The U.S. Marine Corps will hit a milestone Thursday with the graduation of the first three women from its combat infantry training course at Camp Lejeune, as the military works toward incorporating women into combat roles by 2016.
Capt. Geraldine Carey, a spokeswoman for the base, said 15 women and 251 men started the two-month course at the School of Infantry-East at Camp Geiger, a satellite of Lejeune. Three women and 221 men will graduate in a ceremony Thursday. A fourth woman who was injured near the end of training will be given a chance to pass the final fitness test and graduate later.
Especially during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, women have served in many jobs where they are exposed to combat, or the risk of it. But it wasnt until this year that then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the military to lift the ban on assigning women to ground combat specialties. Each branch of the service must do so by January 2016.
The female Marines in Delta Company, whose names will be released Thursday, cannot yet be assigned to combat jobs that would make them eligible for promotions and pay raises out of reach for most female recruits. But their experiences in the combat training will help the Marine Corps figure out how to train women to do jobs that require endurance, physical strength and long stretches in primitive conditions.
The Marine Corps, the most physically demanding branch of the service and the one with the lowest percentage of women, has said it would not lower its standards to accommodate women in combat.
Seven of the eight weeks of training that Delta Company Marines have just completed were spent in the field, Carey said. Their training consisted of field exercises and live-fire training on 16 weapons systems. They also covered 50 kilometers more than 30 miles during four hikes while carrying 90 pounds of gear.
The heavy emphasis on firearms training is reflected in Camp Geigers mantra Every Marine a rifleman.
According to its website, Camp Geiger has been used for Marine training since 1953. Its the next stop for Marines who get their basic training at Parris Island in South Carolina and trains about 20,000 Marines each year.
After the graduation ceremony Thursday, the Marines will have a short time to visit with their families before they leave for the next phase of training.