First women graduate from Infantry Training Battalion

women grads

Pfc. Cristina Fuentes Montenegro, 25, shares a moment with Pfc. Julia Carroll, 18, during a graduation ceremony held on Camp Geiger, Jacksonville, Thursday morning. They were among the first three women to graduate from the Infantry Training Battalion.

John Althouse/Halifax Media Service
Published: Thursday, November 21, 2013 at 06:15 PM.

They felt that they owed it not only to themselves, but for Marines past, present and future.

Three enlisted Marines — Pfc. Cristina Fuentes Montenegro, Pfc. Julia Carroll and Pfc. Katie Gorz — became the first women to graduate from the Infantry Training Battalion during a Thursday morning ceremony aboard Camp Geiger, which is home to the School of Infantry East. The graduation marked the end of a 59-day training schedule focusing on infantry tactics, weapons and more. Delta Company, the graduating training unit, started with 266 male and 15 female Marines. On Thursday, 221 men and three women graduated.

The integration of women at Infantry Training Battalion comes after a decision in January by former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to eliminate a long-standing policy prohibiting women from serving in combat-related specialties within the military. Delta Company is one of 17 training cycles that will include women in the next year, though the women must volunteer for the training and will not receive the infantry designation or be assigned to infantry units even if they successfully complete the training.

Currently there are 39 additional women training with the Infantry Training Battalion across three training companies. The companies totaled 44 women when training began in October.

The students of Delta Company learned 16 weapon systems, fired more than 30,000 rounds and completed three hikes totaling 50 kilometers while carrying more than 80 pounds of gear each time. Land navigation, patrolling and simulated combat drills are among the topics covered at the school.

“For me, I never felt like I was going to drop out,” said Montenegro, 25, of Coral Springs, Fla. “Yes, we had tough moments, but there were moments that we had to remember why we were doing it but dropping out was never an option.”

The women were screened for the School of Infantry during recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. More than 100 female recruits were asked if they were interested in attending infantry training. Out of the group, 49 met the eligibility physical fitness criteria of three pull-ups, 50 crunches in two minutes and a 28-minute three-mile run. Of that 49, 19 volunteered. Four of those women voluntarily dropped out of the course once they arrived at the School of Infantry. Two were removed from Delta Company for failing the required fitness tests on training days one and two. Six more voluntarily removed themselves after training day 29 — a benchmark that means they are basically trained and eligible to continue on to their specialty schools. The remainder of the women were dropped for injury or failure to pass the 20-kilometer hike.

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