FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- Learning to shoot mortars, guiding Howitzers down from Army CH-47 Chinooks, and spending days out in the field under the hot October sun were some of the things Marines did at Exercise Rolling Thunder here. But there was something a little different about some of the Marines that made this training unique.
There were women Marines, their hands and faces covered with dirt and sweat, taking part in the action.
"My primary mission is to practice firing the M224 60mm mortar," said Lance Cpl. Shannon L. Mitchell, landing support specialist, Transportation Support Battalion, 2d Force Service Support Group.
Mitchell, an Erie, Penn., native, was one of several Marines learning to fire mortars. With women Marines not yet able to enlist in combat MOS's, Mitchell said this training was a unique opportunity.
"It is really neat to be able to practice firing mortars," said twenty-three-year-old Mitchell. "I normally wouldn't get to do this."
Mitchell was also part of the landing support platoon in charge of an Army CH-47 helicopter lift of an M198 Howitzer. The mission was to guide the pick-up and delivery of four Howitzers.
"We will be working with the 10th Marines, Charlie Battery, transporting their Howitzers from one place to another," said Mitchell. " I will be on the sending team."
Mitchell was the only female in the unit working to transport the heavy equipment.
"It took the platoon a long time to realize I can't reach down and pick up a 100-pound piece of equipment as easily," said Mitchell. "But if you put forth an effort, they will respect you."
Although Mitchell was the only female with the landing support platoon, there were plenty of other female Marines participating in different aspects of Exercise Rolling Thunder.
"This exercise is the one where I've been around more females," said Lance Cpl. Lenni V. Smith, fiscal clerk, Headquarters and Support Battalion, 10th Marines.
"You usually don't get to react with them in the field."
Smith, a New York City native was responsible for buying things for the different units.
"I go out to town all dirty like I am now and purchase things," said Smith as she took a break under the shade of a tent. "I pick up batteries, fuel, cell phones, maintenance parts, things like that."
Going into town was sometimes an eye opening experience for the 22-year-old.
"When I go out there, I notice people look at me," said Smith. "Some people don't even know there are females in the Marine Corps."
But there are, and there has been ever since Opha Mae Johnson made the first huge step forward for women when she enlisted in the Marine Corps Aug. 13, 1918. Since then, women Marines have made their presence known here and all over the world.