[Updated at 1:04 p.m. ET] The U.S. Marine Corps plans to allow a yet-undetermined number of female volunteers to enroll in the school that trains its infantry combat officers, the Marine Corps Times has reported.
The plan to open the Infantry Officers Course to women is part of the service's effort to determine which additional jobs may be open to women in the future, Gen. Joseph Dunford, the Marines' assistant commandant, told the Marine Corps Times.
"We are in the process right now of soliciting volunteers," Dunford told the Times for a story published Wednesday.
Enlisted women also eventually will have a chance to take infantry training, Dunford told the Times, which reported that it wasn't yet clear what path the women who complete the training would follow.
The decision to open the school to female volunteers is part of a research plan implemented after Congress directed the Marines to review their policies on assigning women to ground combat elements, Capt. Kevin Schultz, a Marines spokesman, told CNN on Thursday.
‚ÄúThe Marine Corps has initiated a measured, deliberate and responsible research effort in order to provide the commandant with meaningful data so that he can make a fact-based recommendation to the senior leadership of (the Defense Department) and Congress,‚ÄĚ Schultz said.
Under a 1994 U.S. military policy, women are restricted from formally serving in small ground units directly involved in combat. The reality of the last 10 years of war, however, has been that many women serve in support positions - such as military police or medics - that place them in harm's way. They are not formally assigned to combat units, but rather informally "attached," which means they do not get the crucial credit for combat duty that is needed for promotions to higher grades.
Over the last several years, advocates as well as some senior U.S. military commanders have increasingly called for more ground combat jobs to be open to women, Starr reported.
Earlier this year, CNN's Barbara Starr reported that the Pentagon was planning to open up nearly 14,000 jobs to military women - jobs that would place them closer to the front lines of combat.
Some of the newly opened jobs were to include specialties such as tank or artillery mechanic, missile launcher crew members and field surgeons in forward deployed brigade combat teams.¬†However, women still would not be permitted in frontline jobs directly involved in combat such as infantry units or counterterrorism sniper teams.
The Marine Corps Times also reported that the Marines are developing "gender-neutral" physical fitness tests for combat tasks. Such requirements would not differ for men and women, and would suggest that women who wanted to perform such tasks must prove that they could do so at the level of their male counterparts, the Times reported.