The Marine Corps has made a major change to its Infantry Officer Course. The first big challenge for many was a test of physical fitness. If you passed, you moved on. If you didn’t, you washed out. The test was especially difficult for women who had to meet the same standard as the men. Not anymore.
The Infantry Officer Course now uses the physical fitness test as an exercise, and not a pass/fail requirement.
Officials with Marine Corps Training and Education Command told Military.com “that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller had made a decision in November to transform the test from a high-stakes hurdle to an assessment from which students can drop without risking their place in the course.”
Roughly 30 women have attempted course so far. Most have not made it through.
“Last September,” Military.com notes, “a female second lieutenant made history when she became the first woman to pass the course and receive the 0302 military occupational specialty.”
“[Neller] approved modifications to the IOC [program of instruction] to better tie student evaluation and graduation requirements to published infantry training and readiness manual, military occupational specialty specific performance standards, and operating force requirements,” TECOM officials said in a statement.
“As a result, the combat endurance test reverted back its original intent, prior to 2012, as an assessment tool to measure the retention of knowledge, skills and fitness achieved at the basic officer course,” the statement read.
The performance on the physical fitness test is still a component in the overall decision on course evaluation, but not a pass/fail gateway to the rest of the course.
“It’s not difficult to understand why the test has presented such a barrier to women,” Military.com writes. “In addition to other physically and mentally challenging tasks, it requires Marines to hike dozens of miles with combat loads weighing up to 152 pounds and complete an obstacle course that includes scaling a 20-foot rope multiple times and getting over an eight-foot bar.”
Discussion of the test’s validity has been ongoing. In 2014, retired Army Colonel Ellen Haring pointed out that the obstacles in the test are hardly comparable to the obstacles faced in the field. Haring proposed keeping the test in place, but eliminating the high-stakes role it played for the candidates.
“Let’s call it what it is — a challenging initiation into an elite group that prides itself on being tough, resilient and loyal to the foundational beliefs of this country,” she wrote in the journal War on the Rocks. “And, let’s acknowledge that this initiation is central to the identity of the Corps, an identity that has been at the heart of its long and distinguished service to the country.”
There is, of course, opposition to changing the role of the test.
“Changing this rite of passage will be doing female Marines no favors in trying to be infantry officers,” Marine 2nd Lt. Emma Stokien, a Marine Corps intelligence officer, wrote. “Female Marines often have to work much harder than their peers to earn the same respect, and entering the infantry under the dark cloud of even perceived lowered standards will make this a practically impossible challenge and potentially cause real harm to unit cohesion and the faith between leader and led.”
“I firmly believe that female Marines deserve to have the best opportunities and equal respect for the work we do, and I have high hopes for our changing role in combat and in the Corps.”
“The quality of the course, and the caliber of infantry officers it produces remains the same,” The Marine Corps write in a statement. “The Marine Corps continuously improves upon programs of instruction to reflect the requirements of the operating environment.”