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US Marines look to high school athletes to increase number of female recruits

It’s not easy being a Marine. But the U.S. Marine Corps believe that high school girls involved in sports have what it takes to conquer on the challenge.

Marine recruiters are currently turning to high school girls’ sports teams to find candidates who may be able to meet the Corps’ rigorous physical standards, including for the front-line combat jobs now open to women.

Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said he intends to increase the number of women in the Corps to 1 in 10.

“I’ve told them that 10 percent is where we want to go and they’re working on it,” Neller told The Associated Press in an interview. “Go recruit more women. Find them. They’re out there.”

For many years, the Marines have had the smallest percentage of women among all the military services – only around seven to eight percent of the Corps have been women, numbering to about 184,200.

However, following a Pentagon decision to allow women who qualify to serve in combat jobs, thousands of new infantry, armor and other front-line posts are now open.

Neller said he wants to see women in some of those posts. Making that happen now rests with Maj. Gen. Paul Kennedy, head of the Marine Corps’ recruiting command.

Kennedy has sent out targeted mailings and changed advertising to better represent female Marines, in addition to traveling the country to meet with coaches and female athletes who may be well-suited for the rigors of Marine service.

So far this year, Kennedy has gone to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association conference and has targeted wrestling and other sports gatherings this year.

According to Neller, female wrestlers make good candidates.

“We looked at that and said, ‘Wow, that’s kinda what we’re looking for,'” he said. “They’re disciplined, they’re fit, they’re focused on their mission.”

So for the first time, the Marines are mailing recruiting literature to thousands of high school girls and meeting with them to debunk misconceptions about women in the Marine Corps, including worries about sexual harassment and sexual assault, limits on career options, lack of stability and difficulties having a family life.

One of the contributing factors of such perceptions may have been due to the Corps’ old slogan, which used to say that it was looking for ‘a few good men”. In an effort to be more inclusive, the slogan has since been changed to “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”

“We got to talk to them, got to show them there are plenty of female married officers and enlisted, that it’s not a good ol’ boys club anymore when you talk about the career issues,” Kennedy said in an interview in his office at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

The key, Kennedy said, is to get to influencers — parents, coaches — and convince them that their daughters, their athletes, will be treated fairly. And he said he allays fears that women would be forced into combat jobs they don’t want.

The recruiters, however, know it won’t be easy. Data suggests they have to contact twice as many potential applicants to find a female candidate as they do to find a man. So far, very few are interested in the combat jobs.

In suburban Chicago, Marine Maj. Shanelle A. Porter, commanding officer for Recruiting Station Chicago, said most women coming in the door just want to be Marines, but so far two women have said they were looking for front-line roles.

The women, she said, want to be pioneers.

“They’re looking for that challenge,” said Porter. “They’re trying to show we can do it, too.”

For Kennedy, having a female Marine like Porter available to talk to female recruits and their families is helpful. Women make up 165 of the Corps’ 3,565 recruiters, and five of the 48 recruiting station commanders. For now, he says, that’s sufficient.

“They don’t actually need a female recruiter,” Kennedy said, adding that the first person a potential recruit meets in high school or a shopping mall doesn’t have to be the same gender.

But, “there has to be a female in the process,” he said. “At some point, you’ve got to have a woman that can answer the specific questions and maybe even answer the parents’ questions.”

Already, he is having some success and is on track to send enough women to boot camp this year to hit 8.7 percent of the annual recruits, or about 3,100 women. The 10 percent goal would require him to bring in about 3,400 women recruits a year; he believes that is well within reach.

“We’re going to exceed the goal that was set for us. I feel confident,” said Kennedy. “I think we can blow through 10 percent like it’s an elevator stop.”

Story and image via Associated Press 

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