Cristina Fuentes Montenegro (Photo/Sgt. Tyler L. Main and CWO2 Paul S. Mancuso/Marine)

First Latina in history graduates from Marine Corps infantry training course

Thursday morning, three female Marines — Pfc. Cristina Fuentes Montenegro, Pfc. Julia Carroll and Pfc. Katie Gorz — became the first women to graduate from the Marine Corps’ enlisted infantry training course at Camp Geiger, N.C. The graduating class of the Delta Company, Infantry Training Battalion, was a total of 225 – 221 being male.

ITB, as Marines call it, is a mandatory 59-day test of physical and mental strength for those hoping to obtain an infantry military occupational specialty. The opportunity was opened to women this fall as part of the Marine Corps’ research to identify which additional ground combat jobs may lift their gender restrictions.

“Our instructor, he told us all it takes is everything you got, and it’s true,” Christina Fuentes Montenegro, 25, told the Marine Corps Times. “Once you are committed to a goal, you can make it if you put everything into it.”

Fuentes Montenegro, of Guatemalan descent, also said the challenging ITB experience had brought her closer to the Marine Corps and members of the battalion.

The ITB started with 15 female Marines on September 24, alongside male counterparts. The most difficult part of the course was a 12.5 mile hike, lasting no more than five hours, while weighed down with a 90-pound of combat gear.  After that, only seven women remained. The trail begins on base, continues through pavement and ultimately ends on a gravel path surrounded by tree cover.

After the October 28 challenge, four women remained. The fourth ended up with an injury and did not graduate. In all, 26 men failed to finish.

Throughout the  ITB, the identity of the female volunteers was hidden in order to respect their privacy.  But a photo one of the women participants posted on Instagram revealed the remaining women of Delta Company smiling and looking proud.

“And then there was four,” read the caption.

According to the Marine Corps Times, Fuentes Montenegro will continue to train to be an aviation mechanic.

Currently, Marine Corps infantry specialties remain closed to women; the three female ITB graduates will receive credit for the course, but report to non-infantry schools for further training. However, the Marines continues to consider the possibility of opening infantry roles as part of the Pentagon’s Women in Service Restriction Review.

“All of this is being done as part of this deliberate, measured and responsible approach we’re trying to take so we can set the males and the females up for success,” Capt. Maureen Krebs, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, told NBC News. “Obviously, we don’t want to just throw a Marine into a unit and not have them prepared.”

Carroll, Fuentes Montenegro, and Gorz may not be the only female graduates of ITB for long. Two more companies, Echo and Alpha, began training with the battalion in October. The Marines plans to send 300 women through ITB by next fall, though officials have said they don’t plan to open any infantry fields before 2015. And there is no promise that all jobs will be open to women.

“I have two messages for you,” Lt. Col. Dave Wallis, the battalion’s commanding officer, told the graduating class on Thursday morning. “The first is this: You are prepared. No matter where you go, the training you received will fare you well. The second message: You have to fight for that job. You have to earn it. Never stop challenging yourself, never stop moving forward.”

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