The Marine Corps has been the one military service holdout to full gender integration at boot camp.
In 2019, with the passing of the next year’s National Defense Authorization Act, members of Congress thought they had finally forced the Marine Corps to accept full gender integration, which would see men and women train side-by-side in the same platoon at recruit training.
As recent as 2018 then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said he was not even considering having the Marine Corps transition to coed training.
With the signing of the fiscal year 2020 NDAA into law, however, the Corps was told that training at both Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego could “not be segregated.” The Corps had five years to comply in South Carolina and eight years to have coed training in San Diego.
However, language in the law left room for interpretation.
And it appears the Marine Corps is heading down a path that will see the service integrate boot camp at the company level, but leave platoons segregated by gender.
In 2019, the Corps was the only U.S. military branch to have no coed recruit training.
Before 2021 no women had ever been trained at the Corps’ West Coast Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.
Platoon-level integration would be an opportunity to start chipping away at misogynistic attitudes that exist within the Marine Corps, said Kyleanne Hunter, a Marine veteran and an adjunct fellow with the Center for New American Security.
“When we look at the issues around sexism, the issues around harassment and assault that continue to plague the military, part of training that behavior out comes from completely integrating from day one,” Hunter, a former Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra pilot, told Marine Corps Times in a Thursday phone call.
The Corps’ current definition of coed training sees five male platoons train alongside one female platoon.
The Corps has run 19 coed companies through Parris Island, South Carolina ― the historic training place for all enlisted women in the Marine Corps ― and one coed company through San Diego, according to documents the Marine Corps recently shared with members of Congress that were viewed by Marine Corps Times.
The Marine Corps has refused to say whether it eventually will integrate boot camp at the platoon level, but none of the plans it shared with members of Congress indicate that platoon level integration is in the works.
“The statute is vague,” a representative from California Democrat Rep. Jackie Speier’s office told Marine Corps Times. “I think it’s very clear… that (the Marine Corps) views integration at the company level as far as they’re willing to go.”
In 2021, the Corps plans on having another 17 coed training companies train at Parris Island, South Carolina, and three coed companies train at San Diego.
“Due to fewer female enlistments (~10%), the targeted goal is 30 companies annually at each MCRD to maximize gender integration opportunities,” one slide said. “Historically female recruits ship 24 - 30 weeks per year, compared to 38-42 weeks for male recruits.”
By 2024 the Marine Corps plans on training 30 integrated companies at Parris Island, South Carolina, and by 2026 it plans on running 30 integrated companies through San Diego, said a slide outlining the Corps’ plan and viewed by Marine Corps Times.
Maj. Jim Stenger, a spokesman for headquarters Marine Corps, said the Corps was on track to comply with the law.
A recruit platoon sleeps together in one open squad bay, showers together and spends nearly every minute of their three months at boot camp together.
Companies do come together for certain classes, martial arts training, rifle ranges and boot camp’s culminating event known as “the Crucible.”
However, “the platoon is where the bulk of the time is spent and really where those relationships are formed,” Hunter said. “If we’re thinking about addressing misogyny and addressing really changing cultures and values, the platoon level is where that’s going to happen.”
In a recent War on the Rocks podcast, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger insisted that having women and men train side-by-side in the same company at boot camp was enough to comply with the law.
Berger went on to argue that keeping the platoons segregated by gender and as close as they currently are is what is needed to make Marines.
“The cohesiveness in the platoon is hard to describe, but it’s a crucial element of as many of us as possible making it through together,” Berger said.
Simply making those platoons coed would reduce training time and break another law requiring the Marine Corps to provide separate housing for men and women moving through recruit training, Berger said.
“The other services, they billet, they lodge, they billet at night by gender because that’s the law and it should be,” Berger said.
“The difference is we train and the training continues in the barracks, it’s not an end of the training day at 17:00,” the commandant said.
Speier’s office does not buy that.
“I understand this is the way they’ve always done it and they don’t want to change it,” a staffer for Speier told Marine Corps Times.
One of the more important parts of recruit life ― guided talks about leadership, Marine Corps values and what life is like in the fleet ― will still be segregated if the Marine Corps keeps men and women in separate platoons.
Hunter said that segregating leadership talks can possibly foster a belief that sexism and misogyny is a women’s issue that the men in the Marine Corps do not need to care about.
It also creates an environment where drill instructors may be more likely to pass on their personal beliefs that women have it easier and are somehow less Marines to the Corps’ newest generation, Hunter said.
“It’s very hard for the male drill instructor who believes it’s easier for women to look at the woman sitting there who just got her (Eagle, Globe and Anchor) and say, ‘Well, you’re not really a Marine,’” Hunter said.
The Marine Corps has integrated at the platoon level in the fleet and at all of its other training schools.
In 2021 the House passed a section of the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which clarified the previous law and explicitly required the Marine Corps to integrate recruits at the platoon level.
Though the measure passed in the House, it was absent from the final version of the bill that was signed into law.
The Marine Corps said it will establish a formal annual assessment to monitor integration progress in the Marine Corps ― something Speier’s office is happy about.
“This annual assessment will identify progress, points of friction, and recommend in-stride corrections as required,” a document shared with Speier’s office said.
“It will serve as a deliberative body that informs the Service on multiple lines of effort such as: balancing risk and potential adjustments in manning to the MCRDs, other special duty assignments, and assignments to the operating forces; facilities; recruiting and accession policy; retention policy; and implementation and synchronization of best integration practices.”
The Marine Corps also expects to see the results of a university study about the Corps’ integration efforts within the next few months.
“We will incorporate findings produced by the independent academic study led by the University of Pittsburgh,” Stenger said in an emailed statement.
Hunter argues that unless the Marine Corps changes it plans or the law is changed to force the Corps to actually fully integrate boot camp, we already know the answer to how it will turn out.
“Separate but equal has never worked anywhere, that has never actually achieved positive results,” Hunter said. “I don’t think it will in this case either.”