With every grueling day, every physically punishing drill and every emotionally exhausting challenge, a group of female recruits is making history as they train to be U.S. Marines at boot camp in Southern California.
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A group of 60 women out of the 4,000 recruits currently at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego make up the first class of female recruits going through Marine basic training alongside their male counterparts.
TODAY's Meagan Fitzgerald got a glimpse of the notoriously challenging boot camp as a group of pioneering women aim to become part of the proud tradition of the Marines.
"I just put forth double or quadruple the amount of effort that I see my male counterparts can bring to the table," recruit Aniya Allen, 18, told Fitzgerald. "Ever since then, I've been rewarded for my hard work for it."
The boot camp in San Diego had been around for 100 years before women finally took part in it in 2021.
"The question has been asked before — why did it take so long?'" Col. Matt Palma, recruit training regiment commanding officer, said on TODAY. "Why is it happening now after 100 years? Well, I think the conditions are exactly right for it right now."
It's a sight that Staff Sgt. Amber Staroscik, a senior drill instructor, thought she might never see. Staroscik underwent her Marine training separately from her male peers at Parris Island in South Carolina, where female recruits have been trained apart from the men for various Marine units since the 1940s.
"This is an opportunity for me, sure, but this is an opportunity for the future generation of Marines," she said on TODAY. "Not just females, but also males, just the Marine Corps in general. It opens up a lot of doors."
The women go through the same training as the men at the boot camp in San Diego.
"The males are gonna know, hey, the females, our sisters that we trained alongside, they did the same thing as us," Staroscik said. "They earned the same title. They're one of us. It's not male or female, it's Marine."
The Marines believe the change will produce advantages on the battlefield, according to Lt. Col. Anthony Bariletti, the commanding officer of the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion.
"Speed," he said. "The advantage is speed of decision in that the quicker our younger leaders are capable of developing a solution, the better it's going to be in terms of tactical advantage against the enemy."
Women currently make up around 9% of the 185,000 members of the Marine Corps, the lowest percentage of all the armed services, according to The New York Times.
The goal is to fully integrate Marine basic training across the country by 2028, with recruits like Allen proving themselves next to their male peers.
"I hope to come out a stronger person, have more pride in every step I take — walk straighter, talk louder and just smile more in being confident in the person that I've become," Allen said. "I finally get to give my family something to be proud of."
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