The Marine Corps is aggressively recruiting female high school athletes to increase the number of women in its ranks, the Associated Press reports.
Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said he wants women to make up 10% of the Corps, which currently has the smallest percentage of women among all U.S. military services (7 to 8% of the 184,000 troops, according to the AP). The Corps are zeroing in on female athletes, particularly wrestlers, because Neller said they can most likely meet the service’s physical standards.
“We looked at that and said, ‘Wow, that’s kinda what we’re looking for,'” Neller told AP. “They’re disciplined, they’re fit, they’re focused on their mission.”
The recruiting push is a stark shift for the Marine Corps, which has been reluctant to welcome women in the past. When the Pentagon announced in December 2015 that it would open all combat roles to women, the Marine Corps stood alone among military branches in publicly opposing the change.
And the Corps doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to treating the women in its ranks, either. The Corps has the highest rate of sexual assault against women compared to other military branches.
Maj. Gen. Paul Kennedy, who heads up the Corps’ recruiting command, is attempting to change that perception. The Corps changed their advertising to show women in combat roles for the first time, and Kennedy is meeting with female athletes and coaches across the country to tell them that the Corps can be a safe and fruitful career path for women. And they’ve already seen some success, recruiting 3,100 women this year.
“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 told AP.