One of the military's most grueling combat courses may graduate its first female volunteer in the coming months, U.S. News has learned.
Two women have volunteered for the next class of the Marine Corps' Infantry Officers Course, a spokesman says, though this is subject to change. If successful, they will be the first women to graduate from the 13-week training in the program's history. The first two women to attempt the course, which was conducted last fall, failed during the first week. One did not make it through the initial physical tests, and the second quit after a week due to an injury.
The Marine Corps will not release any further information on the new volunteers, says Marine Col. Sean Gibson, such as their current rank or military specialty, without their consent.
The exclusivity of the course has come under scrutiny following the Department of Defense's announcement in January to lift the ban on women serving in combat.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told NPR that the military will go through the same process as a fire or police department that decides to incorporate women, and asks itself "Are these really the standards we need in order to have a good fireman [or] good policeman?"
The Marine Corps stands by the standards it has in place for the course, saying they accurately depict combat.
"We're not going to drop any standards. No standards are going to be lowered," says Marine Maj. Shawn Haney.
Marine officials, including the commandant, dismiss claims that the course has been designed for men and thus should not be changed.
The Marine Corps will not discuss publicly the content of IOC. Officers who have graduated are reluctant to divulge details, citing the value of not knowing what will happen in the combat training.
"Marines have been in the Marine business for a while," says Haney. "We know what it takes to be successful in combat. We now just have to make sure we've reviewed and validated those requirements."
The Marine Corps will continue studying its standards, she says, which began before the secretary's January 23 announcement. It's also looking at recruitment tests to ensure that those selected to try out for certain positions have the physical potential to meet those requirements in training. A part of this study included opening up IOC to female volunteers last year, though those graduates could not have become infantry officers upon graduation.
Gen. John Amos, commandant of the Marine Corps, told USA Today last week that the standards of IOC are an accurate rendering of the requirements of leading a platoon in combat, not just a course designed to find the best men.