MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Marines learn about the first female Marine trailblazers, such as Opha May Johnson and Margaret Brewer, during Marine Corps recruit training, and female Marines have continued to make changes and break barriers ever since.
“Women were just as capable in 1918 as we are now,” said Master Sgt. Dwrena K. Allen, the equal opportunity adviser for Marine Corps Installations East. “But it was not traditional for us to serve in those more masculine roles. When you stop boxing people in and limiting them based on their outward appearance, you can see how they bloom.”
Female Marines comprise 7 percent of the Marine Corps, and on Nov. 21, 2013, three Marines broke new ground by becoming the first females to graduate from the Infantry Training Battalion.
“We are small in numbers, but we are large with respect to the things we have accomplished,” said Allen. “It’s not like we’re incapable of doing big things, because we’ve proven ourselves through resilience and opportunity. Anyone can accomplish something they want, but if they’re restricted, it won’t be accomplished. We’re shattering those barriers one day at a time.”
On March 8, 1980, the first National Women’s History week was declared. In 1987, Congress expanded the observance and designated the entire month as National Women’s History Month.
Women have demonstrated success in the Marine Corps through resilience and the strong spirit that characterizes Marines.
Generations of women continue to make history and shatter the glass ceiling that once restricted them to specific military occupations, said Allen.
“When I joined, there was still a draft,” said Gini Shopfel, retired lieutenant colonel and director of the Camp Lejeune Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. “I didn’t think it was fair for men to get drafted to serve and not women, so I joined to make a difference. Now, there are young women Marines getting opportunities we didn’t have and it is great.”
Since enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1973, Shopfel has seen many changes to the Marine Corps from military occupational specialty openings, to physical fitness test changes.
“I think we’ve made remarkable progress,” said Shopfel. “The young Marines who experience women as colleagues don’t feel the adversarial role that used to be promoted. We need to pay attention to our mission and ability to get the job done. If a Marine, man or woman, can complete the needed task, we need to utilize their talent. No one should be set up for failure, but everyone deserves an opportunity.”
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