Female Marines: Past And Present
By LCpl Sarah Cherry
March 8, 2013
MCAS BEAUFORT, SC -- Women are the fewer among ‘the Few and the Proud’, making up about 6 percent of the United States Marine Corps.
With recent changes to policy, women have the opportunity to fill a larger role in national defense than they did in 1918, when the first group of female Marines enlisted.
“Something I can do that female Marines might not have been able to do a generation ago is actually work on the jets,” said Sgt Victoria Slingerland, a Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251 avionics technician aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. “They’re trying to make more job opportunities open to us.”
Women could not have jobs in infantry, artillery, armory, air crew, or as pilots as recently as 1975.
In fact, the first female Marine aviator, Maj Sarah Deal Burrow, didn’t pin on her wings until 1995 after a year and a half of training on the TH-57 Sea Ranger Helicopter.
“Unlike the other services, the Marine Corps didn’t have many non-combat aircraft,” said Burrow. “The board that was selecting student pilots informed me that I had been selected on July 23, 1993. I became the first [Marine female] student naval aviator in August.”
Women have had many trium phant firsts over the course of our Marine Corps history ; the first enlistee and officer, the first female awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for heroism, the first female Master Gunnery Sergeant and Sergeant Major… the list goes on.
With those triumphs, however, came the burdens and risks of combat; the first female Marine to serve under hostile fire, the first female Marine to die in the war on terror, the first female Marine to die in Iraq.
The United States Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the ban on women in combat roles Jan. 24, 2013.
“They’re fighting and they’re dying together,” said Panetta. “The time has come for our policies to recognize that reality.”
Female Marines have been deploying and fighting alongside their male counterparts for years.
“I’ve done four combat deployments, and three of them were on an aircraft carrier,” said Slingerland, a native of Mansfield, Pa. “A generation ago, females were not allowed on air craft carriers.
“I recently worked for a female sergeant major, which was the first time in seven and a half year that I have worked under a senior female,” added Slingerland. “Female Marines are getting up there with the males.”
Female Marines have risen through the ranks, reflecting the growing position of women in the military. On the Air Station alone, female leadership is found in the highest enlisted positions of two of our squadrons, and the commanding officer of another of our squadrons.