Three women have made strides to become the first female members of a Marine Corps infantry unit, and along the way have changed the military branch from the inside out.
The women ― whose names and ranks aren’t being released ― will join the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines in North Carolina, Corps spokesman Capt. Philip Kulczewski told The Huffington Post. They’ll be reporting for duty as a rifleman, machine gunner and mortar Marine.
They spent years participating in an experiment for the Corps, which had been conducting studies and physical tests to determine if gender integration was feasible in ground combat units. The Pentagon announced in late 2015 that it would lift gender restrictions on all military service.
And now these women are pioneers in the most male-dominated of all military services.
“This serves as a testimony to the Marine Corps’ goal of leveraging every opportunity to optimize individual performance, talent and skills to maximize our warfighting capabilities,” Kulczewski said. “As we continue to move forward, we remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that the men and women who earn the title ‘Marine’ will be ready, and will provide America with an elite crisis-response force that is ready to fight and win.”
And the number of women in infantry is set to increase, as a crew of new female recruits is preparing to take positions that previously wouldn’t have been available to them. Thirty-one Marines have signed enlistment contracts for newly accessible combat occupational specialties, Military.com reports.
Preparing new standards and changing training procedures to account for women joining the infantry ranks makes the Marine Corps better overall, Kulczewski said.
The milestone was met with some pushback from top brass. Months before the Pentagon made its integration announcement, the Marine Corps released a study indicating that one test had shown gender-integrated infantry units to shoot less accurately and perform more slowly than all-male units, Military.com reported at the time. Critics lashed out at the study’s methodology, which often paired up men and women who had different training backgrounds and therefore lacked the cohesion that any unit can expect to develop over time.
Women are blasting stereotypes and assuming ground combat roles all over the Armed Forces. In April, U.S. Army Capt. Kristen Griest became the branch’s first female infantry officer, after becoming the first female to complete Army Ranger school.