As the Marine Corps continues to gender-integrate its boot camps on both coasts, it is shutting down the recruit training battalion that for decades was the only unit that turned female recruits into Marines.
The closing of the now-coed 4th Recruit Training Battalion was characterized by the Corps as an administrative decision that will help standardize training across its two recruit depots of San Diego and Parris Island, South Carolina.
The Marine Corps has lagged behind the other military service branches in gender-integrating recruit training. Its the only military service that still operates gender-separated training at the platoon level ― saying it is crucial for how it breaks down recruits and turns them into high-performing Marines.
Congress had directed that the Corps integrate women into recruit training at San Diego — which was open only to men until 2021.
And now, some personnel from the already coed 4th Recruit Training Battalion will be shuffled over to the West Coast.
The Corps aims to have its population of female recruits split equally between the two boot camps by October, according to the news release.
That means Parris Island, South Carolina, will require only 13 training companies instead of the current 15, Marine spokesman Maj. Philip Kulczewski said in a statement to Marine Corps Times. So 4th Battalion’s two companies, Oscar and Papa, will be cut.
Beginning in 1986, the Parris Island, South Carolina, based 4th Recruit Training Battalion was the sole training unit for female recruits, according to the press release. Starting in 2019, other battalions began integrating by gender.
And in 2021, for the first time, male recruits graduated from the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. The same year, female recruits for the first time graduated from Recruit Depot San Diego, after completing the hilly “Crucible” hike at nearby Camp Pendleton, California.
Now, all recruit training battalions — the larger organizational units that contain companies and their subsidiary platoons — are gender-integrated, according to Kulczewski.
Recruit training platoons remain single-gender, with drill instructors who match the recruits’ gender.
That’s in part because recruits sleep in the same squad bay, a kind of barracks with several bunk beds in the same big room, as their platoons, Kulczewski said. The separate housing for male and female recruits is dictated by law, the spokesman noted.
Throughout boot camp, female and male recruits train together at various levels, from small fire squads to larger companies, Kulczewski said.
Less than a fifth of surveyed Marine recruits want recruit training platoons to go coed, Marine Corps Times reported in 2022.
Still, some Marine veterans interviewed by University of Pittsburgh researchers said they worried that gender segregation at recruit training fails to prepare Marines for life beyond boot camp.
Platoons at subsequent training schools and in the fleet are gender-integrated, as Marine Corps Times previously reported, though only 9% of active duty Marines are women, according to Pentagon data.
The Corps plans to close down 4th Recruit Training Battalion on June 15, “in a deactivation ceremony that concludes her glorious tenure, closing the final chapter of integrating recruit training,” Brig. Gen. Walker M. Field, commanding general of Parris Island, South Carolina, and the eastern recruiting region, said in the news release.
“I think that it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve heard in weeks,” retired Lt. Col. Kate Germano said of the deactivation of the battalion, which she commanded from 2014–2015.
For Germano, the then-all-women battalion, geographically separated from the other battalions, represented what was wrong with how the Marine Corps trained women.
Germano had been relieved from her position leading the battalion after a command investigation said she created a hostile environment.
She and her supporters say she was penalized for pushing her female recruits to perform at the same level as male recruits.
Germano has since published a book about what she sees as the problems with how the Marine Corps trains female recruits.
“For me, this is sort of the culmination of a lot of years of trying to speak truth to the system and actually seeing it come to fruition,” she said.
Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.