Before this week, the U.S. Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course was known for being three things: so tough that 25 percent of candidates fail or drop out, so secretive that the candidates have no idea what to expect going in, and exclusively for men.
Now, only two of those things are true. Two female Marines — one 33 years old and one who’s 24 — joined 107 men in starting the most recent 86-day infantry course. But only one of the women and 81 of the men made it past the first test, USA Today and NPR report.
Marines who complete the four-times-per-year course become infantry officers — someone who trains other Marines in ground combat. To even enroll in the course, they must already have gone through a six-month basic course and a 10-week officer school.
The Marines released a statement on behalf of the first woman to pass Infantry Officer Course Day 1:
“I see it as an incredible opportunity that has never been open to women, I want to try and open up a door, maybe, for women after me. I don’t know how far it will open, but I’m hoping to make a difference for women down the road.”
The Marine Corps will not release the history-making woman’s name, as her training is ongoing. In fact, phasing women into the Infantry Officer Course is part of an ongoing experiment — one that not every female Marine agrees with. As Capt. Katie Petronio wrote in the Marine Corps Gazette this summer, some Marine women feel that “we are not all created equal, and attempting to place females in the infantry will not improve the Marine Corps as the Nation’s force-in-readiness or improve our national security.”
The women’s first 16-hour day — observed by journalists, who are rarely allowed this kind of access — included the candidates navigating through dark woods with nothing but a compass and map, and competing against each other in a violent hand-to-hand combat round, which reporters were asked not to describe in detail.
In fact, most details about the course are kept from the public, so that candidates don’t know what to expect.
In July, the New York Times also reported on the course. Many of the tests described are expected — like obstacle courses you see in training montages of military movies. Candidates climb ropes, tread water and do pull-ups, all while being screamed at by a more senior Marine.
But the course also thrives on mystery tests. One of them, a Times reporter details, involved “mentally disorienting and physical sequences, during which three students quit.” That reporter also happened to have completed the test in 1988, and recalls when, on the first day of training, “a lieutenant regarded by instructors and peers as one of the most fit students suffered a heart attack and died.”
The 33-year-old woman who didn’t pass the test was described as not being able to complete pull-ups.