Platoon level gender-integration ‘critical’ for Marines, committee says

by Vern Evans

A Pentagon committee has recommended to the secretary of defense that the Marine Corps should train male and female recruits in gender-integrated platoons at both recruit depots.

The recommendations were part of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, DACOWITS, which was released March 15.

The report also recommends mixed-gender drill instructor teams for all integrated companies at recruit training.

“Maximizing integration, at the platoon level, develops the foundation of a successfully integrated force,” according to the report.

The report noted that gender-integration at the platoon level is, “critical to dismantling negative stereotypes and fostering positive inclusion across an organization.”

“Training separated by gender appears to have unintentional consequences to include perpetuating feelings that men are superior to women and promoting fear and suspicion of women,” according to the report.

The Marine Corps is the only military service that does not integrate female and male recruits at the platoon level.

It also has the lowest percentage of female members. Nine percent of the Corps is female, as compared to 23% of the Air Force, 22% of the Navy, 19% of both the Army and Space Force and 16% of the Coast Guard, according to the report.

Report authors commended the service for recent efforts to integrate at the company level.

“However, the committee feels more integration is necessary to better prepare male and female recruits as they become Marines, to operate within an integrated operational force and to better align the Marine Corps with its service counterparts.”

The report said that using segregated platoons, “reduces the opportunity for recruits to develop mutual respect and cohesion for one another during this formative training process.”

The report quotes Brig. Gen. Walker Field, then-head of Marine Corps Recruit Depot-Parris Island, South Carolina, from a 2023 Associated Press report.

“We have established a tried-and-true manner by which we train Marines that proves effective in transforming young Americans,” Walker said. “We break down their individuality and grow them as a team. We’re adamant about that outcome. Having the platoon model is absolutely part of that.”

The Marines have used two gender integration models: one female platoon paired with five male platoons in a company, and two female platoons paired with four male platoons in a company.

But, the committee said, that means that the recruits remain largely separated by gender because most of the training activities are conducted at the platoon or squad level, which continues to physically separate the recruits by gender.

The committee noted “vast differences in the level of integration” due to this setup during key events such as obstacle course runs and the Crucible, the culminating field event near the end of the 13-week recruit training.

“Recruits in integrated companies do not have the opportunity to build strong bonds, respect and cohesion with their opposite-gender counterparts,” according to the report.

The committee got a firsthand response from one female recruit, not named in the report.

“How much are we integrated? Not much. They threaten to drop us if we speak to the males in the same company,” she said. “The guys are forbidden to speak at us.”

Male and female recruits continued to sleep and conduct hygiene separately.

Report authors also noted that drill instructor teams remained segregated by gender.

“The committee believes mixed-gender drill instructor teams are essential to providing recruits training and mentorship from opposite gender role models as they prepare to enter an integrated operational environment,” according to the report.

Having gender-assigned drill instructor teams, “hinders female drill instructors ability to train recruits and promote to higher positions of leadership and creates unnecessary challenges for personnel staffing,” according to the report.

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act mandated that the Corps integrate recruit training at the platoon level. Congress gave the service’s East Coast location five years to complete the integration and the West Cost facility eight years.

“The committee believes the Marine Corps’ current integrated company model with gender-separate platoons does not meet a true definition of integration nor the intent of congressional legislation,” according to the report.

Historically female recruits were placed in a 4th Recruit Training Battalion, the female-only battalion at Parris Island, South Carolina.

Beginning in 2019, the Marine Corps ran its first gender-integrated company in South Carolina, but continued gender segregation at the platoon level.

The recruit depot in San Diego had no female recruits until 2021, which saw a platoon of female recruits train alongside five all-male platoons, Marine Corps Times reported.

The Corps deactivated the Parris Island, South Carolina, battalion and integrated all companies at San Diego in 2023.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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