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Women recruits
Women recruits arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego for the first time ever last Tuesday. Congress ordered the Marine Corps to have the depot gender integrated at the platoon level by 2028. Photo by Dustin Jones
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First women recruits arrive in San Diego for Marine Corps boot camp

REGION — Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego welcomed the first wave of women recruits in the base’s history on Feb. 9. The female cadets will train alongside the men as the Marine Corps continues to march towards basic training gender integration.

Until last week, all women recruits attended boot camp in South Carolina aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. But in December 2019, Congress ordered the Marine Corps to fully integrate both recruit depots — Parris Island by 2025 and San Diego by 2028 — at the platoon level.

The women that arrived in San Diego will make up one of six platoons in Lima Company, Marine Corps drill instructor Staff Sgt. Ayesha Zantt said.

She recently transferred from the east coast to help welcome the women recruits in San Diego, but she will not assume the drill instructor role with this wave of recruits. Zantt has been a Marine for eight years, and like every other woman before her, she went to boot camp at Parris Island.

“It’s challenging all around, they break you down, build you back up and it makes you a better person,” Zantt said. “It’s meant to shed them away from their civilian life, their civilian routine and to make them into basically trained Marines.”

Men and women work alongside one another throughout the Marine Corps. But until recently, the two rarely saw each other at boot camp. Basic training was segregated. Later, men and women would come together for Marine Combat Training, a month-long training school following boot camp. Gender integration at boot camp, Zantt said, will require men and women to work together as a team earlier in their careers.

“It’s paving the way because this is really important to the Marine Corps, to show the integration,” Zantt said. “We are all in the trenches together, it’s now starting ahead of time, as soon as they stood on the yellow footprints.”

Eighteen-year-old Lezly Zavaleta arrived in San Diego from Tyler, Texas. She was an honor roll student in high school, not much of an athlete. She enlisted because she was tired of hearing other people tell her she couldn’t hack it.

“I was always clumsy, fragile. I just wanted to prove them wrong and prove to myself I could do it, even though people didn’t believe in me,” she said. “When I learned I was going to San Diego, I thought it was finally a chance for females to prove that they can do it too, not just at Paris Island, but here on the west coast.”

Zavaleta was one of 60 women that arrived at the depot last week. They will spend the next 13 weeks living, training and working together alongside the men. If they have what it takes, they will be awarded the title of United States Marine.

“The women here with me are going to push themselves more than they’ve pushed themselves before, and that’s what I’m looking forward to, looking at the guys and saying “I can do that too,”,” Zavaleta said. “It’s a really big accomplishment… some people believe women can’t do it, and I’m here to prove them wrong. Women can do it.”