Memories of a Female Marine
Most people think of women joining the Marines as a recent development. So you might be surprised to learn that women have been moving into Marine Corps ranks since 1918, beginning with Opha Mae Johnson.
I’m proud of those brave women, and proud to be a part of that great honor. I was recently honorably discharged as a Sergeant in A Company, 6th Communications Battalion, and am currently a Design Specialist with Kimco’s Marketing and Leasing Services team.
Settling in for Eight Years
Sometime in early 2003, in what seems like a lifetime ago, a recruiter was invited to speak to our high school class. He just happened to be a Marine recruiter. He told us that the Marine Corps is the hardest and toughest branch of the Armed Services, not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. These trials only become harder for female Marines due to stereotypes both internal and external. However, as a staunch feminist, I saw this as a challenge to overcome and enjoy.
A couple of years removed from the attacks at the Twin Towers, I was honored to have the opportunity to serve and defend our nation and its freedom. However, I had to overcome one more challenge to actually join the Marines, which was to get my mother’s approval, as I was under the age of 18 at the time. To my surprise, she was and continued to be very supportive and proud of my decision.
“Em-Bedding” Mental Toughness
Boot camp is a completely different experience for each individual. Yet, one feeling holds true for every Marine: unforgettable. The moment I stepped on the “yellow footprints” of Parris Island, S.C., I realized there was no turning back. This is it. But those 13 weeks of hell and torture flew by. The camaraderie developed at boot camp is indescribable. From Training Day 1, strangers from across the country became brother and sister.
In my opinion, the largest battle during boot camp was the one fought inside your own head. For example, take 70-plus mattresses outside in the 100-degree Parris Island sun, covered and aligned. Check. Take two sheets and a blanket, and make a perfect rack (bed) with hospital corners. Check. Every recruit must complete this in less than 90 seconds. Check. Break it all down and take everything back inside. Check. Repeat this inside on the bunk beds, then outside, then inside … ad nauseam (literally). One begins to question her sanity.
But there is a method behind the madness that only comes to light later on in one’s military career. One’s brain is hard-wired to perform the most mundane tasks without question and to perfection each and every time. What is simply making a perfect rack in boot camp translates into cleaning your rifle during wartime, peacetime, or downtime. It translates into jumping behind cover just because your battle buddy says so, because they won’t have the time to say, “Get behind the wall because I see an IED.” It translates into the makings of a United States Marine equipped with mental toughness and discipline.
Experiencing the Greatest Anxiety (EGA)
The scariest, yet proudest moment of my entire military experience was at my boot camp Eagle, Globe, and Anchor emblem (EGA) ceremony. The EGA signifies the Marines’ readiness to fight in any clime and place, “o’er air, and land, and sea” (from our beloved Marine Corps hymn).
I was wearing my trained and perfected “Thousand Yard Stare” which had been ingrained into my psyche at this point, when my drill instructor, Staff Sgt. Jones (name changed to protect identity, which may or may not jeopardize our country’s national safety), approached me. “Kwon,” she said. “Yes, ma’am,” I whispered back. It was the first time we had spoken softly at boot camp. “Look at me.”
Meeting her eyes was very difficult, because for three months we were disciplined to never look our drill instructor in the eye. When I did, she placed the EGA into my left hand, while firmly shaking my right saying, “You deserve this.” Later on, even the possibility of losing my life in Iraq had less of an emotional impact than my EGA ceremony.
The Few(er), the Proud(er)
True to the stereotypes, I encountered many internal obstacles well after I graduated boot camp. During my time in Iraq, I served as the battalion’s Maintenance Chief, as well as the Platoon Sergeant of 36 male Marines. And at 24, I was younger in both natural and military years than many of those Marines placed under my charge. I had to prove my worth and form meaningful bonds with each of them whilst earning their respect as a leader and superior.
I prided myself in putting in more time and effort than my peers to understand the Marines I served with and to get to know them personally and professionally. Through this time, I had to prove a lot of people wrong, and I developed a strong bond and trust with these Marines. I was stationed in Iraq with these men in 2009 as part of the last group of Marines to clear out our base. It was an amazing experience and I am proud of all the successes and accomplishments I had both in Iraq and in the Marines as a whole.
Was it all worth it?
To answer, I leave you with a quote from our President Ronald Reagan.
“Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem.”
Thank a veteran today