Historically Marines have been given nine months from the time they gave birth to get within Marine Corps standards and start passing the physical fitness test and combat fitness test.
“No earlier than 12 months after the birth event, the Marine is required to take the PFT/CFT at the next regularly scheduled physical fitness evaluation in that semi-annual period,” the MARADMIN making the change reads.
Exceptions can be made for medical reasons, but that was not always the case.
In October 2020 Marine Gunnery Sgt. Julianna Pinder told Marine Corps Times, at that time published anonymously, that when she gave birth in 2016 the Corps denied her any extension to get back in shape, forcing her to decide between her career and her newborn daughter.
After giving birth, Pinder said she went on a strict diet combined with a rigorous workout routine that would see her quickly get back to the Marine Corps standard. But it also prevented her from giving her baby all the calories she needed through breastfeeding.
Weighing in at the 40th percentile by her four-month checkup, her baby, Lillianna, had dropped down to the third percentile and was diagnosed with failure to thrive, Pinder said.
Pinder chose to end her diet and cut back on her workouts to ensure that her baby would start to put on more weight.
In its new policy, the Marine Corps listed breast milk production as one of the many factors leading to the change.
“Affording a postpartum Marine more time before mandating fitness testing and body composition compliance will allow a fuller recovery, lower injury risk, prevent potential long-term persistent factors, and eliminate potential impact to breast milk production due to rapid weight loss,” Capt. Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for the Marine Corps’ Training and Education Command, said in a Monday email.
“While there is no strict medical requirement to extend, a 12-month exemption period alleviates the added stress and potential for premature over-exertion and injury risk for postpartum Marines,” he added.
When Pinder reached the end of her then nine-month moratorium she was 40 pounds above the Marine Corps’ weight standards and was then put on the body composition program because of her decision to put her baby before her career.
In addition to being placed on the body composition program, the Marine also was given a negative fitness report that would ultimately bar her from re-enlisting.
Any Marine who gave birth within the past year and was put on the body composition program as a result will now be removed from the program and re-evaluated, the MARADMIN said.
The MARADMIN also offers those Marines who received an adverse fitness report a way to correct the record.
“Any Marine who completed their postpartum recovery period within the last three months leading up to the publication of this MARADMIN and received an adverse fitness report due to being assigned to the BCP may seek relief by petitioning the Performance Evaluation Review Board,” the MARADMIN reads.
Accompanying the announcement was a message announcing the release of a pregnancy training and postpartum physical training guide.
“This document will further assist pregnant and postpartum Marines to develop a PT program during pregnancy and postpartum periods,” the MARADMIN said.
“Based on recent medical studies, the Marine Corps and the Department of the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery recognize that PT activity during pregnancy and postpartum periods has proven benefits with minimal risk for most women; however, because each pregnancy is a very personal experience, pregnant and postpartum Marines must always first consult with a health care provider before conducting physical activity,” the message added.
The training handbook, along with a previously released guidebook about the best way to “empower a pregnant or postpartum Marine to design her own PT regimen during this natural life event,” can be found at the Marine Corps’ fitness website.
The Marine Corps has been working on the change since September 2019, Stephenson said in a Tuesday email.
On Tuesday Pinder said the change is “great,” but noted the irony that she is being forced out of the Corps due to her pregnancy, just as the Corps is trying to become more friendly for moms.
“Everybody’s got to look at it, give their two cents... it goes back and forth from one office to another and it just takes a while for anything to happen,” she said.
The combat engineer once had dreams of becoming the first female master gunnery sergeant in her career field. She now hopes for early retirement with a Plan B of transferring to the Army to fulfill her 20 years of service.
“I have no problem going past 20 years, but my overall goal, yes, is to get my retirement, because I’ve spent 16 years of my life doing this,” Pinder told Marine Corps Times in early February.
“If I join the Army and it turns out to be better than the Marine Corps, then maybe I’ll stay longer,” she said.
Her ultimate goal is to become an instructor for a high school junior ROTC program where she will be able to mentor future generations.
“I was an Air Force ROTC when I was in high school and it really helped me get good direction in my life,” Pinder said.
Her desire to help future generations led her to talk to Marine Corps Times in October 2020 anonymously and then to go public with her name in January with Military.com.
By telling her story Pinder said she wanted to let other women in the Marine Corps “know they are not the only ones going through the crap that they have to go through,” she said.
“Women need to fight for themselves, no one is going to care for their career more than they do and if they don’t fight for themselves the male dominated part of the Marine Corps is going to run over them.”