By ‘Popular Demand’…an interview with Virginia Bueno.
By Sabrina M Messenger
During the summer of 2013, the question was put forth to members of the Women Marines association, “If you could ask one of our women Marines about her life, who would you ask and what would you want to know?”
The name that came forth again and again was Virginia Bueno!
Originally from Fontana, California, Virginia enlisted in the Corps at the tail end of the Vietnam War. She started off as an enlisted woman, and by determination and hard work, she made her way up the ranks. Some of you readers may remember her as your drill instructor!
Virginia went on to become an officer in the Marine Corps as well as the Navy. She had several responsible positions in governmental public affairs. She is currently Director of Public Affairs at Naval Facilities Engineering Command. A graduate of the American University, she resides in Manassas, Virginia. She has been gracious enough to consent to be interviewed for the WMA Blog. We hope you’ll find it illuminating and entertaining. This is the 2d in a series of articles of Latina women Marines written in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month which runs from September 15 to October 15.
When did you join the Corps? What sort of reactions did you get when you told family friends you were enlisting?
I joined the Corps in November 1974. I was 17 and in my senior year in high school. I was in a hurry to get my life on a good track after graduation. My family could not afford to send me to college and I didn’t have good grades anyway.
My mother had to reluctantly sign my papers as I was underage. She, being old school, could not imagine her daughter in the military.
My friends, of course, thought joining the Marines was exciting. The unpopular war in Vietnam, however, was winding down, so some thought it was not the thing to do.
What inspired you to enlist?
I loved the thought of being the military, especially the Marine Corps. Only 2,000 women were in the Corps at the time, so I thought, wow, I’m joining the few of the few of the proud. My recruiters also promised me that I would be a journalist, which I wanted. Didn’t happen. I received orders to Postal Clerk School.
What was your first impression/memory of recruit training?
Hated it! Hated my DI’s. I thought about going AWOL. I did everything wrong. Couldn’t drill. Was on weight control from start to finish. My DI’s measured me at 4 feet 11 inches when I was 5 feet one inch. I went to boot camp weighing 123 pounds but they told me in order to graduate I had to weigh 110 pounds. I lost the weight but was hungry all the time. Couldn’t wait to get out of there.
What’s your first memory of your first duty station?
My first duty station was Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California. Not far from my home in Fontana, California. My mother drove me there. I loved it! What a huge base. The Vietnamese refugees were resettled there so I got to drive to their camps every day to deliver mail. Former President Richard Nixon was also the guest of honor at the Marine Corps’ 200th Birthday celebration at mainside in 1975 so I was able to see him as well. How neat!
What has surprised you most about the Corps?
Well, for one thing, it was pretty tough to be a woman in the Corps at the time. That was challenging. We had to constantly prove our worth. On the positive side, I learned quickly that if you did a good job, they rewarded you well. I loved the high standards, the attention you had to pay to detail and most of all, the camaraderie.
What do you find most challenging about the Corps?
Again, it was difficult to be a woman in the Marines with not many job opportunities or variety of assignments. What I wouldn’t do to be a woman in the Corps today. The doors are so wide open now.
What’s the best/worst thing to happen during your time in?
There isn’t any “worst” things that happened during my service. There were bumps such as working for less than great leaders like in any organization, military or civilian.
The best things are too numerous to list here. If I could list a couple: One would be being a Marine Corps drill instructor at a very young age. I was 19 went I got orders for my first tour. I grew up on the drill field and it molded me very early in my career to be leader and take great responsibility for those under my charge. The second best thing was being appointed a Warrant Officer. I applied seven times and finally was selected after 16 years in the Corps. I cried the day I learned the news. It was a great honor to wear the uniform of a Marine Corps officer.
If you could change one thing about the Corps, what would it be?
Great question. If I had a magic wand, it would be for the Corps to integrate basic training for both men and women. In my opinion, breaking the walls between women Marines and males Marines begins at ground level. As long as they are separated in basic training, there is the perception that men and women are different.
What do you wish other people knew about being a Marine?
We’re Marines till our final days on earth. Give us a mission and we’ll get it done no matter what. That ethos doesn’t end when we take off the uniform. It stays with us the rest of our lives. We can’t help it.
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
I got a hole in one at an Alexandria golf course many years ago. I also do a great Katherine Hepburn imitation of her piece in “On Golden Pond.” ‘You ole fuddy duddy. Don’t die!’
The Marines recently launched a recruit campaign in the Hispanic community emphasis “Hispanic Values are Marine Values” would you agree or disagree?
Totally agree. I viewed the Corps’ Hispanic Heritage video. Yes,
I grew up being totally schooled at an early age on the value of hard work, being respectful to seniors, doing your best, and that nothing is given to you—only earned.
What you advise a high schooler today regarding military service?
Join. Join any military service. They are all great and will change your life. I owe my whole life to the Marine Corps. It gave me pride in what I could accomplish with hard work, an advanced education, a meaningful public affairs career, the confidence to climb to higher aspirations. Most of all, it gave my life purpose and meaning.
What do you think is the best advantage of being a member of WMA?
Being a life member of WMA has enabled me to keep abreast of the fantastic women who are the future of the Corps, those who are serving in tremendous ways now, and those courageous women who paved the way for women today. It’s only through WMA can one connect with these remarkable women.