An Affair With Image Development

By Marine Cpl Sabrina (Williams) Messenger

Marine Cpl Sabrina (Williams) Messenger during boot camp
Marine Cpl Sabrina (Williams) Messenger during boot camp

On the surface, I didn’t appear to be different from my peers. However, while most of them were content to simply meet Mr. Right, fall in love, and become wives and mothers, I knew I wanted something different. Something really special!

Well the day came when I, too, fell in love…with the idea of becoming a Marine! Thankfully, my mother was supportive of this ‘relationship’ and signed for me so that I could join the Delayed Entry Program when I was 17. That was in 1978, at the start of my senior year.

On July 2, 1979, I arrived at MCRD, Parris Island, South Carolina for recruit training. This was back in the ‘old days’ when it was constantly emphasized that we were training to be WOMEN Marines. Note the emphasis on WOMEN.

Yes, we went through a sort of a ‘charm’ course called Image Development.  It involved an evaluation that was set up like a tea.  We recruits, looking our absolute best in dress green “A” complete with gloves (in August), and bright red lipsticked smiles that harmonized with the cap cord of our covers, were expected to mingle with “dignitaries.” All the while we were being evaluated by our DIs and commanders on our poise and confidence!

Just in case you doubted, boot camp for us then wasn’t all “gloves, lipsticks, and teas.” Indeed, we also learned essential military skills such as Nuclear Biological and Chemical defense (including a trip to the gas chamber), defense on guard duty, first aid, and how to perform a fireman’s carry. We recruits got to look at an M-16A1 rifle, but it would be two years before we finally got to qualify on the rifle range.My MOS was 4421. As a legal services clerk, I was attached to the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton. I got a chance to put my Image Development garnered “poise and confidence” to work each day because I mixed with a wide range of people from top ranking generals to hardened ‘brig’ rats…and I had to remain fair and impartial to each, no matter what their deeds or misdeeds!

Marine Cpl Sabrina (Williams) Messenger (left), expresses her surprise and bewilderment as she exits the gas chamber during Marine Corps boot camp in 1979.
Marine Cpl Sabrina (Williams) Messenger (left), expresses her surprise and bewilderment as she exits the gas chamber during Marine Corps boot camp in 1979.

One of the highlights of my enlistment was being able to participate in a history pageant at a Birthday Ball for Officers. Although I was a Lance Corporal at the time, I was super excited when I got to be a WWII era woman Marine officer for a night! Another highlight for me was being able to participate in mock embassy rescue exercises on San Clemente Island…as a Corporal! Yes, my polished demeanor sure came in handy then, too.

After I finished active duty and completed my obligated service, I reenlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1985. As a reservist, I was privileged to participate in a joint training exercise with the British Royal Marines who were visiting Camp LeJeune. During that time, I operated a field radio and, you got it, my Image Development training came into play because it’s necessary to have manners and to work as a team member whether in an office or in the field.

Today, it thrills me that female Marines are busy training hard to be more and more equal to their male counterparts. However, they no longer receive Image Development classes. Bummer for them!

Some “poo-poo” the whole idea nowadays, but personally, I enjoyed those Image Development classes! What I learned has served me well, both in the Marine Corps and in every civilian position I’ve pursued to this very day.  I was ready for any relationship life threw at me!

I consider my time in the Corps my best “affair” ever!