Four women have passed the Marine Corps’ most grueling test for infantry training, raising the possibility that the historically all-male infantry force may become the next frontier to open for female soldiers. The female Marines are part of the first batch of women to undertake the Marines’ eight-week enlisted infantry training.
The Pentagon’s decision to lift the ban on women in ground combat earlier this year was met with skepticism about whether or not women could meet the physical demands. In January, Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) argued that opening the infantry to women ignored gender differences in “nature, upper body strength, and physical movements, and speed, and endurance, and so forth.”
To test these long-held ideas, Marines started allowing women to participate in the same physical training as their male classmates in September. Monday’s test dropped 246 men and seven women at 3 a.m. in the middle of the woods, where they hiked 12.5 miles with 80-pound packs before launching into regular field exercises. Three women and 20 men failed to finish the test, which is considered one of the military’s most strenuous training sequences.
Passing this hurdle marks the last major physical obstacle to qualifying for infantry service. The four women who made it, however, will still have to face a new requirement that they do a certain number of pull-ups as part of their final fitness test. If they can do it, they will likely graduate next month, putting the ball in Congress’s court to officially open the infantry to women.
The Marines hope to put 300 women through the training by the end of the year in order to accumulate enough research to determine which combat roles can be performed by both genders. An even more physically demanding course for officer training was opened to women last year, but so far none has passed. However, these four women’s breakthrough suggest that naysayers have vastly underestimated female soldiers’ capabilities on the ground.