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Platoon-level gender integration now required at Marine boot camp, as lawmakers still question recruit safety

Gender integration is now coming to both Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, and the training depot in San Diego.

And though the Corps will still be allowed to have separate-gender squad bays ― where recruits sleep and shower ― with the passage of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act the rest of training must be fully integrated down to the platoon level, according to lawmakers.

Maj. Joshua Benson, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in an email Dec. 20, 2019, that, "Once (the law) is signed, we will immediately begin preparing to meet the requirements laid out in the NDAA.”

Parris Island, South Carolina, will have five years to comply with the new law, while the depot in San Diego — which has not trained female Marines — will have eight years before it is required to take female recruits.

The Marine Corps said it could not provide any more details on how it plans to comply.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California, attached a provision to the newest National Defense Authorization Act, signed by President Donald Trump on Dec. 20, 2019, that requires gender-integration at both recruit depots.

The Marine Corps is the only U.S. military service branch that does not have coed boot camp.

In 2019, however, Parris Island ― which is home to the 4th Recruit Training Battalion, the only recruit battalion dedicated to training female Marines ― saw at least three gender-integrated recruit companies.

Those companies were comprised of five all-male platoons and one all-female platoon. Since most of recruit training is done at the platoon level, those recruits would still spend most of their time at training segregated by gender. But, for morning physical training, obstacle course attempts or entire company classroom study, men and women would be training side-by-side.

“That’s not actually gender integration,” a member of Speier’s staff told Marine Corps Times, adding that the new law will require the Marine Corps to go even further when it comes to gender integration.

On Dec. 3, 2019, before the law was passed, Speier and another California Democrat lawmaker, Rep. Julia Brownley, sent a letter to Marine Corps recruit training leadership asking ten questions concerning the rights of recruits, what really goes on in recruit depot squad bays and what are the Corps’ perceived barriers to gender integration at boot camp.

Though the law does not require the Marine Corps to integrate squad bays, the lawmakers did ask why the use of squad bays posed a barrier to gender integration.

“What activities currently occur in squad bays (please be as inclusive as possible)?” they asked.

Staff members from Speier’s office said the question came from talks with the Marine Corps where they were told about the lengths the Corps went to to ensure that female drill instructors and officers could walk onto male squad bays at any time without an issue.

The staffers said they were never given a satisfying answer about what had to change to allow female Marines to come into all-male squad bays and what actually goes on behind the closed doors of the squad bay.

The lawmakers also zeroed in on a study recently commissioned by the Marine Corps on the cost of gender integration at boot camp, questioning several assumptions made in the study, including the assumption that integration would not happen at the platoon level (as the 2020 NDAA now requires) and an assumption that the Marine Corps will not increase the number of women going to recruit training annually.

The lawmakers also expressed concerned that the study was tasked to investigate what the “legacy costs" would be to the Marine Corps if women and men trained together at boot camp.

“Why would the study not evaluate the potential benefits of integration to the USMC’s service legacy?” the letter asked.

The lawmakers gave the Marine Corps a Dec. 11, 2019, deadline to answer their questions, but as of Dec. 20 were still waiting for a response from the Corps.

The Marine Corps Office of Legislative Affairs expected to “have it completed in the next two weeks,” Marine Corps spokesman 1st Lt. Sam Stephenson told Marine Corps Times in a Dec. 20 email.

RECRUIT SAFETY

The letter was sent to Marine Maj. Gen. William F. Mullen, commander of the Corps’ training and education command.

The letter acknowledges Marine Corps efforts to reduce hazing incidents at recruit training since the 2016 death of Raheel Siddiqui at Parris Island, South Carolina, but brought up issues the lawmakers still found troubling.

“These concerns stem from the significant power disparity between DIs and recruits and the imperative of ensuring recruits know their rights,” the letter says. “If recruits do not know their rights, or where lines should be drawn, abuse by DIs or denial of services, such as health care, becomes easier.”

An investigation into his 2016 death found that Siddiqui died after he threw himself from the barracks stairwell, falling 40 feet. Immediately prior to his jump, he had tried to tell his drill instructors he had a sore throat and needed medical attention, the investigation found.

His drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix, who was convicted in 2017 of abusing recruits, was found to have screamed Siddiqui for failing to give the proper greeting of the day, forcing the recruit to from one end of the squad bay to the other.

At some point Siddiqui passed out and was then slapped by Felix, who claimed he was trying to revive him. Siddiqui then got up and ran away from the drill instructor, jumping to his death, the investigation found.

The Corps was also asked what recruits are taught about their medical and personal rights at boot camp and how drill instructors ensure recruits can take advantage of those rights without fear of being “ostracized.”

The Corps was also pressed for hard data on drill instructor misconduct in the past two years, asking what percentage of misconduct reports come from recruits, what percentage come from other drill instructors and how often drill instructors are punished for misconduct.

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