Marines boot camp to have first gender-integrated battalion

The Marine Corps will have a gender-integrated battalion during boot camp for the first time, the service announced Friday.

At training starting Saturday, one of the battalions at the Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina will have a female platoon along with male platoons, according to a statement from the Marines.

“On Jan. 5, 2019, 3rd Recruit Training Battalion aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island will start their training cycle with one female platoon and five male platoons,” the statement said.

“The decision was made by Marine Corps leadership in support of training efficiency and is a first in the history of Marine Corps recruit training.”

ABC News was the first to report on the change.

The Marine Corps, which has the smallest percentage of women in the military, is the only branch that separates its recruit training by gender. A little less than 9 percent of Marines are women.

While battalions have been segregated, some specific training events are integrated, such as swim qualifications, the rifle range and classroom instruction in the final phase of recruit training.

In the past, the Marines have argued separation is necessary to allow women to become more physically competitive before joining the men, as well as to provide women the support they may need when they first start training since they are such a small percentage of the service.

But some, including lawmakers, have faulted the segregation as a reason for persistent sexual assault and harassment allegations plaguing the Marines, such as the nude photo-sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.

In the change announced Friday, the platoon of about 50 women will still be led by female Drill Instructors. But they will live in barracks alongside their male counterparts.

The service said the change is not permanent and was implemented this time because the number of women in this training cycle is smaller than usual. By integrating a battalion, Parris Island did not have to activate staff for another battalion just for one female platoon.

But the service indicated it will be watching to see how the integrated training works.

“This training cycle of about 300 recruits will provide Recruit Depot staff a unique opportunity to assess outcomes, achievements and challenges in training, logistics and resource impacts of this company training model,” the statement said.