It's a historic day for the U.S. Marine Corps, with three women set to become the first to graduate from the demanding enlisted infantry course.
Pfc. Julia Carroll, Pfc. Christina Fuentes Montenegro and Pfc. Katie Gorz were to graduate today at the Marine Corps School of Infantry, Camp Geiger, N.C., along with the men who took the course with them.
These women were not just part of a military quota. Standards were not lowered to allow them to graduate from the 59-day course. They had to carry the same 90 pounds of combat gear on the same 12.5-mile marches as the men. They also had to perform the same three pull-ups as the men.
Fifteen women began the course Sept. 24, but just three made it to the end. A fourth woman, Pfc. Harlee Bradford, also passed the course, but due to stress fractures was unable to complete the final combat fitness test in order to graduate. Once her injuries heal, she’ll be able to graduate as well.
There are already 19 other women in the course, but none yet are set to be placed into combat roles along with their male counterparts.
"The women who graduate from infantry training on Thursday will not be assigned to infantry units, nor will they earn an infantry occupational specialty,” Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Geraldine Carey. “They will report to their originally slated schoolhouses to earn a non-combat MOS."
Military leaders want at least two more years to study if admitting women to combat roles is a good idea.
“We are taking a very deliberate, very measured and very responsible approach to this,” Col. Jon Aytes, head of the Marine Corps military policy branch, said.
Not everyone is thrilled about allowing women to serve in combat roles. Marine Capt. Katie Petronio, an engineer officer who has previously deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, made waves last year when she agreed that more study was needed before allowing women to serve in combat roles.
“I can say from firsthand experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just emotion, that we haven’t even begun to analyze and comprehend the gender-specific medical issues and overall physical toll continuous combat operations will have on females,” Petronio said.
Pentagon leaders have said they will develop “gender-neutral” standards for combat forces, which leads some to question whether those standards will be lower than the current ones to ensure women are represented.