But the commandant said Thursday that the service's West Coast recruit depot will stay all-male, adding the Corps doesn't currently need another boot camp that trains women.
Gen. Robert Neller told Military.com that cost and efficiencies were major drivers of the decision to open Marine Combat Training-West at Camp Pendleton, California, to women. MCT is the first stop after boot camp for enlisted Marines who are not training in an infantry specialty.
"We recruit women from all across the country, from both east and west of the Mississippi," Neller said, following remarks at a National Defense Industrial Association event near Washington, D.C.
"And we thought it would be more cost-effective if they went to MCT after they went home on recruit leave, to go to SOI on the West Coast," he said. "Maybe their families would be closer and they could see them graduate from MCT if they couldn't get up to Parris Island."
Neller added that one of the biggest West Coast training schools for Marines is the communications-electronics school at Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California. For women entering one of these fields, it's more convenient to move from MCT at Pendleton to 29 Palms than it is to travel back from MCT-East at Camp Geiger, North Carolina.
The commandant acknowledged that "cohesion reasons" also prompted the Corps to start training men and women together at MCT.
But as to opening Marine Recruit Depot San Diego to women, Neller said the need is not there.
The Marine Corps is the only service that still keeps separate entry-level training units for men and women. All female recruits pass through 4th Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island, South Carolina.
San Diego does have a "cadre" of female staff, including drill instructors and skills instructors, Neller noted. But he said demand for more training capacity for female recruits hasn't yet materialized.
"So we've got women, we're still trying to get to 10 percent," he said. "And until we do, Parris Island has enough capacity. Right now, for us to move a comparable operation out to the West Coast, we don't have enough depth yet."
Neller said in 2016 that he wanted to grow the proportion of female troops in the Marine Corps to 1 in 10; currently, around 8 percent of the force is female.
Not everyone buys the argument, though, that demand doesn't justify another integrated boot camp. Marine Corps Times reported this week that the Corps recruited 3,355 women last fiscal year. With just one recruit training battalion available to train female recruits, the outlet reported that annual capacity for recruit training maxes out at just 3,500.
Kate Germano, a retired lieutenant colonel who formerly commanded 4th Recruit Training Battalion and has vigorously advocated for fully integrating entry level training, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the Marine Corps could raise recruiting caps if there were more spots available to train women.
"It hasn't happened already because they don't want it to happen," she told the outlet.