For the first time in its history, the United States Marine Corps — which has long had, for good and bad, a distinctly male-dominated culture — has a female infantry officer.
The lieutenant, whose identity the Marines are withholding out of respect for her privacy, was one of the 88 Marines to complete the service’s grueling 13-week infantry officer course and graduate on Monday. She is the first woman to finish the course after all Marine roles — including infantry roles that were historically performed by men — were opened to women in April 2016.
About 33 percent of the class dropped out before graduation this year, which is higher than the normal 25 percent washout rate.
What this Marine completed is no small feat. The corps’ Infantry Officer Course, which trains troops to fight in close-range combat, is notoriously one of the hardest tests any service member can pass. The Washington Post, the first to report on this story, notes some of the test’s characteristics:
The course requires both proficiency in the field, and the strength and stamina to carry equipment weighing up to 152 pounds. The school begins with a day-long combat endurance test that includes rigorous hikes through Quantico’s rolling, wooded hills, an obstacle course and assessments of skills like weapons assembly and land navigation.
Nathaniel Fick, a former Marine infantry officer, recounted in his book One Bullet Away some of the mental aspects of the training: He was shown images of young dead infantry officers in Vietnam and was also taught how to control riots, speak with media, and perform humanitarian missions. And, of course, he learned how to rappel from helicopters and kill enemy fighters.
This new infantry officer joins the small list of female officers in the military’s most elite positions. In April 2016, Capt. Kristen Griest became the Army’s first female infantry officer; she was also one of the first women to become an Army Ranger. However, there are already enlisted female infantry members in the services, which means they don’t command units but perform specific duties like drive tanks or provide medical services.
The military is slowly integrating more women into top positions
The corps’ new infantry officer assumes the role as the service struggles to integrate women into its ranks. It’s dealing with a spate of sexual harassment accusations, including revenge porn cases online that feature thousands of files like photos of a woman in a US Marine Corps uniform participating in oral sex and even pictures of a nude, unconscious woman.
And the military’s top civilian, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, is no social warrior. He was skeptical of women openly serving in combat roles, worrying that men and women would attract one another in the field. He also believed women couldn’t perform “intimate killing” in close combat and didn’t know if commanders would send women into that kind of situation.
Today, women make up about 8.3 percent of the Marine Corps. But as of Monday, one of those women earned one of the most coveted spots in her service.