WINCHESTER, Va. --
The majority of the Marine Corps enlistees are young American males but not Aseel Salman. Being female, she is already a rarity in the U.S. Marine Corps. She will also be the only native Iraqi-born active-duty female at the end of November according to Major Shawn Haney, the Public Affairs Officer for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Headquarters Marine Corps.
Salman’s accomplishments do not stop there either.
She joined at 29 years old and turned 30 the day after she took the oath of enlistment. To enlist in the Marine Corps you must be 28 years old or younger. The challenge of becoming a United States Marine has always been difficult and this young woman accomplished it with more odds against her than most.
Born in Baghdad, Salman was raised in a constant state of war.
“I never knew it wasn’t normal until I moved here, until I saw how people react when people hear the word war,” she said. “It was normal for me, you go to school and go home and try not to get blown up.”
Serving as a translator for the Army while in college made her eligible for the United States Special Immigrant Visa.
“I have always wanted to earn everything myself. I wanted it for me.” she said. She was engaged at the time to an American and could have easily married and came to the U.S. but Salman refused to use that method to get into the U.S.
Salman received her visa in December 2008 and married Sean Clark in January 2009 in her new hometown of Houston, Texas. She was living her American dream and pursuing a teaching degree when she decided she wanted to do something more.
When she made the decision to look into the military her husband, Clark, was instrumental in helping her choose which branch.
Clark was a Marine sniper who served from 1995 to 2005, he helped inform Salman so she could better make her final decision. Clark said he took her to each one of the recruiting offices but of course in his heart he had a special place for the Marines.
“They really are the best,” said Clark.
Even though Salman originally wanted to go Army, she was convinced by her husband that the Marines would be the best fit for her.
“When she came to the U.S., I took her to a mixed-martial arts fight and she loved the sport, she does Crossfit and she’s competed in Crossfit. She has been through so much worse,” said Clark.
For Salman, making the choice was only the first step. The second was completing the age waiver process.
Captain Rodney James, the Operations Officer for Recruiting Station Frederick, Md., at the time, said that it is tough to get any type of waiver.
“There is a minimum of 10 reviewers for this type of waiver (age waiver). Out of them, eight have the authority to deny the waiver,” said James, who is one of the approvers. “I approved the waiver because she has proven her dedication to this country.”
Her determination was key in an endorsement from RS Frederick.
“When looking at her experiences to date, she has shown a determination that you don’t often see in today’s youth. She is willing to make the difficult sacrifice for delayed gratification,” said James.
The former commanding officer of RS Frederick, Md., Major James Birchfield III only endorsed two waivers during his three-year tour, Salman being one of them.
“After I interviewed Ms. Salman I knew she had the intangibles to overcome any obstacles with her paperwork. The age waiver process at the time was very arduous,” he said.
Birchfield was the eyes and ears of every other approver. Once endorsed by him something very negative would have had to of happened to stop the process. The waiver awaited final signature from the Commanding General of the Eastern Recruiting Region Brigadier Gen. Lori Reynolds, who also approved Salman to enlist and start the journey to becoming a United States Marine. She shipped to Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot, S.C., July 22.
She faced multiple challenges while going through boot camp. The biggest came when she did not qualify on the rifle range mid-September. The look of disappointment is evident when she talks about her experience.
“It hurt, the look on my senior drill instructor’s face was awful. She had counted on me for a lot of things for the platoon,” said Salman. “I was saying to myself, what was it, why couldn’t I do it?”
She had to let her husband know that she would be graduating later. Clark had 15 years of weapons instruction under his belt. He was not going to let this stop his wife’s dreams.
Salman said she would not have passed without her husband’s support.
“He sent me detailed information on how to shoot, photos and slide shows,” she said.
Clark had his daughter take photos of him in different shooting positions.
“She (Salman) would send me data from her data book and I would correct her positioning,” he said.
She worked hard to get off the rifle range.
“She went from missing every shot at the 500 (yard line) to hitting every shot; her PMI’s (marksmanship instructors) were calling her a sniper,” said Clark.
Salman spent a little over an extra month in recruit training and was switched to a different platoon. She had fought incredible odds to get into Marine Corps Recruit Training and she was not going home.
“The 18 and 19 year olds were like, ‘if you can do it, I can do it.’ That meant I had to finish,” said Salman.
She passed, earning the second award of sharpshooter. She graduated boot camp Nov. 15 with a Meritorious Mast in recognition of being one of the top 10 graduates of her company of 133 recruits.
Salman is ready for the next step in her Marine Corps Career. She will go to Camp Geiger, N.C. for combat training, and then she will report to her school for aviation electronics.
When asked why Salman did not become an interpreter she said, “I was ready for something new; I did that for years.”
Her face lit up when talking about her slated job.
“I like computers. They interest me,” she said.
Salman is an inspiration to some, a warrior in her own right, and now she is and will forever be a United States Marine.