Stronger and stronger: Marines like these depot ladies carry on a strengthening legacy for the Corps and equality
By Cpl. Jess Levens
| | May 08, 2007
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
In 1918, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels allowed women to serve in clerical roles in the Marine Corps. Officially, Opha Mae Johnson became the first female Marine Aug. 13, 1918. That year, about 300 women joined the Corps to hold down clerical positions for the Marines off fighting in World War I. Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948, giving women a permanent spot in the Marine Corps. From that time until the present, the role and attitude of women Marines has been significantly altered. In accord with Women's History Month, the Chevron has decided to showcase a few women Marines stationed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. They are administrative clerks, musicians, military police officers, mentors, students and leaders. These are just a few of the ladies who shape the Marine Corps and help make the depot run smoothly on a day-to-day basis. The ladies aboard the depot haven't been around long enough to really witness the changes in women Marines' roles, and how the Corps' attitude toward them has evolved since the first woman joined 87 years ago. "I love being a woman in the Marine Corps," said Cpl. Andrea Smith, a Marine Band San Diego musician. "I know that I can be competitive with men in the civilian world because I compete with men in the military world."I wasn't in the Marines back when women were so limited, but I'm thankful for the women who came before me. Because of them, I am able to enjoy the level of equality they wanted."But even in the last 20 years, women Marines have seen a significant amount of gender equality changes in the Corps. Maj. Lisa Botuchis, depot adjutant, enlisted as a private in 1981, and accounted the changes women Marines have encountered in the last score. "I knew I always wanted to join the military, but I didn't know which branch," said Botuchis. "I was leaning toward the Air Force because my dad was Air Force. I went to the Air Force recruiting office and it was closed. But the Marine recruiting office next-door was open and the recruiter came out and talked to me. He asked, 'Why in the world would you want to join the Air Force when you could be a Marine?'" Even in the early 1980s, women did very little in recruit training, according to Botuchis. The ladies ran maybe a mile at a time, and never touched an obstacle or confidence course. The rifle training was also very moderate."We didn't even qualify," recalled Botuchis. "We did about three days of familiarization firing, but that was it. Instead, we had classes about how to wear make up. The drill instructors told us that 'A woman's role is to free a man to fight.' Women couldn't deploy on ships or do Marine security guard duty. We were encouraged to wear the high-heels and skirt with our uniform. Women even had the option of wearing a ball gown to the Marine Corps Ball instead of their uniform. In a way, we let ourselves be singled out.""Free a man to fight" had been ingrained in women Marines. Another euphemism, "Ladies First," existed throughout the female Marine community. "I don't want to be a lady first," said Botuchis. "I want to be a Marine first, and that's what I am now. Women were very protected, but we don't want to be protected."When Botuchis hit the fleet, she noticed the poor physical training in boot camp didn't get her up to par with the men she served with in her unit. Botuchis was a field radio operator, which was an uncommon occupation for women then. Most women Marines had administrative jobs."I knew I needed to get in better shape, so I had to train on my own," said Botuchis. "I ended up being a water safety survival instructor, which was very rare for a woman in that time." The times continued to change, and with that, women's attitudes changed."I think women need to empower themselves," said Botuchis. "I got the occasional 'honey' or 'sweetheart,' usually from senior enlisted men, but a lot of that is because the way they were raised. I've never felt like I've been discriminated against." Botuchis' enlistment ended and she went to college. After she earned her degree, she came back to the Corps as an officer and noticed an improved equality."When I trained to become an officer, we did the obstacle course and everything else the men did. It was completely different from recruit training." Women's opportunities for equality peaked in the mid-1980s through the 1990s. In 1985, a board of general officers selected Col. Gail M. Reals as a brigadier general. In 1992, 2nd Lt. Sarah Deal became the first woman Marine selected for naval aviation training, and in 1993, the Corps opened pilot positions to women. Maj. Gen. Carol A. Mutter's promotion in 1996 made her the first woman Marine, and second woman in the armed services to earn three stars.According to the Women Marines Association, "Women serve in 93 percent of all occupational fields and 62 percent of all billets. Women constitute 6.2 percent of the Corps' end strength and are an integral part of the Marine Corps."Since their conception in 1918 to the present, women Marines have changed from the fighting man's dainty placeholder to equal leaders and pioneers of greatness."The Marine Corps took me as a timid little girl, and it turned me into a strong woman," said Botuchis.