CAMP PENDLETON (CNS) - For the first time, female Marines awoke Wednesday to begin their first full day of training at Camp Pendleton's Marine Combat Training course.
The female Marines, who recently graduated boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, in South Carolina, arrived at Camp Pendleton on Tuesday. They are the first enlisted female students to learn war-fighting skills at Camp Pendleton's Marine Combat Training course, known as MCT-West. The training course is part of Camp Pendleton's School of Infantry and teaches students basic battlefield skills.
At least 40 women are expected to arrive over the next several days at MCT-West, where they'll be fully integrated with the men who are also starting the 29-day course. Previously, all female Marines were sent to combat training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
"Neither the course nor the training calendar will be altered at all because of this," Training Command spokesman Capt. Joshua J. Pena told the San Diego Union-Tribune.
About 1,700 female Marines are expected to go through combat training each year at Camp Pendleton. Female boot camp graduates recruited from states west of the Mississippi River will be sent here, while the others will continue to be sent to Camp Lejeune.
Despite the integrated combat training regimen, men and women will continue to go through separate boot camps. As things stand, all female Marines are sent to the Parris Island boot camp.
The policy of separating Marines during boot camp based on gender is a controversial one, the Union-Tribune reported. Critics say it reinforces a message that women aren't as tough as men and can't handle the same training as their male counterparts.
"The reality is that recruiting is capped at 3,400 women because of space limitations at Parris Island," retired Marine Lt. Col. Kate Germano told the Union-Tribune. Germano is a former commander of the female-only Fourth Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island and an advocate for opening up all Marine training to women.
"If they moved into other facilities and got more space, they could recruit more women," Germano told the newspaper.
Tuesday's female and male arrivals to Camp Pendleton's School of Infantry were assigned to Golf Company, Marine Combat Training Battalion, according to the Union-Tribune. The MCT-West program is for non-infantry Marines, with training that includes learning the basics of combat marksmanship, how to react to roadside bombs, lifesaving medical care and other skills.
"This initiative is part of a Marine Corps effort to enhance the entry-level training program for all Marines and to better reflect how the Marine Corps is structured in the operating forces," Pena said.
While the women who arrived Tuesday are the first to go through combat training at MCT-West, they're not the fist female Marines to train at the base in northern San Diego County.
When the Pentagon opened infantry ranks to women in 2016, several of them went through the School of Infantry's Infantry Training Battalion, the Union-Tribune reported. That is a 59-day program that's separate and more grueling than basic combat training. It's designed for Marines chosen to serve in rifle squads and other infantry groups.