WASHINGTON — The Marine Corps’ brief and limited experiment integrating female recruits into an all-male unit for their initial training at boot camp came to an end Friday.
And as the recruit class graduated at Parris Island, South Carolina, officials said they were undecided about whether the Corps, which has not fully integrated its recruit training, will ever do it again.
This year for the first time, a platoon of female recruits was part of a company that included five all-male platoons. They were all housed in the same complex, but on different floors — unlike the usual practice that has all female recruits living and doing some of their training on a separate part of the base.
Commanders and Marines in the course told The Associated Press they didn’t notice any problems during the brief flirtation with increased integration. But the lack of disaster didn’t appear to change minds in a Marine Corps that has steadfastly rejected congressional and other outside pressure to build combined platoons of female and male recruits at boot camp, like the other military services do.
For the recruits, just surviving the rigorous course was all-consuming.
“I showed up to train — everybody trains the same,” said Pvt. 1st Class Harley Mesiemore, 19, of Greensboro, North Carolina. “I was focused on myself and getting through the week and just getting out of here.”
Top Marine leaders have argued for years that young, female Marines perform better if they do the bulk of their early training in a separate unit where they can build their strength and confidence.
Brig. Gen. James Glynn, commander of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, said that this latest move, putting men and women in more frequent proximity, didn’t look much different than usual.
He said the intense training needed to "make a Marine" stayed the same. But, because all six platoons in Company I — one all-female and five all-male — were located in the same building complex, they saw each other a bit more. They ate at the same chow hall and marched to meals together. When they got up for physical fitness in the morning, the platoons lined up together.
Could it happen again?
“The jury is still out on that,” said Glynn. “As conditions permit in the future, we could pursue it.” But, he added, “No one looked at this and said we don’t want to do it again.”
The decision to put the female unit with the others this winter was driven by logistics and money. There were fewer recruits in the class, so it made sense to move the roughly 50 females into the complex with the men, rather than bus them or make them march to the main campus for drills or classes.
"It always comes down to money," and whether or not there are the "right number of people and the infrastructure to accommodate it," said Glynn.
He said that while it was hard to measure the benefits of the move, it did expose young, male recruits to female Marine leaders — such as drill instructors — earlier in their career.
Under the regular system, women who enlist in the Marine Corps go to Parris Island for their initial three months of recruit training and are assigned to one battalion. Men are assigned to three other battalions. The groups get together for some training and exercises and are separate for others.
The Marine Corps says this gives women time to do early training and study with female drill instructors who can serve as role models, help them build confidence and develop the skills needed to progress. Marine leaders say the separation also minimizes distractions and harassment issues, and better prepares the women to compete as they move on.
Some lawmakers and others, however, say the segregation fuels a perception that female recruits are less able and less qualified than men. And they say it suggests that the females are held to lower standards and makes it more difficult for them to be accepted as equals.
Capt. Trenton Snody, commander of Company I, called the winter course a success. "There was more interaction between males and females, they saw each other a lot," said Snody, 31, of Seguin, Texas. "But there was no change to how we do business."
Staff Sgt. Brittany Aroha, 27, of Ironton, Ohio, has been a drill instructor for the female boot camp battalion for two and a half years. For her, the biggest change was convenience: Since they didn't have to spend as much time in buses or on foot to cross the base, there was more time for other training.
“They were seeing both males and females work together much more,” Aroha said. “So the male and female recruits were able to see leadership of both genders.”