By Petty Officer 2nd Class Rachael A Treon
Women in the Marine Corps: it is a story of grit, determination and sheer nerve. From the administrative desks of World War I to the front lines in the Middle East, the path for female Marines has not been an easy one.
But for a branch of military service known for its perseverance against all odds, it comes as no surprise that female Marines have continued on that path to excellence, regardless of the challenges that have come their way.
The Origin of Women in the Marine Corps
The history of women in the Marine Corps dates back to 1918, with the enlistment of the first female Marine: Opha May Johnson. Her service was just the first chapter. Over 100 years later, the story has continued to build as women continue to break barriers and accomplish tasks once deemed impossible.
The Marine Corps’ celebration of Women’s History Month honors the personal sacrifices and accomplishments of female Marines in the past who fought against limitations as well as today’s female Marines who are writing a new chapter in history.
“I see women’s history as another opportunity to celebrate our heritage,” said Brig. Gen. Roberta L. Shea, commanding general, 1st Marine Logistics Group. “As Marines, we have a responsibility to appreciate our history and uphold the legacy that those before us gifted to us.”
In 1985, 67 years after Opha May Johnson first took the oath of enlistment, Brig. Gen. Shea enlisted in the Marine Corps and was one of the first women in her squadron. In 1985, the opportunities for women were still very limited.
As a ground support equipment mechanic, Shea filled a non-traditional billet for women and served at a time when female presence in the Marine Corps overall was scarce. After two and a half years enlisted, Shea applied for the U.S. Naval Academy and later began her career as a commissioned officer.
“There weren’t a lot of female role models I could point to and say, ‘that’s a possible future for me,’” said Shea. “I think I’ve been so fortunate to have leaders who saw a future for me that I couldn’t even imagine. Because of that, I feel that’s part of my job as a leader to help my Marines see their possible futures and not be challenged by their self-perceived limitations.”
In 1994, it was declared that service members were eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they were qualified, except that women were to be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level, whose primary mission was to engage in direct combat on the ground.
But in 2016, all jobs, including those in combat specialties, were opened to women.
Not surprisingly, the Marine Corps is still seeing female “firsts” and adjusting to an increased presence of women, who are embracing the mental and physical challenges of their new roles, improving team dynamics and fighting bravely alongside their male counterparts.
Female Marines on the Front Lines Today
Sgt. Katya Rubisoff, Marine Corps Recruiting Station Command, Reseda, Calif., used the small amount of women in the Marine Corps as her motivation.
“I take pride in the fact that such a small percentage of women are in the Marine Corps,” said Rubisoff. “I know it’s not easy and I know not everyone is cut out for it, but that makes it even better when you’re not only meeting standards, but exceeding them.”
Rubisoff joined the Marine Corps immediately following high school despite her teachers, principals and peers telling her she wouldn’t make it. Coming from a rough family background, Rubisoff immediately found a new family and support system within the Marine Corps.
Despite family responsibilities and military service previously being viewed as incompatible, Rubisoff said the Marine Corps was the best support system she could’ve imagined while having her son. She decided to give back to the Marine Corps and volunteered for recruiting duty.
“The Marine Corps absolutely changed my life,” said Rubisoff. “If I can change someone’s life like my recruiter changed mine, then I think that’s the greatest thing in the world.”
As women continue to add their histories to the Marine Corps story, leaders like Shea and Rubisoff who epitomize the core values of the Marine Corps are essential to motivating and inspiring Marines going forward.
The integration of women in the Marine Corps has been a long process, but it takes the drive of the individual Marine to make a difference and continue to write new chapters.
“My hope for Women’s History Month is to celebrate those who have embodied what it means to be a Marine,” said Shea. “I hope female Marines are motivated and inspired because they’re able to see someone they can more closely relate to or see themselves becoming. When we celebrate, it reminds people why we’re here.”
- This story originally appeared on DVIDShub.net. It has been edited for USO.org.
More from the USO
Apr 3, 2020
5 Ways Your Donor Dollars Are at Work Supporting the Military During the COVID-19 Pandemic
While the United States adjusts to quarantines and drastic changes in daily life, American service members are leaving their families to serve on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. Find out how your donations to the USO are supporting military families during COVID-19.
Apr 2, 2020
A Military Spouse’s Guide to Staying Resilient During the COVID-19 Pandemic
It's been a few weeks since COVID-19 forced one military spouse and her family to hunker down at home. See how she is tapping into lessons she's learned as a 17-year military spouse to help guide her through this time of uncertainly.