Marine Sgt. Hannah S. Jacobson is shown here during research by the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force, which examined how to integrate men and women together in Marine Corps combat units. (Photo by Sgt. Alicia R. Leaders/ Marine Corps)

The Marine Corps expects it could have its first female recruits joining the infantry by early next year, and is now moving forward with a plan to prepare for it and change a culture that is in some corners resistant to change, service officials said.

The efforts include sending mobile training teams to units this year to have colonels and lieutenant colonels consider biases they may have, said Marine Col. Ann Weinberg, who has overseen aspects of the service’s integration research. The service also will require that battalions in which female infantrymen will eventually arrive must first have a couple female leaders in positions such as supply officer. It’s very unlikely there will be any other women in their chain of command at first, however.

“The thought is that over time, it will work itself out,” said Brig. Gen. James Glynn, an infantry officer who is now the Marine Corps’ director of public affairs. “With a dense enough population, it will work itself out. We won’t have to physically manage it. Is that going to play out? Time will tell.”

[How big is opposition to women in combat units among Marines? This report explains.]

The service’s all-male infantry has long been seen as resistant to integration, with three out of four active-duty infantry opposed to the change in a 2012 survey released through the Freedom of Information Act to The Washington Post last week. Marine officials argue sentiment has changed some since then, but it’s unclear how much.

The last Marine Corps commandant, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, recommended last fall to Defense Ashton B. Carter against opening the infantry to women. Carter did so anyway, saying he could see no reason to grant exceptions. The new commandant, Gen. Robert B. Neller, has promised to make sure the service carries out the directive, and the service gathered a handful of reporters Thursday to describe how they will do so.

This chart included in a Marine Corps study released through the Freedom of Information Act details opinions among male Marines in 2012 who have served in a ground combat element (GCE) unit on integrating women into ground combat jobs. (Courtesy the Marine Corps)

The Marine Corps plans to allow female recruits to begin attending boot camp with plans to join mechanized combat units, such as tank battalions, June 1. Women will be allowed to attend boot camp to become enlisted infantrymen beginning Oct. 1, meaning the first female infantrymen coming from initial training likely will not arrive until early 2017, after they attend infantry school.

But the service could see some female infantrymen before then. As part of research carried out ahead of intergration, women were allowed to attend enlisted infantry training, and 233 graduated. At the time, they were not allowed to join infantry units, but the service is now allowing them to apply for a “lateral move” and swap jobs.

“Because we did this year-long effort research effort and we sent women through those infantry schools and artillery schools and [light armored vehicle] schools, those women who are currently Marines right now and they’re probably corporals or sergeants, we’ve given them an opportunity to say, ‘I would like that. I would like to move into that [job] as my primary,” said Col. Ann Weinberg, who oversaw aspects of the service’s research effort.

[Marine experiment finds that women get injured more frequently, shoot less accurately than men]

No woman has done so yet, and anyone who does so has to weigh becoming an infantryman against leaving behind success they may already have in their current jobs. Marines regularly swap jobs as they re-enlist, but those who do so have to compete with others in their new professions for promotions and assignments.

Glynn acknowledged that Marine leaders are still getting questions from rank-and-file troops about why they have to integrate women. One change already made is the adoption of an initial strength test for potential male and female recruits interested in combat jobs. They must complete at least three pull-ups, finish a 1.5-mile run within 13 minutes and 30 seconds, knock out 44 crunches within two minutes and lift a 30-pound ammo can 45 times within two minutes.

“There’s no doubt we’re leading cultural change. It’s not the first time that’s happened in the Marine Corps,” Glynn said. “We’ve been known to take challenges head-on. The purposes of the mobile training teams is to begin to facilitate the cultural change. Quite honestly… we need the questions. We need to have that honest conversation in a small group setting and let the differences of opinion come out. Because you know how that stuff occurs over time. You’ve just got to have the conversation.”

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