Marines' Boot Camp Units Could Officially Be Going Coed, Next Commandant Says

Pfc. Marie Metellus conducts kettle bell swings during a Force Fitness program event at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, on March 26, 2019. Marines like Metellus, from West Palm Beach Florida, go through the Force Fitness program to improve physical fitness.(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Daniel O'Sullivan)
Pfc. Marie Metellus conducts kettle bell swings during a Force Fitness program event at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, on March 26, 2019. Marines like Metellus, from West Palm Beach Florida, go through the Force Fitness program to improve physical fitness.(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Daniel O'Sullivan)

Male and female Marine recruits could begin training together in companies permanently as early as next year, the general nominated to lead the Marine Corps said Tuesday.

Marine leaders could soon take steps to end the service's long-held tradition of separating men and women into separate small units at boot camp, Lt. Gen. David Berger said in his Senate confirmation hearing to become the next commandant.

"I talked to the commandant this morning about it and ... I said, 'We have to look at this for perhaps next year,' and he said, 'Absolutely,'" Berger said. "I think it's a discussion that he and I will have -- and the Marine Corps will have."

The first-ever coed training company graduated from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina late last month. They were assigned to the typically all-male 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.

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Berger said officials measured the same statistics they track for every company that goes through the depot, including how well they performed physically and how many injuries they suffered.

Overall, the recruits performed "very well," he said.

"The statistics ... for this company were the same as every other company -- a few areas higher, a few areas lower -- but it went great," Berger said.

None of the training was altered because the women were added to the company, he said. The program of instruction remained the same. Depot leaders simply changed where the women -- who are usually exclusively assigned to 4th Training Battalion -- were billeted.

"And it all worked out," Berger said.

While male and female Marine officer candidates train together, the service remains the only branch to train its female and male enlistees in separate units.

Some have stressed that the practice is necessary so recruits aren't distracted as they form deep bonds with their same-sex drill instructors during boot camp, who often set the example for future Marines to follow their entire careers.

Others have argued that the policy creates an instant division between men and women at the most formative points in their careers, and has contributed to the rampant disrespect some male Marines have shown toward women in recent years.

A spokeswoman for Marine Corps Training and Education Command, which oversees the recruit depots, told Military.com that there aren't any opportunities for coed training in 2019, but it could happen again in the future. Having a coed company gave officials at Parris Island a chance to "assess some opportunities, challenges, outcomes and achievements in training, logistics and resources," Jessica Hanley said.

"As we assess India Company's training cycle, we will examine future opportunities that may permit this company training model," she said.

The concept has already overcome perhaps its biggest hurdle with this public endorsement from the next commandant of the Marine Corps.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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