Women Marines – Changes to the Corps
Drill Instructor Reunion Speech
by MSgt. Brenda Moore (ret)
When I was recruited in 1977, I was told by my recruiter that a Woman, was only 1/2 of a quota so they needed 2 women to make 1 quota. Pretty sure he wasn’t happy when I didn’t bring a friend with me to the recruiting station that day. That was 39 years ago, and there have been many changes in the Marine Corps since then.
I know we all see changes when we come back to Parris Island. As we drive across that causeway all our memories start rushing in and we are back to that first day we came aboard this depot. We remember our Drill Instructors, Our recruits, the training of our time. But now when we drive through that new front gate, and go around that circle we are aware that things are not the same, there have been some changes since the last time we came to this island.
I remember marching on the catwalks of the Women Recruit Training Command as a recruit and before I knew it I was back here, training recruits in the same command marching on those same catwalks. It was amazing how my life had changed in those few short years.
Tonight I would like to speak of the changes I have seen with Women Marines and their training from 1977 till now. So with 39 years to cover, I hope you have refilled your drinks and made your head calls, as I attempt to bring you some WM history and entertainment.
I will use the term Women Marines tonight as that is the correct term for some of my era, but today all Marines, male or female are called “Marines” a title they have earned. When I reported to Parris Island for bootcamp I reported to Women Recruit Training Command. When we arrived at our barracks The bus pulled right into that horseshoe
that still remains today. Our receiving process began. I brought 1 large suitcase filled with 1 of everything on the list my recruiter had given me, back then we were advised to bring things like our personal hygiene items, we brought swimsuits & swim caps, girdles, nylons, under garments, pajama’s,hair pins and curlers, even wigs and at least 2 sets of dress civilian attire for base liberty. I think the most important item brought was my iron as we ironed everyday and sometimes more than once a day. Women did not send uniforms to the base laundry, everything was washed and ironed in our squad bays. The wig was the worst decision ever, first time I wore it, we were out at drill and the sand fleas got under it, it felt like there were millions of those things digging into my
scalp. I can tell you that when we got back into the squad bay and we made head our calls I ran in, ripped it off and threw it in the garbage. Never ever to be worn again. As a Drill Instructor I never once recommended a recruit wear a wig.
Bootcamp then was 8 weeks and our basic daily routine was classroom instruction, drill, P.T. , ironing our uniforms and polishing our leather oxfords. All instruction including Drill and Physical Training was conducted within the WRTC complex. Male Drill Instructors taught our Essential subjects classes like History, Customs and Courtesies, first aid, NBC, uniform classes, and the UCMJ. Believe me, we had no problem looking at those male Marine instructors. We had two testing cycles, one was the written test and, 2nd was Practicle App done out at Elliott’s beach where testing stations were set up and we went from station to station demonstrating each subject, after we completed this portion of training we were sent through the gas chamber which was right around the curve of the road. If I remember correctly we were transported by cattle car to e-Beach.
We did have some additional classes taught by our D.I.’s, subjects not taught to male recruits, Women Marine History, Women’s uniform’s and Image development. This covered the proper wearing of hair and make-up, The proper etiquette and social manners for women. During the last week of training our series hosted a “Command Tea” Base dignitaries were in attendance to include the depot Commanding General, and other staff from commands around base.
Women instructors were called Platoon Sgt’s or platoon Leaders, In 1976 women were authorized to attend Drill Instructor School, my Senior Drill Instructor Sgt. Mary Gibbs was in that very first of women to graduate from the School, as was Jeanette McKinnon, who is with us tonight. Female Drill Instructors took over the conduct of drill for their platoons. We had our own parade deck and all drill and drill competitions were conducted on the WRTC parade deck. women platoons also earned streamers back then just as the male Bn.’s.
The women’s PFT to max was a mile and half run,in 15 minutes, 50 sit up in 2 minutes and a 70 second bar hang. Most runs were conducted on the dirt rack, although we did run on the pavement around the Bn. area a few times. Our emblem ceremony was conducted in our courtyard the morning of graduation and afterwards graduation was held on the Command Parade deck, where the Honor Graduate from each platoon was presented a dozen red roses and she wore her issued dress blue uniform.
Next we entered into the Fleet Marine Force! Our Commands knew when they were receiving a women Marine, we had a “W” in front of our SSN# I have to admit it wasn’t that easy fitting in, we were sent into MOS’s that had always been held by male Marines, although we were school trained, Marines of all ranks were not sure how to work with Women. They definitely did not know anything about Women’s History, or women uniforms. As time passed we proved we could do the jobs we were assigned to and we starting fitting in. Things were not always perfect but if you
had a good command you were accepted on your work ethics. One big issue then was promotions, since women did not do the same PFT, and we did not qualify with the rifle, why should we receive a different cutting score or be promoted over the male Marines? That was a battle fought between males and females for many many years. Women could only fall back on the comment that we did not set the standards. When I checked into Camp Pendleton in 1978, I was the 5th Women to be assigned to my unit, there was one big problem, there was no female head, and the women’s numbers were growing. the decision was made that we could share the officer’s head since they were lower in numbers, some were not happy but it did work,
Before I left MACS-7 in December of 1979 women had been authorized to fam fire the M16 so, the enlisted women were taken to the range, given a safety class, we fired 50 rounds then we were taken back to the armory to clean and reassemble our rifles. That was my introduction to the M16a1 rifle, and I did not touch it again until 1985.There were women that received the opportunity to qualify with the M16 but they could not put their scores in the service record book and they could not wear the badge on their uniforms.
One big policy change that had come in the 1970’s was when a women became pregnant instead of being automatically discharged, if she could show that being a parent would not interfere with the performance of her duties, she would be allowed to remain in the Corps. This included if they were to get unaccompanied tour overseas. If they wanted to be discharged all they had to do was submit a written request to be discharged. Now we see single parents, male and female, we see dual spouses, some dual spouses have both deployed and their children sent to other family members. It is truly a different time for Marines with families.
I returned to Parris Island in 1980 to attend Drill Instructors School. Women at that time were in separate squads from the male squads, we had a female squad advisor and although we did run with the male squads at times mostly we ran in our own squad, we also conducted drill separately when executing drill movements with rifles or swords as women still did not march with weapons.
When we graduated we received a set of scarlet epaulets to wear on our outer jackets, this signified us as drill instructors along with our duty belts, male Drill Instructors received the campaign cover. At first I didn’t see a lot of changes in the training, although we still covered hair regulations, and still had make up classes we no longer hosted the Command Tea, there was no off base liberty trips.
Then the changes started in 1981, recruits began carrying the M16. As none of the D.I’s had been formally trained to drill with the weapons, the recruits were at sling arms when marching from one place to another. We staged the weapons at stack arms when conducting drill, they were taught rifle salute from sling arms, and present arms, so they could salute officers. with soft packs, helmets and field gear, recruits marched out to Paige field, set up our bivouac site, then they set in bleachers while instructors taught defensive combat related subjects, we conducted the night movement course. and we also threw mock grenades and introduced the recruits to MRE’s. women went out to the range and fam fired the M16, then they went back to their barracks.
Women had also began graduating on the Petross Parade Deck in 1981, but this was not a shared graduation.
In 1982 as I was completing my tour more changes were happening, Female Drill Instructors were reporting to the command from D.I. school conducting the rifle manual.
In 1985 female Marines were authorized to qualify with the M16, female recruit training went from 8 to 11 weeks,
Nov. 1, 1986, Women Recruit Training Command is redesignated 4thRTN.
In 1986 we had a female recruit break the range record shooting a 246 out of a possible 250. Very exciting, but it lasted about a week until a male recruit broke the range record
I think that the 80’s seen a lot of our first big changes and growth But, Women are still doing the same PFT they were doing in the 70’s. I reported back to Drill Instructor School in 1988, and it had really changed, squads were co-ed, females ran in formation with their squads, we went to the field, women completed the obstacle and confidence courses, we marched with weapons and
executed the sword manual. Female graduates were presented with the Scarlet Cord at graduation, men the Campaign. for WRTC we seen a lot of changes in the 80’s
The Drill manual had seen changes, 4th RTNBn seen their first female Drill Master Rifle classes were taught by female drill instructors actually almost all classes were taught by the 4th Bn drill instructors, our S-3 was a all female S-3 Basic Warrior Training was introduced and they were marching with 50 lb. packs. Women were climbing ropes and completing the obstacle and confidence courses, they were rappelling and sleeping longer in the field, and conducting the infiltration course, land navigation. etc. Recruits were moving out to the rifle range barracks for 2 weeks, after qualifying on the range they went to A’Line where they fired crew served weapons, like the M-203 grenade launchers, M-249 Saws, M-60 Machine guns, Mark 19’s. Female Marines were reporting to their commands capable of participating in field exercises, taking part of force marches, they now could participate in drill portions of the IG and CG inspections, women were firing on rifle and pistol teams,
Going into the 90’s we seen more changes, pugil sticks were added to recruit training, along with Marine Corps Values, bayonet instruction, combat survival swim, tactical weapons, self defense and the 54 hour Crucible. During Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield, approximately 1000 female Marines deployed to Southwest Asia, although in a combat support element, females went out on convoys, and provided support by driving heavy equipment, transported prisoners, they marched through mine fields, stood guard duty, Women did prove they could stand up to the stress of some extreme situations while deployed. In all more than 40,000 women in the military were deployed during this time.
In 1993 restrictions were lifted and women were allowed to fly combat aircraft, they flew alongside side male Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan. piloting, the CH-53E Super Stallion, we seen female aircrews, female Marines in the fixed wing flying C-130’s, and F/A-18 Hornets. In 1994 the restrictions on women’s assignments were reduced to “only units whose primary mission was to engage in direct combat on the ground”, we also see women deploying on amphibious ships. In the mid 90’s female Marine #’s were over 8000 right at 4.6 %. Sept. 26th 1996, for the first time female drill instructors were presented the “Smokey Bear” at graduation from D.I. School.
The last traditional graduation for 4th RTBn was held on Oct. 18, 1996, bootcamp increased to12 weeks, to include the 54 hour ”Crucible.” Bootcamp now included: core Value Training, combat hitting skills,and pugil sticks. This was also the last time the emblem ceremony was held in the 4th RTBn courtyard. In 1996 our 31st. Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Charles C. Krulak decided that women were to be held to the same physical standards as the males and the run portion of the female PFT was increased to 3 miles. sit ups and Bar hang remained the same. 1stSgt. Beverly Morgan was assigned as 1stSgt. of Marine Combat Training Company, Parris Island, in 1996, and female recruits began attending Marine Corps Combat Training. In 1997 the first integrated Marine Combat Training course was held at Camp Geiger N.C. with LCpl. Melissa Ohm as the honor graduate. Out of 54 female students only 1 did not complete the course.
On Sept. 11, 2001 the world changed and so did the lives of our men and women serving in the military, The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq see even more female Marines deployed in combat support units. Women are seen in leadership billets, by this time we have seen the first female SgtMaj. of a Marine Expeditionary Force, a female SgtMaj. of an operational squadron- VMVA-312. We now have so many female pilots that have made their mark flying side by side the male pilots, flying CH-46’s, F/A-18 hornets, C-130’s, CH-53’s. These are only some of
the aircraft they now fly.
The Female Engagement Teams is a team comprised of all female volunteers, they were sent out into the local communities. The FET Teams helped build community relationships, work with women and children on health and education, they were very instrumental in finding out information on enemy activities, and they conducted physical searches on the women as the male Marines due to the culture were not allowed. The FET teams were disbanded in 2012 but they have recently being activated again in Kuwait.
In 2013 there were 13, 677 women in the Marine Corps, 6.8%.
We have seen more uniform changes for the women, we now have Women wearing the Male Marine White Dress Cover, and high collared Dress Blue Jacket. Many have shared their opinions on these changes, one last change, We now have women attending the Infantry Training Bn, for 03 training, What a difference 73 years has made, in 1943 Women Reservist were there to “Free a
Man to Fight”.
Today’s Marines, are wearing full fighting gear, deploying in combat support units. women are allowed to do pull-ups for their PFT vice the bar hang We have seen 3 star Generals, 2 of whom were 4thRT Bn Commanding Officer’s, both Marine Corps Recruit Depot’s have seen women Marine Commanding Generals, SgtMaj. Angela Maness first holding the billet as the SgtMaj. of 8th & I ,the oldest post of the Corps, now the 1st female Marine Corps Recruit Depot SgtMaj. Each of these Marines setting the example for all women Marines to strive to accomplish. I know how some of you feel about women serving in combat and that was not my topic tonight, tonight I wanted to just walk you through the changes women have seen in the last 39 years. Many thought we could not meet the challenges we were assigned, some of it has not been easy. Women did not get here alone, it would not have been possible without some strong leadership and teamwork of our Male Marines. We Thank You for your support.
There is much I have not covered for the last 10 years of training and I hope you will reach out to our active Duty Marines who are much more versed on this time period.
Honor , Courage, and Commitment, is not about gender, it is about “Marines” One last thing before I go, I would like to recognize the women in this room who have
served in the military, many of them the spouses of our members. Will all our women veteran’s please stand, Thank You for your service ladies.
Thank You very much for letting me speak tonight, again, it was truly a honor.
Semper Fidelis and God Speed.