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Female Marines Make Adjustments To Advance In Combat Training

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's check in now with U.S. Marine Sergeant Kelly Brown. She's part of a Pentagon experiment to evaluate the use of women in forward combat roles. Renee Montagne first spoke with her last fall at Camp Lejeune at North Carolina. She was among two dozen women in an infantry company that was in the first stage of Marine combat training. This week, Renee called for an update.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And when I reached Sergeant Brown, she was coming off live-fire exercises, training in the hot California desert of Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center. Since we last spoke, about a third of the women she began with dropped out. So I ask her, what does it feel like to lose that many of the other female Marines?

KELLY BROWN: You have to keep in perspective that a lot of them did drop for medical issues, you know, not because they didn't want to be here and continue what we were doing. So with the females that are left, it's, hey, you know, how can we make this better? How can we maybe pack our packs differently? How can we adjust what we're doing in order to keep going and continue and to finish as well as the males, too? You know, it's just as hard on them. So, you know, we come together and say, hey, all right, well, it's - we're having hip problems. Let's see if we can adjust our pack a different way or maybe pack our pack a little bit differently so the weight's on your shoulders and not on your hips.

MONTAGNE: Most the women who have dropped out, I gather, had stress fractures and especially in the hips, where women tend to carry more weight. Are the issues with the gear as it's designed because obviously it's all been designed up to now for men. Do you think you're finding out better ways not just for you to pack the gear but maybe for the equipment that you get to be designed?

BROWN: I think the equipment that we have is great. You know, there are parts on the pack that are adjustable. And then for the females - hey, you know, we have to pick the weight up - put the weight up on our shoulders. Your body gets used to it. You get stronger. And you have to adjust it so that you do carry the weight up higher and you don't put all that stress on your hips.

MONTAGNE: Well, may I ask you then, are there different physical challenges that you're up against out there in the desert than you have been up against?

BROWN: Oh, yes. The different terrain does pose for an initial challenge - the change in altitude. But like I said before, your body does get used to it. But just learning how to hike through soft sand, learning how to run through the soft stand when you're on the range - just the heat, you know - the heat in general. We went from it being so cold in North Carolina out here where it gets pretty warm during the day so - you know, changing your hydration, your eating habits - all of that.

MONTAGNE: Do you have a feeling that getting this far has gotten you past any milestone? I mean, that is, that if you've gotten this far - pretty good to the end?

BROWN: Yes. I mean, at this point, it's, hey, you know, we have this many runs left. We have this many days left. You know, each time you do a run, it's more about, hey, how can we improve as a squad? How can we improve as a team from last time? So, you know, you always have something to work towards. And it breaks up that monotony.

MONTAGNE: What is next? What is next for you? How does this go? You're in the desert. Then what?

BROWN: And then we'll go from here to Bridgeport, Calif., to do some more training in the mountains.

MONTAGNE: So each one of these is a whole new challenge.

BROWN: Yes. Yes, it is.

MONTAGNE: Well, good luck to you. And we'll be talking to you again.

BROWN: OK. It was nice to talk to you.

MONTAGNE: That's Marine Sergeant Kelly Brown. She spoke to us from Twentynine Palms Marine Combat Center in California. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.