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Meet some of the women taking on critical combat roles for the Marine Corps

Women Marines taking on coveted combat roles
Women Marines taking on coveted combat roles 04:32

Just over three years ago, then Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered all military branches to integrate their combat units. Now, several positions previously only available to men are open to women. CBS News' Vladimir Duthiers went to the Marine Corps base at Camp Pendleton in California to meet the women working those jobs.

It takes up to six Marines to load and fire an M777 Howitzer - one of the military's most effective weapons - and an increasing number of those Marines are women. Lance Corporals Julianna Yakovac and Amber Potter are among the 120 enlisted female Marines working jobs that were previously off limits to women under the Combat Exclusion Policy. 

"I'm a very physical person, I knew that I didn't want to have a desk job – I wanted to be out here training and getting down and dirty firing the big guns which is exactly what we do," Yakovac said.

Potter said she was looking for a challenge – and she found it. Her and Yakovac's artillery battery train day and night for battle.

First Lt. Virginia Brodie always dreamed of serving as a field artillery officer but the law was still in place as she prepared to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy.  

"It was so frustrating," Brodie said. "It was like no matter what we did, we could do all the hikes, do all the physical tests, like outperform men and women … It didn't matter. I knew there was nothing I could do except just wait."

"You're throwing your hat in the ring several times for artillery and all of a sudden that combat exclusion rule went away?" Duthiers asked.

"Yes, so I was very lucky – right place, right time," Brodie said.

It would take more than luck. Candidates first need to show they can meet the standards for the job in a timed drill. To win a coveted position as a cannoneer in the Marine Corps you've got to prove you can lift 105-pound rounds and carry them to a truck – at least five times.

"I think it was more challenging for me to pass that test than it was for a male to pass that test. But I put the work in and eventually I got there," Brodie said.

Brodie was one of two women at the Field Artillery Basic Officer Course and went on to graduate first in her class of 137. She is now the first female artillery executive officer.

"So I love being an executive officer," Brodie said. "At the end of the day they just want a leader who cares and someone who cares about their job and their wellbeing and I don't think you can limit that to gender."

But she knows changing those perceptions may take time. In September, former Defense Secretary James Mattis said the jury was still "out" on women serving in combat units but that the Department of Defense was trying to "give it every opportunity to succeed." Those critical of lifting the law say adding women to these units could hurt cohesion and prompt the Corps to lower physical standards. 

Lt. Col Kenneth Del Mazo says the Marines' new "gender neutral" qualifications directly address that concern by requiring all candidates to meet the basic requirements of that specialty.

"Since the removal of the combat exclusion rule has this been a success?"

"In the 1st Battalion, 11th Marines it has been. While their numbers are small, I think the point is now it's available so I have no doubt that you'll see you know Lt. Colonel Brodie sitting in this chair, you know, a few years from now," Del Mazo said.  

 As for the future of the Marine Corps, Brodie hopes for more female coworkers.

"I want them to view everyone as Marines. And for there to be a female in a unit for no one to think twice about it," Brodie said.
The Marines' gender-neutral standards were developed back in 2016 after a nine-month long experiment where men and women were measured side-by-side in combat simulations. As for Potter and Yakovac, the Marines tell us their battery could be deployed within the next year.

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