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Woman part of first female battalion in San Diego now a Marine

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    CHARLES CITY, Iowa (The Courier) — Sharon Miller could barely contain her excitement in the phone message.

“Our girl made it!” she said. “She made it through the Crucible. I like to call it the ‘Crucifixion.’”

“Our girl” is Mackenzy Bilharz. On Jan. 25, Bilharz, of Charles City, along with 59 other young women from all over the country, became the first all-female platoon of Marines to train at Marine Corps Recruit Depot-San Diego in California, alongside their male counterparts, in the 100-year history of the depot.

The 13 weeks that make up recruit training in the Marines is generally accepted as the toughest of the military branches. At the apex of those 13 weeks is The Crucible, where the recruits spend 48 hours with no sleep and just two military issue MREs (field meals), performing a variety of runs, obstacle courses and exercises designed to push the recruit to the limit of their mental and physical endurance. Near the end, recruits must take on “The Reaper,” a 700-foot hill they must climb during their run with a 55-pound sack of gear on their back.

Afterward, in a ceremony that often brings recruits to tears, they receive the heartfelt congratulations of their drill instructors, their new title of “Marine,” and their eagle, globe and anchor pin — the insignia of the corps.

Mackenzy’s 60-strong platoon, part of Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, had their numbers reduced by four because of injuries. One recruit was badly injured in a freak accident and another had COVID-19 and was not able to continue, according to a story by KPBS public radio, which is embedded with the female recruits.

But that hasn’t stopped their drive to excel.

“There is a big difference (between training male and female recruits). The female recruits … they’re quicker on their feet. They understand better. They move faster,” Drill Instructor Sgt. Ikea Kaufman told KPBS. Kaufman was one of the first female drill instructors to graduate from Drill Instructor Course at MCRD, San Diego, and was brought back to motivate Mackenzy and her platoon-mates.

“They just give so much more and maybe, maybe it’s because this group of young ladies knows that they have something to prove. So they’re going at 1000% at all times,” Kaufman said.

Two of Mackenzy’s family members will head to San Diego on May 7 to see her graduate. Afterward, she’ll undertake four additional weeks of combat training at Camp Pendleton and then be assigned to her first job as Marine.

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