
And in March, the Corps graduated its first ever gender integrated Marine Combat Training Battalion course on the West Coast at Camp Pendleton, California. MCT is an abridged version of the School of Infantry for Marines entering non-infantry jobs.
While the Corps has not opened its doors to female recruits at the San Diego depot, there are female drill instructors and cadre helping train male Marines.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.