CAMP GEIGER, N.C. – Three Marines have become the first women to graduate from the Corps' tough-as-nails enlisted infantry training school in North Carolina, officials said Thursday.
The three completed the 59-day course and met the same test standards as the men, said Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Geraldine Carey.
The course includes a grueling 12-mile march with an 80-pound pack and a variety of combat fitness tests such as timed combat shuttle runs, timed ammunition container lifts and tests that simulate running under combat fire.
The step comes as the Marine Corps continues to evaluate where women might serve in combat. Earlier this year, the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in combat jobs, but each of the service branches is developing how this might be accomplished.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps are looking at the standards required for serving in battlefront jobs such as infantry, armor and elite commando positions. They have until Jan. 1, 2016, to open as many jobs as possible to women, and to explain why if they decide to keep some closed.
The common requirements for men and women for each job would be based on specific tasks. Military officials have said the standards will not be lowered in order to bring women into any combat posts.
Carey identified the women as Pvt. 1st Class Julia Carroll, 18, of Idaho Falls, Idaho, who is entering a school for signal intelligence training; Pvt. 1st Class Cristina Fuentes Monternegro, 25, of Coral Springs, Fla., who will study to become an aviation mechanic; and Pvt. 1st Class Katie Gorz, 19, of St. Paul, Minn., who is going to study logistics.
On its website, the Marine Corps said the Camp Geiger course is the follow-on training for Marines who graduate from basic training at Parris Island, S.C., and about 20,000 Marines train there every year. Marines who complete recruit training at the post near San Diego move on to the infantry school at Camp Pendleton in California.
Parris Island is the only site where female Marines go through basic training.
Carey said 15 women began the enlisted course with 254 men in September. It wasn't immediately clear exactly how many male Marines completed the course to graduation on Thursday.
She said the course is separate from one that trains Marine infantry officers for leadership positions at Quantico, Va. Several women lieutenants have attempted to complete that course, but so far none has passed.
A new group of enlisted Marines enters the infantry course every two weeks, and each of the units currently in training has women in them, Carey said.
Under a 1994 Pentagon policy, women were prohibited from being assigned to ground combat units below the brigade level. A brigade is roughly 3,500 troops split into several battalions of about 800 soldiers each. Historically, brigades were based farther from the front lines, and they often included top command and support staff.
Last year the military opened up about 14,500 combat positions to women, most of them in the Army, by allowing them to serve in many jobs at the battalion level. The January order lifted the last barrier to women serving in combat, but allows the services to argue to keep some jobs closed.
The bulk of the nearly 240,000 jobs currently closed to women are in the Army, including those in infantry, armor, combat engineer and artillery units that are often close to the battlefront. Similar jobs in the Marine Corps are also closed.
Susanne M. Schafer contributed to this report from Columbia, S.C. She can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/susannemarieap.