Celebrating 100 Years of Women in the USMC
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By Wes O’Donnell, Managing Editor InMilitary. Veteran U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force
100 years ago, the first female Marine swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Her name was Opha May Johnson. With her enlistment in the USMC on August 13, 1918, she would pave the way for thousands of proud women who would follow in her footsteps to serve the most elite branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.
According to Marine Corps lore, however, she may not have been the first. Some say that the first woman to wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor was a woman named Lucy Brewer, who disguised herself as a man during the War of 1812 and served aboard the USS Constitution.
Historians claim that there is no record of Brewer and it is unlikely that she could have maintained her disguise for three years aboard a ship that had little to no privacy.
After Opha May Johnson’s enlistment, 305 women would enlist over the course of World War I to “free a man to fight.”
Later, in World War II, over 20,000 women Marines would serve in over 225 different specialties.
At the start of the Cold War, the nation began to change its policy of women servicemembers. In 1948, the Navy pressed Congress into fully integrating women into service to eliminate the cycle of mobilizing women during times of crisis and cutting back between the war years. The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 gave women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Marines.
Both the Korean War and Vietnam saw approximately 2,700 women serve in each war and in 1967, Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky became the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam. The Korean War would become known as “The Woman Marine’s Third War” by Marine Corps historians.
In 1990, approximately 1,000 women were deployed in the First Gulf War in what would be the first war of our modern era. 1993 saw a significant milestone when 2nd Lt. Sarah Deal would become the first female Marine selected for naval aviation training.
Today, only 8% of the USMC is made up of women, a statistic that the Department of Defense is trying to change with a new recruiting effort showing more women in its commercials and having recruiters target high school athletics teams.
Despite this, these women are the tip of the spear in one of the most demanding branches in the U.S. military. Just this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that Marine Corps Col. Lorna Mahlock has been nominated to serve as the first black female brigadier general.
A Former Marine Goes on the Record
I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with recently separated Marine Corps Sergeant Patty Dawson.
Thank you for your time. This is an incredible milestone for women in the Marine Corps. What prompted you to want to join the Marine Corps?
I come from a long line of servicemembers. When I was seven, I told my parents I wanted to join the Marine Corps and they thought it was “cute.” When I was 17 and still talking about it, they didn’t think it was cute anymore, but they still supported my decision.
Do you feel that the standards that the women are held to in the Marines are different than the men’s?
I think the Marine Corps demands the same attributes from all individuals regardless of gender. Things like toughness, self-discipline and service before self are universal. As for actual standards, I think there are inconsistencies in boot camp between the two genders. For instance, women are given more time to complete a specific task than the men, and there are physical fitness standards that are lighter for women as well. This could have the adverse effect of setting women up for failure when competing against a man for the same job.
What’s your biggest gender-specific surprise upon leaving the Marine Corps and entering the civilian world?
Honestly, it’s the gender pay gap; that is, women get paid less for doing the same job as a man. As you know, a male E-5 in the military with 4 years time-in-service gets paid the exact same amount as a female E-5 with 4 years time-in-service.
What is the most positive aspect of women in the Marines?
Diversity is a force multiplier. A diverse military workforce brings people together with different backgrounds and experiences. Those differences allow us to adapt more easily in times of crisis. Make no mistake, the Marine Corps is powerful because of our diversity.
WMA to Host Convention Celebrating Women Who Serve
In August, the Women Marines Association (WMA) is hosting the 30th Biennial Convention and Professional Development Symposium in Washington, D.C. Taking place August 30 through September 3, 2018, the convention is an excellent venue to celebrate women who have answered their country’s call to serve!
An incredible amount of progress has been made over the past 100 years. However, statistics show that even though the USMC has the lowest percentage of women serving, it has the highest percentage of active female servicemembers reporting sexual assault among the four primary service branches. Clearly more work needs to be done, however, so this veteran can sleep more soundly at night knowing that our women warriors are defending the nation in the USMC and beyond.