Expert Interview

How Will the Marine Corps Integrate Men and Women at Recruit Training?

January 30, 2023

Marine Corps recruit training is every bit as intense as it looks. Each morning starts hours before sunrise with a chorus of screaming drill instructors who dictate every move. Recruits spend 13 weeks pushing themselves to their mental, physical, and emotional limits to earn the title of Marine. Unlike other Services that have conducted gender-integrated recruit training for decades, the Marine Corps is the only Service that maintains forms of gender segregation in its training program. Currently, male and female recruits are organized into gender-segregated platoons and trained by same-gender drill instructor teams. However, a recent congressional mandate has ordered the elimination of segregated training.

The Marine Corps commissioned an independent study in 2020 to examine its current integration practices as well as the other Services’ approaches. The goal of the study was to develop alternate models and policy recommendations to increase gender integration in Marine Corps recruit training. Westat Insight, a wholly owned subsidiary of Westat, led the social science aspect, joining a team led by the University of Pittsburgh and supported by the University of South Carolina. Sidra Montgomery, PhD, a senior researcher at Westat Insight, discusses the study’s challenges, findings, and methodology on the heels of an interview she provided NPR in early January.

Sidra Montgomery

Q. What were some of the challenges the team faced in conducting this recent study?

A. Similar to the intense demands of Marine Corps recruit training, our Marine Corps client wanted an extremely rigorous study in a very short period of time. Senior leaders in the military often need information to make decisions in real time. Our team had to find ways to analyze and report complex data accurately and completely under extreme time constraints.

Q. What are some obstacles to integrating men and women at recruit training in the Marine Corps?

A. There are certainly organizational and structural challenges but also cultural ones that those interviewed for the study described as the most pernicious and persistent obstacles to gender integration. For the Marine Corps, this manifests as sexism, gender-based treatment, and demeaning language used in the training environment. The Marine Corps is a male-dominated institution. Only 9% of its active duty personnel are women, and the institution’s practices, policies, and culture reflect this demographic reality.

Q. What were some key takeaways from this study?

A. We found that in other Services, recruits and drill instructors value an integrated training experience. They believe men and women working together dispels gender biases and stereotypes, builds camaraderie, and prepares them for working in integrated environments. Marine Corps recruits also wanted more integrated training experiences to prepare them for their military service where they will work in fully integrated units.

Q. Tell us about the study’s time frame, team, and methodology.

A. We conducted the study between September 2020 and June 2022. Our interdisciplinary team included experts in sociology, physical performance, and human performance. We used a mixed-methods approach involving recruit surveys and focus groups, and interviews with training cadre, drill instructors, Service leaders, and external published experts. Our team also conducted hundreds of hours of ethnographic observation of recruit training, everything from monumental events to mundane moments. Recruit physical performance and workload, sleep tracking, and cortisol samples were measured by our university partners.

Q. What were the recommendations for alternate models to increase gender integration?

A. The first model our team designed was focused on integrating drill instructors, providing the Marine Corps a way to implement mixed-gender drill instructor teams. The second model proposed increasing the number and types of gender-integrated training events for recruits at or below the platoon level. The third model outlines fully integrating platoons, aligning the Marine Corps with the other Services’ approach to integration.

Q. What other recommendations did the team make?

A. We provided 18 policy recommendations to support current and future gender integration efforts for Marine Corps recruit training. Some of our recommendations included: (1) updating the educational curriculum and imagery in training environments to represent women and be more inclusive of their contributions to the Marine Corps’ institutional legacy; (2) establishing a definition, strategic mission, and vision for gender integration in recruit training; and (3) enforcing a zero-tolerance policy for training cadre, drill instructors, and recruits using sexually explicit, gender-based, or derogatory language in the training environment.

Q. What was the Marine Corps’ response to this study?

A. The Marine Corps has taken immediate action on some of our recommendations and key findings. I am very proud of our team for the important work we’ve done, and I look forward to seeing our study’s continued impact.

Media Coverage

NPR, June 27, 2023: The U.S. Marine Corps has decommissioned its all-female Fourth Battalion

NPR, January 2, 2023: The Marines are supposed to fully open boot camp to women but continue to resist

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