Despite being required by federal law, the Marine Corps is the only branch of the United States military that has yet to implement full-gender integration at its boot camp. Some Marine leaders, however, claim that the branch is adhering to the vaguely written law.
The 2020 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 Marines were given five years to integrate their recruit depot in Parris Island, South Carolina, and eight years to integrate their recruit depot in San Diego, California, under the NDAA.
According to Marine Corps Times, 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.
That means that male and female recruits from different platoons can come together for company activities such as classes, martial arts training, side-by-side shooting at rifle ranges, and “the Crucible,” a cumulative event near the end of basic training.
However, the Marines appear to be adamant about maintaining separate male and female platoons and barracks living quarters. The Marines’ gender integration plans, which were submitted to Congress as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, do not indicate that the platoons will be integrated in the near future.
General James F. Glynn, then-acting commander of Parris Island, told The New York Times in March 2020 that 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.
Men and women are frequently separated in military platoons by a floor or a door. Because the two genders would unite in the morning and then separate at night, Glynn believes that this system would reduce the amount of time platoon members spend together, disrupting the ideal platoon cohesion model. Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger agreed with Glynn’s assessment, adding that the Marine Corps is required by law to provide separate housing for male and female trainees.
However, critics of the Marines’ current policy claim that it does nothing to combat sexism or the widespread belief among male recruits and leaders that female Marines are inferior to their male counterparts.
According to military documents, the Marines are currently undergoing a yearly assessment to monitor integration progress. The assessment will assist the branch in better understanding the branch’s progress, challenges, and potential solutions for greater gender integration in recruiting, training, retention, disciplinary, and other areas.
However, the Marines’ reluctance to do so is consistent with their history of dragging their feet on gender inclusion when other military branches have done so much sooner.
Gender-integrated platoons have existed in the Army since the mid-1990s, and basic training in the Air Force and Navy has been integrated since 1977 and 1992, respectively.
In 2016, the United States military required all branches to open all combat positions to women. While the other branches complied, the Marines spent that year unsuccessfully looking for legal justifications to postpone implementation, according to bewspapers. By 2019, the Marines were the only branch of the military that continued to conduct gender-segregated basic training. No women had ever trained at the San Diego recruit depot prior to 2021. Women make up only 9 percent of the estimated 185,000 Marines today, the lowest percentage of any military branch.
Until recently, drill instructors largely ordered male and female recruits not to speak to each other, and even instructed male platoons to turn around and avoid looking at any female platoons nearby, according to newspapers. The only time men and women interacted closely was during Sunday church services.
According to the Marines’ plans, the branch plans 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.