By Sgt. Maj. Tamara L. Fode
III Marine Expeditionary Force
This April will mark the 24th year of my service to our great nation as a United States Marine, and every day I still consider it a privilege to don a uniform that unites each and every one of us in a very special way.
Since 1775, Marines have proven themselves to be an elite fighting force, and for 236 years those who have gone before us have fought in every clime and place as noted in the lyric of the Marines’ Hymn.
As we enter the month of March, Women’s History Month, I cannot help but to take the time to reflect on the women of our Corps, both past and present.
Only .06 percent of the United States population serve as Marines. Of that, only 6.2 percent are female Marines. Pvt. Opha Mae Johnson was the first woman to enlist Aug. 13, 1918, in the reserves followed by 305 other women during World War I. For the duration of the war, women filled administrative billets so male Marines could fight the war in France.
After World War I was over, female Marines were separated from the Corps and it wasn’t until World War II that women were able to enlist once again to “Free a Man to Fight.” In 1943, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was established and June 12, 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act making women a permanent part of the Marine Corps.
During World War II, female Marines were able to perform a wider range of duties than during World War I. At war’s end, Brig. Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, the 18th commandant of the Marine Corps, stated that these women could “feel responsible for putting the 6th Marine Division in the field; for without the women filling jobs throughout the Marine Corps, there would not have been sufficient men available to form that division.”
In 1950, the Women’s Reserve was activated during the Korean War and billets for women continued to expand and have continued to do so to the present day. Approximately 2,700 female Marines served during the Vietnam War, and by 1975, the Corps approved female Marines to serve in most military occupational specialties except as infantrymen, artillerymen, pilots, air crew and armorers.
Over 1,000 female Marines were deployed to Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm from 1990-1991. Female Marines now serve in 93 percent of all occupational fields and 62 percent of all billets alongside their male counterparts.
Just as the great men of our Corps have carved their way through history leaving their indelible mark, in the past 94 years female Marines have done the same.
Female Marines began attending Marine combat training in 1997, allowing them the same combat training opportunities as men.
In 1943, Capt. Anne Lentz became the first woman to serve as a commissioned officer. In 1961, the first female Marine was promoted to sergeant major.
Margaret Brewer was the first female Marine general officer in 1978. In 1994, Brig. Gen. Carol A. Mutter was the first woman to command a Fleet Marine Force unit, 3rd Force Service Support Group, and was subsequently promoted to the rank of lieutenant general in 1996. In 1995, the first female Marine pilot received her Naval flight wings.
Female Marines continue to break new ground in every clime and place as they have served side-by-side with their male counterparts in Iraq for the past 10 years and as they will continue to do so in Afghanistan.
During the month of March, we will celebrate the women of our great nation, but we must never forget the uniform we wear washes away all differences as we serve together as United States Marines answering the call of our nation as America’s 911 force. Semper Fidelis!