Women Marines get second shot at grueling combat test

WASHINGTON -- Fifteen women have tried and failed the Marine Infantry Officer Course, 14 of them on the very first day -- a brutal combat endurance test that takes everyone to their limit. For 2nd Lt. Sage Santangelo, that day was in January.

2nd Lt. Sage Santangelo CBS News
"I made it over halfway, and I was looking forward to continuing," Santangelo says. But then she hit a wall.

"I got to a point where my body just physically couldn't perform anymore," she says. "It's a tough place to reach. My mind definitely wanted more, but, you know, physically, my body was done."

Twenty-five men and three other women also washed out that day, but Santangelo is not allowed to say exactly what did it.

"The course is purposely kept very secret to kind of create that uncertainty, to kind of mirror a combat environment," she says.

Marines attempt the grueling Infantry Officer Course. CBS News
That's why we only have a handful of pictures, and even in those, the women's faces are not shown to protect their privacy. They show a swim in combat gear, a land navigation exercise and an obstacle course, on which Marines lug their packs the whole way.

"If you look at a combat environment, you have to be able to carry your water, your ammo, your body armor, your chow, and that load can get pretty heavy very quickly," Santangelo says.

Unlike men, who can retake the course, women were not allowed a second chance.

"If I were to take that test again, I would have a much better chance, because I would have -- that uncertainty piece wouldn't be there," she says.

U.S. Army tests whether women can make the cut in combat
So she wrote an article, and the commandant of the Marine Corps took notice. Women will now get a second shot at the course.

"I'm very humbled that he would consider my opinions and my thoughts," Santangelo says. "I'm hopeful that it will help others, and I'm glad to see that he's doing that."

Santangelo is not going to try again. She's headed to Afghanistan instead. But from now on, women Marines will have a better chance of making it through the Infantry Officer Course -- if not on the first try, then on the second.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.