A Marine Corps school that trains infantry combat officers is now enrolling women, the Marine Corps Times reported, marking the first time female members of the front-line fighting force would be specifically groomed for direct combat roles.
The Corps is seeking out female volunteers to attend the Infantry Officers Course in Quantico, Va., Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marine Corps' assistant commandant, told the paper.
According to the Marine Corps Times:
It’s a monumental — if controversial — move for the Marine Corps, which until now barred female Marines from the program and required instead that they attend other courses aimed at preparing them for assignments in support roles such as logistics, personnel administration and aircraft maintenance, among others.
It was unclear, however, what the next steps would be after the women complete the infantry training. Marine officials were expected to finalize details on lifting restrictions on women in combat and make an announcement in coming days, the paper said.
“Women are already in combat, except the ones that are not technically on the front lines fighting,” said Karen Kelly of the Women Marines Association, “when they’re in Afghanistan, in Iraq, women are right there with the expeditionary forces.”
In February, the Pentagon announced that some restrictions on women serving in combat roles would be relaxed, acknowledging the fact that they are fighting, and dying, on the battlefield. But the Defense Department said it would still prohibit women from serving in the infantry, armor or special operations unit. At the same time, the Pentagon said it was developing “gender-neutral physical standards.”
Critics, including former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, have raised concerns about women in combat. Santorum argued the men fighting alongside women would naturally try to be protective, hindering the mission. Others said commanders would have to worry about women who aren’t strong enough for a particular duty.
According to the Washington Post, as of Thursday 139 women have died in the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, compared to 6,257 men.