By Elizabeth Dilts
(Reuters) - After more than half of last year's female Marine recruits were unable to do at least three pull-ups, the Corps announced it will delay the new requirement for women to graduate boot camp.
The Marine Corps announced in November that, starting on January 1, 2014, all women would need to perform three pull-ups as part of their physical fitness test - something male recruits are already required to do as a minimum. To collect data on potential success, female recruits in 2013 were given the option to do pull-ups during the test.
However, about 55 percent of female recruits in training at Parris Island, South Carolina, were unable to meet the challenge, said Col. Sean Gibson, a spokesman for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command.
The Marines have "no intent to introduce a standard that would negatively affect the current status of female Marines or their ability to continue serving in the Marine Corps," Gibson said in a statement.
Currently, women are required to do a flexed arm hang as a test of strength and endurance. But as the Corps begins to open a number of combat positions to women, officials are concerned that test will not prepare them adequately for military tasks, Gibson said.
The Marines are not alone. The Army has also struggled with the physical fitness issues of its recruits.
Major General Allen Batschelet, head of U.S. Army Recruiting, told officials gathered in San Antonio on Saturday for the Army All-American Bowl football game, a major recruiting event, that three quarters of young people in the United States would not make it into the Army because of factors such as obesity or drug use.
"The latest statistics we have are that 77.5 percent of people between the ages of 17 and 24 are disqualified from service for one reason or another," said Batschelet.
He listed reasons for disqualification as physical, cognitive and moral, which can often mean drug use, but said a large number were turned down for failing to meet the Army's physical fitness standards.
"Somewhere between 35 and 40 percent of young Americans are disqualified physically," he said. "The trends indicate that here in the next 15 years or so, that number could climb as high as 50 percent."
(Reporting By Elizabeth Dilts with additional reporting by Jim Forsyth in San Antonio; Editing by Edith Honan and Gunna Dickson)