This past September, a female Marine Corps became the first woman infantry officer after successfully completing the Infantry Officer Course, the Marine Corps announced in a press release. Commonly referred to as the IOC, the intensive 13-week course is regarded as one of the toughest in the military. An average of 10 percent of students fail to pass the first day, which includes a skills assessment and a combat endurance test consisting of hikes and an obstacle course. Of the female officer's class, only 88 out of 131 students graduated.
The IOC is designed to teach and assess infantry and ground intelligence officers in the leadership, character and infantry skills necessary to serve in the position. As the Washington Post noted, the course takes an incredible amount of stamina and strength, requiring students to have the ability to carry up to 152 pounds of equipment.
"I am proud of this officer and those in her class who have earned the infantry officer MOS," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said of the woman, who asked to remain anonymous, in the press release. "Marines expect and rightfully deserve competent and capable leaders, and these IOC graduates met every training requirement as they prepare for the next challenge of leading infantry Marines; ultimately, in combat."
The reasoning behind the woman's decision to keep her identity private is unknown, but some speculate she requested so in order to best attend to her new position. Former Marine Corps helicopter pilot Kyleanne Hunter, who currently serves as a member of the Pentagon's Defense Advisory Committee for Women in the Services, told the Washington Post that the anonymous woman faces unparalleled performance pressures, especially from critics who want her to fail.
"Too much attention can take away from her operational requirements," Hunter told the newspaper. "Her first challenge is going to be to remain anonymous, for lack of a better term, and just do her job."
The infantry officer will also need to win over the people under her command, which may prove difficult as the Marine Corps has historically been resistant to gender integration.
Accepting gender diversity in military branches
The Marine Corp first opened the IOC to women in 2012 as part of its research on how to introduce women into all-male units. That same year, 75 percent of surveyed active-duty marines said they were opposed to complete gender integration, per the Washington Post. Ninety percent expressed concern about possible relationships forming within units, and more than 80 percent of male respondents were concerned about false sexual allegations, fraternization and women getting preferential treatment.
Furthermore, sexual harassment also served as a barrier to gender equality within the military branch. Earlier this year, news broke of a private Facebook group where male Marines were sharing nude photos of female servicemembers, often identifying them by name, rank, location or social media handle and leaving explicit comments. According to Reveal News, which broke the story, over 30,000 men were members of the group.
These issues have not stopped the Marine Corps or other military branches from seeking greater gender diversity, however, nor did it dissuade some female servicemembers from high-ranking positions. In 2015, the Pentagon officially opened all combat jobs to women. Since then, four other women, not including the recent female graduate, attempted the IOC. Although none of the four completed it, their determination signals a shift in attitudes regarding who should and who should not serve in the military.