On October 3, 2014, three American female Marine Corps officers passed the initial combat endurance test required for admission into the Infantry Officer Course (IOC), potentially making them the first female infantry officers in the history of the United States.
The endurance test has historically been restricted to male candidates only, and its intense focus on each officer’s physical and mental capabilities has made it notoriously gruelling. According to Marine Corps spokeswoman Capt. Maureen Krebs, out of the 93 men and seven women who took part in the initial test, 67 men and three women passed successfully and will be able to proceed onto the next stage of training.
The restriction on women candidates was removed in 2013 when U.S. Secretary of State Leon Panetta lifted the ban on female officers serving in active combat roles. By allowing women the opportunity to serve on the front lines, female officers can now take on some of the toughest, and more dangerous positions in the military. Allowing women to serve in the infantry is a major step forward in expanding the integration of women in all areas of the military and providing them with equal opportunities to men.
It has also been argued that the further integration of women into the military can bring attention to issues which have limited their advancement, such as sexual assault. In 2006, 26,000 sexual assault cases were reported by both men and women serving in the U.S. military, up from 19,000 reported cases in 2005. In 2013, the Department of Defence announced that reports of sexual assault had increased by 34%.
As most senior officials in the military are male, many women feel discouraged from reporting such incidents to officers with superior rank. In 2014, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand tried to institute a bill that would remove the handling of assault cases from military jurisdiction to civilian courts. The bill failed to pass, however, by five votes. The increasing rate of sexual assault cases highlights that the military continues to fail in adequately responding to the violence and abuse directed at a large proportion of its female personnel. By providing women the opportunity to access careers which have been previously closed to them, the military is simultaneously creating greater potential for the discourse regarding sexual violence to be explored and to be dealt with.
That being the case, not all welcome the notion of women serving in active combat roles, arguing that by doing so, the overall standards within the military will be lowered, and that the cohesion of the military units will be altered. Others, such as Capt. Katie Petronio, a former combat engineer, feel that its not a question of capability, as women have already proven that they can hold their own in the military, but more a question of longevity, and whether the physical and physiological effects of military training can be sustained by the female body. Petronio added, “I am physically not the woman I once was and my views have greatly changed on the possibility of women having successful long careers while serving in the infantry.”
Opening more doors for women in the infantry will enable them to have access to a wider spectrum of career opportunities and to advance within their rank. A woman should not be barred from obtaining a specific job, simply because of her gender. The decision made by IOC to allow women the opportunity to train alongside their brothers-in-arms is thus a major step forward for the U.S. military.