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Female Marines check their rifles after a patrol with Afghan soldiers in Helmand Province, Afghanistan while on deployment in June 2012. Women today are allowed to deploy to third-world countries and hostile environments thanks to continued changes in how women in the military are treated.

Photo by Courtesy Asset

Women’s History Month aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar

26 Mar 2014 | Lance Cpl. Christopher Johns

When women were first called to arms, their duties weren’t what they are today, but as March and Women’s History Month begin, we are reminded of the doors and opportunities their struggle opened for future generations in the Marine Corps.
Congress expanded what was originally only a week-long recognition of women into the entire month of March in 1987. Since that time, the purpose of the month is to increase consciousness and knowledge of women’s history, as well as to remember notable and ordinary women’s contributions to society.
The Marine Corps strives to educate its Marines about the women who contributed to the Corps and society through their sacrifices and duties.

“The military does its part recognizing women during Women’s History Month by holding formations for us and hosting morning colors ceremonies,” said Sgt. Courtney Hotovec, training noncommissioned officer with Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron and an Owatonna, Minn., native. “I feel there aren’t as many obstacles for us as women in the Marine Corps as there were years ago.”

A majority of the United States Armed Forces opened its ranks for women to officially enlist as nurses and support staff from 1917 to 1918.

On Aug. 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. She was the first female Marine and opened the door for more female Marines to join the Corps’ male-dominated ranks.

Johnson’s name became one known by each and every recruit graduating from present-day Marine Corps recruit depots because of the significant change she helped carry out. Johnson’s enlistment opened the gates for other women to join her in the Marine Corps’ ranks.

She wanted to serve her country and volunteered to do so – just like today’s Marines.

“As we look back into [our history] during Women’s History Month, we can see that there were many different men and women who served that make us who we are as a Corps today,” said Col. John Farnam, commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif. “Our strength as a Marine Corps is based on our unity and our common goals and ideals. It is our desire to serve our nation and work hard to be who we are as Marines that defines us, and that is not a gender specific thing.”

The Marine Corps continues to move forward with these intangible values, just as it did nearly a century ago.

In the mid-1940s, women were treated differently from how they are today, especially concerning what they could do, and where they could be assigned. They typically worked in support roles such as shop keepers, administrators or nurses. They were kept out of harm’s way and shielded from the hardships of war and combat.

In the late 1980s their roles once again changed as times continued to progress and the Marine Corps became more receptive to the idea of female Marines doing more – but some restrictions stayed the same.

When he was first reporting to Marine Security Guard training in 1988, Sgt. Maj. Richard Charron, MCAS Miramar sergeant major and a then lance corporal, had seen the separation of duties begin to very slowly start to change. This change began with a pilot program to introduce women into the MSG program.

“At first these female [Marine Security Guards] only served in certain countries in posts that the hardship really wasn’t there as it was in others,” said Charron.

Those hardships could be anything from combat or hostility in the area to the food supply and whether the area had running water. Areas with these issues were saved for male Marines, which left only a few places female security guards could be assigned. That isn’t the case today; however, as the Marine Corps continues to level the playing field for all of its Marines.

“Today female Marines serve at every one of those posts,” said Charron. “As we’ve seen in Brunei, Darussalam and at other places around the world, it doesn’t matter if a female Marine is there at a post or not, terrorists don’t care about that. We’ve had female Marines standing on the front lines in third-world countries over the last 15 to 20 years now, long before sending them to [the School of Infantry].”

With the Marine Corps’ female populace now receiving even more opportunities to join their brothers on the field of battle, continued changes within its ranks keep coming.

They have come far already, and it seems only time will tell when exactly the Corps will be completely integrated, but as Charron likes to say, “male or female, if you let a Marine be a Marine, they will surprise you.”