Female Marines: past and present

8 Mar 2013 | Lance Cpl. Sarah Cherry

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.