When female recruits arrive at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, they are shuffled into their own unit: 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
Once there, the new recruits have separate living quarters, physical training fields and even laundry facilities.
The female recruits’ boot camp cycle is every bit as long as the one for the male recruits and is made up of the same activities and challenges. Occasionally, however, subtle differences emerge.
For example, on the obstacle course, a longer climbing rope used by shorter-stature recruits was once informally called the “WM rope” in reference to women Marines, according to a Pentagon report on integrated training.
A ladder adjacent to a wall obstacle is called by some as the “4th Battalion ladder,” a former commander of a male recruit battalion said.
And then there are rifle range qualification rates, a discipline in which the female recruits have, until recently, trailed the males by 20 percent or more.
The Marine Corps is the only military branch which keeps gender-segregated recruit training. Leaders claim that the approach eliminates distractions and allows for better mentoring.
However, critics say it is time for a change, asserting that integrating boot camp is a necessary step in preparing for the Defense Department mandate that will open all combat fields to women by 2016.
Lt. Col. Kevin Collins, a logistics officer, wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette last December, that allowing male and female recruits to train together would better prepare them for what they’ll face in the fleet. He wrote:
Male-only recruit training provides an artificial and unrealistic environment that can result in violated expectations of the realities of service in the Marine Corps and misconceptions about female Marines.
[And] isolating our women during recruit training unfairly implies that our female recruits need to be sheltered and protected.
According to a recent investigation at Parris Island, there were several problems within 4th Recruit Training Battalion.
Lt. Col. Kate Germano, the former head of 4th RTB, who has been relieved of command June 30 after a command investigation found her leadership methods “hostile” and “abusive,” was on a mission to change the double standards she said she saw between male and female recruits.
Germano and her supporters claim that her hard-edged approach helped 4th RTB bring its rifle range qualification rates up by 12 percent in just one year and highlighted other ways in which the unit needed to become more competitive with its male counterparts.
Because they aren’t challenged to compete with their male counterparts during physical fitness events, most [female recruits] only aspire to achieve female standards for physical performance, which many would justifiably argue are too low to begin with.
The truth is that when female recruits are held to higher standards, they rise to the occasion … Clearly, it became an insult to ‘train like a girl’ when it became normal to expect less from female recruits.
The rifle range was not the only place on the island where male Marines were outperforming their female counterparts, according to a June investigation commissioned by the commanding general of Marine Corps Training and Education Command, Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, in response to complaints about Germano’s leadership style.
Citing a survey of performance scores, qualification percentages and attrition rates from the last four years, the investigating officer concluded that “historically, the male battalions have out-performed the female battalion in nearly all aspects of measured performance, including drill, [physical and combat fitness tests], academics and rifle range.”