They (Women Marines) don’t have a nickname, and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere, at a Marine Post. They inherit the traditions of the Marines. They are Marines.
– LtGen Thomas Holcomb, USMC, Commandant of the Marine Corps, 1943
A Brief History
Ask any Marine, male or female, “Who was the first female Marine?” The Devil Dog will immediately snap, “Opha Mae Johnson, Ma’am.” Even though the roles of women in the Marine Corps have been restricted to non-combat Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), our history is rich with heroines standing up to fight for their Constitution and their freedom. Women’s history in the Marines officially* started on August 13, 1918, when 308 women enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserves. While Opha Mae Johnson was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, she was restricted from serving in war zones. In fact, it was another 49 years before that first. In 1967, Master Sergeant Barbara Jean Dulinsky had the honor of being the first female Marine in a combat zone.**
In the most recent conflicts that the US military is involved in, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, the battlefield has evolved and so must our military strategies, as well as our warriors. On today’s battlefields, there are no front lines and women are stepping up and into combat, regardless of their MOS, every day. As women’s role on the battlefield evolves, it will also force the laws and regulations restricting women from combat MOS’s and units to evolve.
Women on Submarines
Two years ago, the Navy’s website reported: “On February 19, 2010, the Secretary of Defense signed letters notifying Congress of the Navy’s intention to change the policy regarding the assignment of women to submarines,” said Bruner [Rear Admiral, Commander of Submarine Group 10], the lead for the Navy’s Women in Submarines Task Force. “The law required both houses of Congress to be in session for 30 days prior to the change in policy taking effect. Those 30 days have now passed and the Navy intends to proceed with the plan to integrate women into submarines.” Last May, eight female officers reported to Submarine Basic Officer Course Class 10040 (SBOC), a fifteen-month long school. After graduating they will be assigned to eight different crews of guided-missile and ballistic-missile submarines.
Female Marines to attend Infantry Officer Course
More recently, female Marines are in the news again! Female Marines are not allowed to serve with combat units, even in support roles. For example, as a supply officer I was restricted to only non ground-combat units like Marine Aircraft Group 16, where I served. General James F. Amos, the Marine Corps commandant, recently announced that women will be allowed to attend Infantry Officer Course (IOC), a grueling three month course that is required by all infantry officers in the Marine Corps. This course is after Officer Candidate School (OCS), where officers earn a commission as a second lieutenant, and The Basic School (TBS), a six month school where officers learn tactics to serve as a basic infantry platoon leader. After graduating IOC, the women will not serve as infantry officers, but continue training in other, non-combat, fields. Their success or failure will help determine women’s capabilities to serve in other combat MOS’s, as well as the infantry, in the future.
To Infinity and Beyond
Most civilians will miss why this news is so important to our history. Women have a long ways to go before they will be allowed to serve in the infantry, but as Stars and Stripes reports the Marine Corps “requested that Congress approve an exception to policy that would allow female company-grade officers and female staff non-commissioned officers who already hold certain military occupational specialties, such as communications, to be assigned to about 400 corresponding jobs with ground combat element units at the battalion level. The units include artillery, tanks, amphibious assault, low-altitude air defense, combat assault and combat engineers, but not infantry units.” That means women in supply, logistics, personnel and the many other combat support roles necessary for combat units to function, might soon have the opportunity to serve with combat units in a support capacity. It’s another first in women’s military history and it’s paving the way for the first females to be officially designated a combat MOS.
*Women have a rich history in the US military starting from the American Revolution on, but it has not always been in an “official” capacity. This article highlights women’s history in the Marine Corps. Please check out the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation online and at the Arlington Cemetery for an in-depth look at the role 2.5 million women have played in the US Armed Forces.
**Unlike the other services, the Marine Corps does not have a medical field and uses the Navy medics, nurses and doctors. In other services, nurses served in combat zones much sooner.
Photos compliments of Captain Elizabeth Jackson, USMC. Taken during a recent deployment to Afghanistan with 4th Civil Affairs Groups. And Captain Lisbeth Prifogle, USMC. Taken during a deployent to Iraq with Marine Aircraft Group 16.