The first company of women Marines to begin training on the West Coast stepped off buses this week to begin boot camp at the Marine Recruit Depot in San Diego.
“It’s a pleasure to be part of making history,” said Leslie Zavaleta, who's from Tyler, Texas.
The 59 women Marine recruits in Lima Company will be training alongside more than 300 male Marine recruits in their platoon as part of what the Marine Corps is calling a proof of concept.
A woman Marine drill instructor barked instructions and went over the uniform code of military justice on the first day of boot camp.
Poway's Anne Frazier, whose father retired from the Marine Corps, was among the recruits. She told NBC7 that the Marine Corps was the military service for her and was more than happy for the opportunity to be part of her platoon.
“I feel like it’s very empowering and like a sign of change,” Frazier said.
Until now, women Marine recruits have traditionally gone through boot camp at Parris Island, in South Carolina, where there are several integrated platoons.
Col. Matt Palma, the commanding officer of the Recruit Training Regiment at MCRD San Diego, is the first to oversee an integrated platoon in San Diego.
“Female Marines have been serving in combat for years," Palma said. "This is going to better prepare the Marines ... for the reality of the Marine Corps.”
Palma said the Marine Corps has had to make some accommodations for Lima Company, bringing in six women Marine drill Instructors and changing the facilities a bit -- including fogging up some of the windows in the barracks.
During their training day, drill instructors put the pressure on both male and female recruits in the contraband room. The recruits who have been under quarantine for two weeks because of COVID-19 wore masks and tried frantically to follow commands.
“Everybody inspires each other," recruit Zavaleta said. "Everybody believes in each other -- even if you don’t believe in yourself.”
The recruits unloaded items like cellphones -- which they won’t be using during their 12 weeks of boot camp -- and made one last call home before changing into their uniforms. While the women can wear their hair up in a bun, male recruits, like 18-year-old Andrew Henwood said goodbye to their hair.
Henwood told NBC7 he had no concerns about the integrated boot camp; in fact, he said, it was cool to be going through boot camp with women recruits.
“They’re doing the same thing, we’re all going through it together," Henwood said, adding that everyone has to prove themselves. “I would say females are probably stronger mentally.”
Palma believes having women go through boot camp in San Diego is an opportunity for the Marine Corps.
“We may be able to recruit more young capable female recruits to come here,” Palma said.
And one area where the Marine Crops needs them is as drill instructors, a callling recruit Frazier felt she might pursue.
“It is a challenge that I’m interested in taking some day,” Frazier said.
There is no firm date for the next all-women Marine recruit company. The Marine Corps is tasked with being fully integrated at boot camp by 2028, all part of the effort to modernize and build the next generation of the “Always Faithful” fighting force.