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2 female Marines unable to complete demanding officer course

WASHINGTON -- Two female officers entered the demanding Marine Infantry Officer Course this week — only the second time in the history of the course that women have been allowed to compete to become ground combat leaders — but neither passed the grueling obstacle course on Thursday, military officials said.

The women made it through the first few days of the course.

Of the 110 students who began the course this week, 96 are still enrolled — the women were joined by 12 of their Marine brothers who also failed to complete the obstacle course entirely or could not complete it in the time allotted.

The Marine Infantry Officer Course is 10 weeks of intense field training at Quantico, Va. Marines are tested to endure rigorous physical tests and written exams with little food or sleep, all of which push the men and women to their physical and mental limits. About 400 Marines take the course each year, and one in four drops out.

In January, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta directed the U.S. military chiefs to study whether more combat-related jobs could be open to women.

The military services must report back to Chuck Hagel, Panetta's successor, with their findings by May 15.

Months before Panetta’s directive, the Marine Corps asked for women to volunteer to try the course as part of the ongoing effort to open more military billets to women.

So far four women have volunteered, but none have successfully completed the course.

Two female lieutenants entered the course last September — the first women ever allowed to do so. While both women eventually dropped the course, one of them made it well into the second week before an injury forced her out.

The two women who volunteered for this latest round will not likely be the last.  A U.S. military official tells NBC News that five more female Marines are already waiting in the wings to enter the course this summer.