Stepping Into Combat Roles: An Outsider’s View

Today’s post will be one of many down the road regarding the future of women in infantry roles.  My insider perspective of being a woman who served as a United States Marine is useful in this discussion, but not the only perspective.  I am more of an outsider on this topic, looking in with you all, and you must understand I do not speak as a subject matter expert.  I did not take on the challenges numerous women have since integration testing began. Nor did I participate in something as uniquely different  as female engagement teams the Marine Corps employed or the cultural support teams like the women featured in Ashley’s War during my time in.

For several months now you all know I’ve been caught up in my own civilian identity working a full-time job and attending graduate school part-time.  These responsibilities eat up much of my free time and sadly, my focus on the news has waned greatly since November.  My efforts to fully study the conversations about integration testing have been quite partial at best.  I am torn at times between wanting to be fully invested in the dialogue and struggling to also focus on other areas of military life and veteran challenges for my program.  I am interested though to see exactly how women’s roles progress in the military and will follow along as my current schedule permits.  There will be some positive (and like always, negative) results as the military adapts to its new expectations, but hopefully everything is skewed more towards the former.

For today though, I wanted to share my feelings on a recent article in the Marine Corps Times, the details being provided for your convenience in full below.

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I am not one of those women who would have stepped up to the challenge Corporal Remedios Cruz did, which is why I find the integration testing to be so interesting. Before I served, I wrote a paper on the possibility of women in combat roles, but never thought Direct Combat Exclusion would be repealed.  For my entire life, women have not been authorized to serve in direct infantry roles.  When I enlisted, infantry (and some other military occupational specialities) was off limits, but I was not bothered or resentful I couldn’t serve in the infantry.  For anyone who knows me well, even if I was a guy, I don’t think infantry would be my chosen profession.  Instead, I found an equally (and always) challenging role for my life in being a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) Defense Specialist.  Like Cpl Cruz, I didn’t know if I had what it took to serve in my desired role, but I went out, tried, and successfully passed the standards set for that particular military occupational specialty (MOS).

It was through this choice (and completing many objectives) that other doors opened up for me and I served a greater purpose for the Marine Corps because I was seen as a Marine and not the female Marine.  Now, I wasn’t always so lucky to be see as a Marine first and a woman second, but we’ve discussed that scenario many times over.  I am proud of all the women who have tried the integration testing, even those who did not successfully pass the qualification standards.

I think what’s important for individuals–inside and outside of military circles–to see and appreciate is the devotion to duty expressed by service members attracted to infantry roles (and thus far, integration testing). A service member who wants to be in the infantry and can make the same standards will usually serve well in that role. The physical demands are greater, the teamwork coordination issues are more significant, and the weapons knowledge (and gear to carry) are heavier burdens.  You really must want it and that lifestyle.  While the article focuses on a single Marine in this case, each participant (and those in similar Army training) deserves respect for her participation.  Each volunteered with the full knowledge she could train (and potentially succeed) without necessarily EVER being bestowed the honor of serving in the infantry.

Regardless of where things go from here, I hope the lessons learned are intently studied for years to come.  A quick change is not always the best change, but baby steps should not be overlooked either.  All change starts somewhere.  I wish all the women who participated in integration testing the best at weaving that infantry training in their leadership.  I hope all the men who worked and/or work alongside these women appreciate the effort, spirit, and abilities of each woman who met the same standards or scored higher.  I will applaud from the sidelines, because I am not interested in accomplishing the same feats but I can appreciate the hard work and devotion went into these achievements.

Coming up here soon, I want to tackle a completely different topic and that’s the talk about integrating Marine Corps boot camp…stay tuned.









Veteran Vision Project is Coming to ASU


We are inching closer to Devin Mitchell’s visit to Arizona.  He will photograph Arizona State University staff, faculty, and students to celebrate their statuses as veterans,  photos that will later be shared publicly as part of our Salute to Service events.

Am I excited?!  Yes!!!

Devin has done a fantastic job photographing veterans across the country and I am delighted he was interested in photographing veterans from the institution he attends. Nancy Dallett, from the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, has partnered with many wonderful ASU personnel–too many new names for me to mention at this time–who are also equally interested in seeing Devin’s vision elevated further.  I am happy for my tiny link in this whole process.

I registered on the Veteran Vision Project website and am waiting confirmation on whether I’ll be photographed. This time has given me the opportunity to reflect on how I wish to be portrayed as a civilian.

I think this objective is probably the hardest thing to focus on; I can have potentially one snapshot–a singular message–to share with the world. Do I present it to veterans? Do I present it to civilians? Do I code it as a private message to those I love? Is it possible to make it something just for me although it’s public? I haven’t made a decision on my civilian outfit yet, but I’ve already decided that my desert camouflage uniform is what I’m most comfortable wearing for my military photograph because I identify more with my war service than my garrison service.

My military identity is simple, compared to my civilian identity.   There are rules on how to wear a military uniform and certain expected behaviors when wearing a uniform. There is a proper placement for my rank. There is a proper way to wear my MCMAP (Marine Corps Martial Arts Program) belt, gray by the way. I didn’t devote too much time to martial arts during my four years. My boots are still laced left over right and a single dog tag still hangs off the laces, but I tuck it in under the eyelet holes. (I can’t recall when I stopped wearing my medical alert dog tag; I’m allergic to amoxicillin but the medical dog tag is larger than my regular identification tags and uncomfortable to wear in my boots.) I’ll wear my dog tags, like I do every day. (New readers will probably be amused I took up wearing my dog tags–one of my signs of military service– again late last year to gauge how much people recognize me as a veteran, to spark a conversation.) I won’t wear my cover, if photographed, because I will be indoors and I’m not on duty.

For now though, thank you for following this journey.  I am always astonished by the number of opportunities that are presented to me as a result of serving this country and I appreciate the platform to share my story.



Chemical Munitions In a Post-9/11 World

When I considered prospective military occupational specialities back in 2003, there were a number I instantly ruled out.  I don’t recall the specific conversation details except informing the recruiter I didn’t want a supply or admin job.  So many women join these fields; I wanted to do something different.  Communications didn’t interest me either.  I liked the idea of combat camera because combat illustration appealed to me, but I didn’t have a portfolio created at that time.  As a woman, infantry was not an option back then but the repeal of Direct Combat Exclusion Rule in 2013 opened the option for testing.  I am proud of the female enlisted Marines who graduated School of Infantry training November 21, 2013.  These women will not be infantry Marines, despite their accomplishments, but they are I will have a serious discussion with you all another day about my beliefs, curiosity, and encouragement for women’s expanded military roles.  I don’t feel the repeal of the Direct Combat Exclusion Rule would mean so much to me had I not served my country.  However, I found a relatively good path for myself as a 5711, Nuclear, Biological, & Chemical (NBC) Defense Specialist. (Note: When I got to my first unit, 1st Marine Division, I found out NBC was changing to Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear or CBRN to more accurately reflect the myriad of threats.)  My title was then CBRN Defense Specialist.

Like always, I will be honest in my self-assessment.  I was not the best Marine to enter this field, but I was significantly challenged by this path instead of taking easier options available to me.  My timidness got to me on numerous occasions, particularly in the realm of public speaking.  This issue is problematic because CBRN Defense Specialists teach other Marines how to use their chemical defense gear, clothing, and decontamination procedures.  Adding to my personal stress over public speaking was my discomfort wearing a gas mask .  I have quite the irrational fear of drowning and suffocating to death, so the gas mask’s restrictive qualities create an additional layer of anxiety.

I am a better public speaker now because I challenged myself in the Marine Corps.  I’ve developed better critical assessment skills because I know my strengths and weaknesses.  I know it’s my responsibility to seek self-improvement and to not set low expectations.  I have great rapport with supervisors and many of my peers from 1st Marine Division.  We are a privileged group of individuals to do such diverse training.  This work is and always will be important to protecting the lives of the Marines under our care.

Chemical munitions pose significant health consequences, up to and including death.  The New York Times March 25, 2015 article about the Army’s apology to veterans with chemical injuries is worth reading.

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