Marines Only Military Branch to Avoid Gender Integration Requirements

The Marine Corps is the only branch of the U.S. military yet to implement full-gender integration at its boot camp, even though it's required by federal law. However, some Marine leaders say the branch is following the vaguely written law.

The 2020 version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense funding bill that determines military budgets, included a provision requiring the marines to integrate men and women in basic training, down to the platoon level. The NDAA gave the Marines five years to integrate their recruit depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, and eight years to do so at their recruit depot in San Diego, California.

But the Marines have interpreted the law to mean that their platoons, which currently consist entirely of men or women, only have to train together in the same company (a company contains about three platoons), rather than live and sleep together in the same barracks space, according to Marine Corps Times.

That means male and female recruits, from separate platoons, can come together for certain company activities like classes, martial arts training, side-by-side shooting at rifle ranges and "the Crucible," the cumulative event that occurs near the end of basic training.

But the Marines seem insistent on maintaining separate male and female platoons and barracks living spaces. The Marines' gender integration plans—given to Congress as a 2020 NDAA requirement—don't indicate that the platoons will be integrated anytime in the foreseeable future.

A platoon's group identity and cohesion are created by having all of its members sleep, wake, shower, train and spend almost all of their time together during the three-month basic training period, General James F. Glynn, then-acting commander of Parris Island, told The New York Times in March 2020.

Military platoons often segregate men and women in different areas separated by a floor or door. Because the two genders would unite in the morning and then separate each night, this system would reduce the amount of time that platoon members spend together, disrupting the ideal platoon cohesion model, Glynn said.

Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger agreed with Glynn's view, and added that the law requires the Marines to provide separate housing for men and women trainees.

"They [lodge] at night by gender because that's the law and it should be," Berger said in a recent broadcast of the War on the Rocks podcast.

Marines avoids military gender integration requirements boot
The Marines is the only military branch to avoid gender integration requirements required by federal law, though some Marine leaders say they're adequately following the law. In this photo, female Marine Corps recruit Kylieanne Fortin, 20, of Williamsport, Maryland, goes through close combat training at the U.S. Marine Corps recruit depot June 23, 2004, in Parris Island, South Carolina. Scott Olson/Getty

In a statement to Newsweek, the Marine Corps said that it is on track to meet the 2020 NDAA timelines related to gender integration. The corps wrote that its Parris Island recruit depot has steadily increased the number of gender-integrated training units and has also integrated male recruits into the previously gender-segregated 4th Recruit Training Battalion.

"In 2021, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego conducted one gender-integrated cohort and will conduct three more in [the fiscal year of 2022] as it builds the requisite capacity of female [drill instructors] to maintain training for half of all female enlisted Marine accessions," the corps wrote.

The Marines' recruit training and Officer Candidate School are only the initial stages of the training continuum, the military branch added. Enlisted Marines progress to the School of Infantry and officers go to the Basic School, which are both integrated at the platoon level, the corps wrote. After graduation, they proceed through fully integrated Military Occupational Specialty schools.

But critics of the Marines' current policy say it does nothing to challenge sexism in or the pervasive belief among male recruits and leaders that female Marines are lesser than their male counterparts.

"When we look at the issues around sexism, the issues around harassment and assault that continue to plague the military, part of training that behavior out comes from completely integrating from day one," Kyleanne Hunter, a former Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra pilot, told Marine Corps Times.

The Marines are currently undergoing a yearly assessment to monitor integration progress, according to military documents. The assessment will help the branch understand the progress, challenges and possible solutions for greater gender integration in recruiting, training, retention, disciplinary and other areas.

But the Marines' reluctance to do so fits their history of slow-walking gender inclusion when the other military branches have done so much earlier.

The Army has had gender-integrated platoons since the mid-1990s, and the Air Force's and Navy's basic trainings have been integrated since 1977 and 1992, respectively.

The U.S. military required all branches to open all combat positions to women in 2016. But while the other branches complied, the Marines spent that year unsuccessfully looking to legal justifications to delay implementation, The New York Times reported.

By 2019, the Marines remained the only military branch to continue gender-segregated basic training. Before 2021, no women had ever trained at the San Diego recruit depot. Today, only 9 percent of the estimated 185,000 Marines are women—the lowest percentage of women of any military branch.

Until a few years ago, drill instructors largely ordered male and female recruits not to speak to each other, and even told male platoons to turn around and avoid looking at any female platoons nearby, the Times added. The only time men and women closely co-mingled was often at Sunday church services.

The Marines' plans show that the branch intends to have 30 integrated companies at both of their major recruitment depots by 2026. But Hunter and other female Marines feel that the branch will likely maintain gender-segregated platoons unless explicitly forced to integrate them by a clearer law.

"Marine leaders have an antiquated view of gender," Erin Kirk-Cuomo, a former Marine sergeant, told the Times. "They kick and scream because they don't want to make a change, because they think it will make the Marine Corps weaker."

Update (2/9/2022, 4:45 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a statement from the Marine Corps.