In today’s corps, women play a vital role in the operating forces at home and abroad.
Female Marines execute their daily tasks just as their male counterparts do from recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., to deployments into combat zones overseas. These Marines partake in training and missions that were unheard of for the women Marines of the early 20th century.
AL ASAD, Iraq – Capt. Jessica M. Moore, an AH-1 Cobra pilot with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 167, was named one of the 2005 Military Women of Merit by the North County Times, a large San Diego area newspaper.
“Women had to fight to get to where we are today,” said Lance Cpl. Yvette Jackson, an administration clerk with Headquarters Battalion, Headquarters Marine Corps, at Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va.
The Raleigh, N.C., native said she cannot imagine a Corps where women did not qualify with a service rifle or receive any combat training, although that was the reality for female Marines just 30 years ago.
“I’m just reaping the benefits,” added Jackson, a Marine since 2005.
OKINAWA, Japan – Lance Cpl. Sarah E. Wentzel, an ammunition technician with Ammunition Company, 3rd Supply Battalion, 3rd Marine Logistics Group, is alert and ready for action as she provides security in a doorway during a dry-run, firing no rounds, practice of a mock urban patrol Jan. 23.
Today, women make up 6.2 percent of the Marine Corps’ total force on active duty, and they are active in 93 percent of military occupational specialties.
Those numbers have come a long way since Opha Mae Johnson was the first of 305 women Marines accepted for duty in the Marine Corps Reserves in 1918. However, all were restricted to certain jobs that kept them from deploying overseas and pushed more male Marines out to battles.
Gradually, however, women Marines portrayed their importance to the Corps total force over the years.
It wasn’t until the 1970s when the Marine Corps began opening career-type formal training programs to female officers and advanced technical training to enlisted women. The Corps approved the assignment of women to all occupational specialties except small arms technicians, pilots, air crew and the infantry
and artillery fields.
“I came in during a time when they were just allowing women to try out what they deemed
to be male military occupational specialties,” said Mary Ann Hajduk Merritt, who served in the Corps from 1974 to 1983 and was among the first female high voltage electricians. “I can remember reporting in to [school] and being told by a captain that they did not have women electricians in his Corps.”
Female recruit training in the early 1980s was approximately eight weeks long and consisted of limited field training. Sgt. Maj. Susan Bellis, sergeant major of the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., was a recruit during this time.
“We conducted familiarization firing of the M-16 A1 but didn’t qualify,” said Bellis, a Boston native. “We did the gas chamber and also swim qualification.”
In 1985, the female recruit training schedule was adjusted to include training and qualification
with the M-16 A2 service rifle and Basic Warrior Training was incorporated in 1988. Bellis, who returned to Parris Island in 1987 as a drill instructor, recalls these to be the most significant changes to the recruit training schedule since her time as a recruit at Parris Island.
FERRIS, Iraq – First Lt. Kathryne B. Schilling, a 27-year-old native of Bethesda, Md., and training officer for Combat Logistics Battalion 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, coaches an Iraqi woman as she prepares to shoot a pistol during her training to become a Sister of Ferris.
More changes to the roles of women in the Marine Corps came in the 1990s. 2nd Lt. Sarah Deal became the first female Marine selected for Naval aviation training in 1993 and received her wings on April 21, 1995. Restrictions on assignments for females were reduced to only units whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.
The female recruit training curriculum transitioned to what it is today in 1997. For the first time a female recruit training platoon went through the crucible, trained with pugil sticks and began
having their emblem ceremony in conjunction with male recruits.
“Everyone is trained to be a Marine – gender irrelevant. The integration of our combat training for all Marines is something that I am privileged to be a part of over the last 26 years,” said Bellis. “Every Marine contributes; that is why it is such an honor to be a Marine.”
Marines of generations past recognize the transformation that has taken place within the Corps.
Merritt said since 1974, women Marines have evolved to a generation of Marines who are more
integrated than ever before.
CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan – Being away from a loved one can be tough for children, especially without “Mom.” Sgt. Erin Rios greets her son, Mikey, after returning from a seven-month deployment with 3rd Transportation Support Battalion to Iraq in September 2006.
“We went from ‘free a man to fight’ to going to every clime to be part of the fight,” said Merritt, a native of Romeo, Mich. “Those who went prior are known as trailblazers. We did our jobs never thinking the profound effects it would have on future generations.
“When talking to our new generation of Marines I am in awe,” added Merritt. “The confidence that they have is extraordinary. We are very proud at the huge strides our women have taken over the past 30 years. We can only imagine where they will lead our future generations of Marines.”
Of the 87,156 Marines that have deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism, 6,283 have been women that have left behind their families and the comforts of home, just like their brethren. Their roles in theater range from pilots, assisting ground combat elements from the sky, to explosive ordnance disposal technicians.
As of February, 1,084 Marines have given the ultimate sacrifice in the Global War on Terrorism. Nine have been women.
Although it took a significant amount of time for the nicknames given to “Women Marines” to fade into the past and for women to be considered equal assets to the overall mission of the Corps, today they support and defend the Constitution of the United States shoulder to shoulder with their brothers. There is no bias – when America needs the Marines, the proud men and women of the Corps together answer the call.