12 October 2023
The U.S. Marines have officially begun combining men and women during their first major training exercises called boot camp. But so far, military leaders appear to be moving slowly to fully join the two sexes together during all training activities.
Reporters from the Associated Press recently visited a Marine Corps base in South Carolina that combines male and female boot camp training. They observed the training exercises and spoke with leaders about the Marines' current policy.
During intense heat at Marine Base Parris Island, two young recruits were battling inside a training space. Circling them, a training commander shouted orders, "Hit her! Punch her! DO something!"
Outside the space were a mix of male and female Marine hopefuls. The recruits are appointed to one of the mixed-sex companies, or large military groups. The Marine Corps is moving slowly— and at times unwillingly— to combine training women and men at boot camp, the Associated Press reports.
Sometimes the joint training has been successful. Other times not.
In the training space, men and women are together while completing timed physical exercises or practicing firing guns. But the line of recruits around the swimming pool outside presents the opposite. There, companies are broken up into smaller groups called platoons. The platoons remain separated by sex. As the recruits line up, there is a small group of women standing at the front with groups of men behind them.
The boot camp training methods suggest Marine Corps leaders still intensely believe there must be some separation in training.
Marine deactivated training unit
It has been nearly eight years since the defense secretary at the time ordered all fighting-related jobs open to women. But the Marine Corps just deactivated a training unit at Parris Island this summer. The unit was created in 1986 to accept women.
Many Marine Corps officers forcefully defend the training separation. Some leaders have strongly expressed the belief that women can grow more confident quickly if they are not directly competing with often larger or stronger males.
Under pressure from Congress, the Marines Corps changed the unit for women into a mixed-sex group in recent years. It then officially deactivated it in June. The remaining recruit companies are either mixed-sex or all male.
Inside the pool, men and women struggle side by side, jumping into the water and swimming to the other end. Boot camp trainers are also a mix of men and women. They stand on the edge of the pool ready to throw a float or jump in if needed.
But outside, an all-male group of recruits moves through the woods. The individuals drop to move forward on their hands and knees across a stretch of burning hot sand. A second group training outside also includes no women.
General Walker Field, who leads Marine Base Parris Island, told the AP he believes keeping the platoons separated by sex is an important part of forming successful Marines.
Field explained that the Marine Corps has established proven training methods over the years. Part of this process involves breaking down recruits and then building them back up as successful team members. Field argued that the platoon model is especially important to that success.
Field said keeping platoons all male or female permits leaders to provide exactly what is needed for each group when they are together in the evenings. He added that being the same sex at the platoon level also makes it easier for leaders to make the best training decisions at all times.
Lieutenant Colonel Aixa Dones is one female Marine officer who strongly supports a continued separation. Dones served as the last commander of Parris Island's women-only unit before it was deactivated this year. She was also a recruit there and says about the experience, "I can't imagine it having gone any other way."
Sergeant Maria Torres is a training commander. She told the AP she thinks combining companies is a necessary, first step. But expanding it to the platoon level might have poor results, so "we'd have to start small," Torres added.
But many people disagree. They say keeping platoons separate only reinforces the idea that women are not considered equal and should be treated differently.
Erin Kirk is a former Marine sergeant who went through the separated training in 2010. She remembers how male recruits looked down on women in the unit, with some even criticizing the females and calling them names. The split, she said, divided them into "male Marines" and "female Marines." She believes that shaped how the men saw the women. It made it more difficult for them to work together as they moved along.
"It made you feel like you weren't part of the team. It made it difficult to be seen as a real Marine," said Kirk, who served for five years. She believes mixed-sex platoons would be a good way for women to be seen as equals and not as "other" recruits.
When asked about those issues, Lieutenant Dones disagreed that the separation presents problems for women. "Our female platoons have been outperforming our male teams, and we have had more female company honor graduates than we have had male," she said.
Some young female recruits spoke to the AP about the current recruitment process.
Nicole Momura said she chose to join the Marine Corps because she thought it was the hardest military branch. "This recruit was looking for something bigger than herself," the 22-year-old added. Momura is not concerned about the platoon separation, saying, "We're all going to be working together in the fleet."
Another recruit, 19-year-old Nubia Delatorre, said she is proud to be a member of the second female platoon in her company. But she admits the men and women do not interact very much. She said the females are not permitted to talk to the males.
However, Delatorre said she believes women and men get the same training. In her case, she said she decided to join the Marines because she wanted "to prove to myself that I could do something hard."
I'm Gena Bennett. And I'm Bryan Lynn.
Lolita C. Baldor reported this story for the Associated Press. Gena Bennett adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
recruit–n. someone who is in the process of joining the armed forces but isn't fully trained yet
confident–adj. strong belief in yourself
the fleet–n. full military operational units; not training
proud–adj. feeling very pleased about something you have done