COLUMBUS, Ohio – The four Marines shined the brims of their covers, polished their shoes, donned their white belts and gold buckles and aligned their ribbons. They prepared to present their rifles and flags during the national anthem for a crowd of nearly 20,000, but not before they applied bright-red lipstick.
Rifle bearers Pfc. Jasmin Villagomez and Pfc. Heather Williams, and color bearers Sgt. Saturnina Rodriguez and Sgt. Hope Timberlake presented the National Ensign and Marine Corps colors during "The Star Spangled Banner," as the first all-female color guard of Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia, during NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four Semi-finals basketball games, as part of the 2018 Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) Convention at the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio, March 30.
Marines partnered with and attended the WBCA convention to engage with women of all experience levels and inform them of career opportunities for elite athletes within the Corps.
“The partnership with the Marine Corps is incredibly beneficial to the WBCA,” said Danielle Donehew, the executive director of the WBCA. "The Marine Corps' presence at our national convention reinforces its commitment to women, its commitment to women leaders and its commitment to the sport of women’s basketball. The ideals for which [the Marine Corps] stands are common ideals and values that we also share.”
This year, the Marine Corps celebrates 100 years of women in the Marines, a milestone seen through the contributions and expansion of opportunities for women in the Corps.
“Having an all-female color guard shows a lot of progression in the Marine Corps,” said Timberlake, the color sergeant for the women’s color guard. “It’s an honor to be able to represent.”
Two weeks before the WBCA, Timberlake was informed about the event and formed the all-woman color guard. Since then, they rehearsed their drill movements, which amounted to more than 20 hours of practice. From drill to appearance, Timberlake said she wanted every movement to look uniform.
For Rodriguez, Villagomez and Williams, their first time performing in a color guard was in front of thousands of women’s college basketball fans.
“An obstacle I faced as color guard was putting myself out there,” Villagomez said. “I’m not usually like that, but it was a great opportunity for me to do this.”
All four women acknowledged the significance of participating in one of the first all-female color guards during the centennial celebration of female Marines.
August 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson enlisted as the first female Marine just one day after the secretary of the Navy granted authority to enlist women for clerical duty in the Marine Corps Reserve. Over the subsequent 100 years, the Marine Corps has grown opportunity and respect for its females; just two years ago, women became eligible to serve in every military occupational specialty it offers, including combat arms positions.
“Female Marines are just Marines,” said Master Sgt. Damian Cason, the community engagement chief of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command. “They lead just like I do."
They meet every expectation any other Marine does, he added.
"We’re all equal.”