The U.S. Marine Corps will no longer require prospective officers to pass a punishing combat endurance test to graduate from the service’s Infantry Officer Course.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller quietly made the shift to standards in November, altering the test from a pass/fail requirement to just one of many exercises measured as part of overall IOC evaluation, the Marine Corps Times first reported on Thursday.
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The course is considered among the military’s toughest training programs, with about a quarter of all students failing to complete it, according to the Washington Post. Most of the 30-plus women who have attempted IOC dropped on the first day during the combat endurance test.
Only one female Marine has graduated from the course since former Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all military combat roles would be open to women in 2015.
Marine Training Command officials rejected the notion that the change slackens service standards and said it brings the exercise back to its original intent of assessing the "retention of knowledge, skills, and fitness achieved" at IOC, Military.com reported.
"Over the past 40 years, the Marine Corps has made multiple modifications to Infantry Officer Course (IOC) program of instruction (POI) to reflect the requirements of the operating environment," Training Command said in a statement. "The quality of the course remains the same."
Officials said a Marine’s score on the combat endurance test would "inform" their overall graduation assessment.
Though some have proposed abandoning the test as a fail point in IOC, others have said such a change would lower overall Marine standards.
Marine 2nd Lt. Emma Stokien argued in a 2014 op-ed that removing the required passage of the test would negatively impact female integration into the service.
"Changing this rite of passage will be doing female Marines no favors in trying to be infantry officers," Stokien wrote in War on the Rocks. "Female Marines often have to work much harder than their peers to earn the same respect, and entering the infantry under the dark cloud of even perceived lowered standards will make this a practically impossible challenge and potentially cause real harm to unit cohesion and the faith between leader and led."