Looking for Answers to One of the Last Questions About Women at War.
This fall the United States Marine Corps will open its Infantry Officer Course to female volunteers, an experiment intended to help Marine generals and the Pentagon assess how women might fare in combat arms jobs. The corps is seeking 92 female lieutenants as volunteers, a quantity that will take at least several cycles of the infantry course to reach.
The Infantry Officer Course, the feeder academy to the Marine infantry officer ranks, is both an intensive training center and the gatekeeper to one of the corps’ most insulated male-only societies. It is also an extraordinary grind. To gain and share a firmer understanding of what volunteer female students will face and how the course will accommodate the changes involved in going coed, we followed the male students through the first event of the latest class, which began last week.
(With apologies, as ever, for being late to post to THE GUN. I’ve been traveling since leaving Quantico, and am only just getting situated at the next place.)
DISCLOSURE: I am a graduate of many of the schools discussed in the NYT article and the At War post, including the U.S.M.C.’s Officer Candidates School (1987), the Basic Officer Course (1988), and the subject of this particular profile: The Infantry Officer Course (1988). Like any school or course that evaluates performance, from a middle-school algebra class in your hometown to a graduate-level academic course at Harvard, the Infantry Officer Course has tests and considers the contents of these tests to be matters that should not be in the public domain. For this reason, The New York Times, as a condition for unfettered observation of the admissions exam, agreed not to disclose the exact contents of questions, or the distances, standards, durations and chronology of the many stages in the school’s opening event, known as the Combat Endurance Test. This was to prevent future students from having inside information about the test, which relies in part on secrecy and surprise to evaluate and screen the applicants it exhausts. Incoming students are told what to pack, and when and where to show up for their seat in the school. Beyond that, they know only that they will face a grueling physical evaluation over an unknown number of hours or days, throughout which they will be repeatedly queried and graded on subjects that they have previously been taught. If they pass, they then continue to the rest of the 86-day school, their route to leading a Marine infantry platoon. If they fail, or quit, or are injured too severely to continue the course, they are assigned to other jobs in the corps.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS
Top, a sweat-drenched student moving down a forest trail, in the zone. The temperature varied during the long course, but hovered by daylight at about 100 degrees. Bottom left, a student, many hours later, whose leg had locked up with a cramp as he tried to climb a rope, working to straighten and restore function to the limb, while a corpsman watches from the course’s edge, ready to help if the student quits. Another student, near collapse, tries to muster strength for the next climb. Bottom right, the student with the leg cramp, trying to get back on his feet. By the author. Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Va. Last week.
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