The first women in Marine Corps history to attend boot camp in San Diego faced one final challenge in their training: the daunting final hill of the feared “Reaper” hike.
At the crack of dawn Thursday, 53 recruits in the all-woman Platoon 3241 made their charge and completed the grueling 54-hour Crucible exercise at Camp Pendleton, earning the title of “Marine.”
Thursday’s event was years in the making as the Marines work to fully integrate recruit training, something the other military branches did decades ago.
Until now, the Marine Corps only trained women at its East Coast boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. Male recruits were divided between east and west, depending on which side of the Mississippi River they lived. Those female companies were largely segregated from their male counterparts but in recent years the Corps began integrating some companies in South Carolina.
In 2019, Congress ordered the Marines to fully integrate women into both its boot camps — Parris Island by 2025 and San Diego by 2028.
Boot camp in San Diego is different than the one on the East Coast. Training in San Diego is split between the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Camp Pendleton. And, while both East and West Coast boot camps are considered the most arduous in the U.S. military, the humid swamplands of South Carolina lack the steep terrain that recruits find at Camp Pendleton.
Six platoons — one female, five male — began training Feb. 9. Fifty-three of the 59 women who began training with Platoon 3241 finished the Crucible — an attrition rate comparable to that of the men, said Capt. Martin Harris, a recruit depot spokesman. Recruits can be held back due to illness or injury during training and placed in another company. Those who are injured during the Crucible can still graduate, however, if their drill instructors believe they have otherwise met all the criteria.
The Reaper hike is notoriously difficult. Recruits carry rifles and packs full of gear weighing up to 70 pounds up and down a meandering ridge for up to 10 miles, unsure of which hill will be the last. At the crest of each hill, there’s a sense of disappointment when one realizes there is still more to climb, one recruit said. They begin shortly after 3 a.m.
The women’s platoon was the first in the company to summit the final hill of the hike.
On the other side, the company gathered in formation just as all-male companies have done in the past. In a short ceremony, recruits are handed an Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin — a symbol that says they’re no longer recruits, but Marines.
Pvt. Anne Frazier, 19, a 2019 graduate of Poway High School, was among those who finished the hike. Frazier told The San Diego Union-Tribune at the start of boot camp in February she felt like she was meant to be a Marine and was excited to be one of the first women to conquer the Reaper.
On Thursday, Frazier said she wouldn’t have wanted the challenge to be any easier.
“I didn’t have any doubts but when I saw the first hill — I knew it was going to be hard, but seeing it — I was like, ‘oh man, this is it,'” she said.
Pvt. Mia O’Hara, a 19-year-old from Hayden, Idaho, carried the flag for the platoon during the hike. She said the Reaper lived up to the hype.
“It was steep — definitely thought I was going to die there at first, especially when we ran up the last hill,” she said. “But we made it and I think that’s all that matters.”
One freshly-minted Marine, Pfc. Josephine Imperial of Twentynine Palms, California, had someone waiting to congratulate her at the end of the hike — Sgt. Maj. Nick Imperial, her father. She cried as he called her out of formation to congratulate her.
“Welcome to the family, PFC Imperial,” he said.
The Marine Corps is an Imperial family tradition; her grandfather served, as well.
“I was so happy for him to be there the moment I became a Marine,” Josephine Imperial said during a later interview. “I feel like it’s connecting through all of us and I just feel more connected to him and my grandfather now.”
For the Crucible, the Marines pair two platoons together to complete each event. Pvts. Hunter Murphy and Elijah Vaas and their all-male platoon went through the Crucible events alongside the women of 3241.
Murphy said the platoons helped each other.
“They kept us motivated when we needed it, when we’re all tired,” he said. “At the end we’re all one team, one fight, one goal.”
Vaas said the Crucible was the same for both the men and the women of the company.
“They’re recruits the same as every single one of us — they did the same things we did, they deserved what they got” he said.
Lima Company will return to MCRD San Diego this weekend and graduate from boot camp in two weeks.
A Marine Corps official at Camp Pendleton said the first integrated company was a success and that the depot is ready to accept more women as soon as the Marines send them.
With three female drill instructors on staff and four more in training, the official said that San Diego is determined not just to meet Congress’ mandated integration date, but to beat it.
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