Marine Lance Cpl. Paula Pineda stands in front of a light armored vehicle, or LAV, during an exercise at Twentynine Palms in the Mojave Desert.
The back of Marine Lance Cpl. Paula Pineda's helmet reads "Mad Max."
Marines wait with "Carl," a 220-pound dummy that acts as a stand-in for a wounded Marine during the exercise.
Marine Lance Cpls. Julia Carroll (left) and Paula Pineda lift "Carl" onto the LAV.
Lance Cpl. Julia Carroll holds a tow bar after pulling an LAV.
Lance Cpl. Brittany Holloway (left) talks with Brittany Dunklee next to their LAV.
Marine Lance Cpls. Julia Carroll (left) and Paula Pineda walk back to their LAV after a test to check their skills.
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It's a recent morning out in California's Mojave Desert, and Marine Lance Cpls. Paula Pineda and Julia Carroll are struggling to pick up and maneuver Carl. He's a 220-pound dummy, and a stand-in for a wounded Marine.
Carroll's knees buckle for a moment, but as a dusty wind picks up, the two women pull Carl off their light armored vehicle. They carry him to safety, careful not to let his head drag on the rocky ground.
Both women are out of breath.
Pineda is 5 foot 2. On the back of her helmet is a piece of masking tape with the words "Mad Max."
Last summer, the 22-year-old from Los Angeles was driving Marine trucks on Okinawa; now she wants to be a warrior — and to make history. It's something Pineda has always wanted to do.
"Your adrenaline's rushing, you're pumping, trying to save lives, make a difference," she says. "This is bigger than us. It's bigger than us. Right now we can't see the big picture, but in a couple years we'll see the difference on how females can work alongside with males in the, in an infantry unit."
Now the Marines and the Army are running the necessary tests to see what female troops can do. Dozens of female Marines are taking part in this experiment at the desert base at Twentynine Palms for the next month.
About a dozen or so — or about half — of the women in Alpha Company, the infantry unit at Twentynine Palms, already have dropped out, mostly because of injuries. But nearly all of the 20 or so women who started out with Bravo Company, a unit of tanks and armored vehicles, are still training.
Capt. Alexander Puraty is a combat veteran who commands Bravo Company. He has a total of about 100 Marines for this experiment.
"From Day One, we just treated everybody like Marines," Puraty says. "It's kind of been the viewpoint that I put out there that 'a Marine's a Marine.' "
So men and women must complete the same exercises, both here and as the company's training continues on the California beaches in May.
Some of the female Marines are struggling — taking longer to pull the dummy Carl to safety, set up a tow line for the armored vehicle or change a tire weighing about 170 pounds.
Puraty knows there are some who say women just don't belong in ground combat. He says he will reserve judgment until he sees the data and how the experiment turns out.
Pineda and Carroll, the two lance corporals, get ready to change one of the massive tires on the eight-wheeled armored vehicle. Cpl. Ryan Donk is part of the team.
The men use their arms to change a tire, but Pineda flops on her back in the dirt, using her stronger leg muscles to push the tire into place.