View Full Version : Marine says goodbye after three decades of honor, courage, commitment

02-18-04, 06:14 AM
Marine says goodbye after three decades of honor, courage, commitment
Submitted by: Headquarters Marine Corps
Story Identification Number: 2004217154117
Story by Cpl. Julie Paynter

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif.(Jan. 30, 2004) -- Standing at attention in front of family, friends, her Marine Corps family, Master Gunnery Sgt. Saiolo Saiaana Sturms, saluted the colors folded in front of her and accepted her retirement flag from the Commanding General, Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey, and base sergeant major, Sgt. Maj. Steven Clarke, on the parade deck Jan. 30.

When Sturms joined the Marine Corps 30 years ago, troops were returning from the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon was still in office, Gen. Robert Cushman, Jr., the 25th commandant of the Marine Corps was leading Marines, and women made up less than 3,000 of the Corpsí strength.

A year before she joined, the young Samoan had no idea she would soon be sworn into the Marine Corps in January 1974.

Months prior in American Samoa, 24-year-old Sturms was approached by a Marine recruiter and agreed to take the entrance examination. She passed, but declined the offer.

In November of 1973, Sturms left her Pacific Island home to attend school in San Jose, Calif. The same recruiter, reassigned to the San Jose area, looked Sturms up and tried recruiting her once again.

"I was always thinking about joining the military. It was a challenge," said Sturms quietly.

She gave the idea of joining the military one more chance and was sworn in to the Marine Corps in January 1974. After arriving at Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot in Parris Island, S.C., Sturms was surprised to find five American-Samoan women were in the basic training series before her.

"At that time five Samoans were at boot camp, and four didnít complete training," explained Sturms, but said she wasnít intimidated. "There was a lot of discrimination in the military. The reason I stayed in is to show [women] are here to stay. If men can do it, women can do it."

The same year her illustrious career began at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., as a supply administrator, Gen. Cushman approved a change in policy permitting the assignment of women to specified rear-echelon elements of the Fleet Marine Force. The policy specified women could not deploy with assault units or units likely to become engaged in combat.

By 1975, the Marine Corps approved the assignment of women to all occupational fields except infantry, artillery, armor and pilot/air crew. Sturms declared her gender and cultural background were never a conflict with others in the workplace.

"They were thrilled to see me [in Quantico], because I had prior work experience; typing, organizational skills and general office experience in supply," said Sturms. "Itís all up to your approach, your attitude and your personality. You have to learn how to present yourself and work with people. Personal issues have to be put aside."

Sturmsí career includes tours to Okinawa, Japan; United States Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; 4th Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force, USMCR, New Orleans, La.; and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Marine Corps Air Station El Toro, Calif. In January 1990 "Gunnery Sergeant" Sturms became the first female Marine assigned to 2nd Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, , 2nd Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Intelligence Group, Camp Lejeune, N.C., as a supply chief.

Sturms said she loved supply and never felt the need to switch career fields within the Corps.

"I wanted to see how far I could go [within my job and the Corps]," said Sturms. "I love the Marine Corps. I love the people I work with and care for the Marines."

The Twentynine Palms fan was stationed aboard the Combat Center in June of 1996 and decided then to retire here.

"Iím staying in Twentynine Palms," said Sturms. "I like it because of the unit and the weather, and it reminds me of back home with the heat and sand. I like California."

Among the honored guest speakers at the ceremony was fellow Samoan Aumua Amata Coleman, member of the United States House Leadership Staff.

Coleman, who came from Washington for the ceremony, was more than impressed with Sturmsí accomplishments, not only as a Marine, but as a Samoan. "I feel very privileged to be here today. I never served in the military, but I come from a family of proud military tradition," explained Coleman.

"Master Gunnery Sgt. Sturms has provided a foundation where younger Marines will stand and create goals," said Coleman. "So today I salute you, master gunnery sgt. You are an inspiration to your country, to people every where and to me."

Several other guests gave tribute to the soon-to-be veteran emphasizing the extent of Sturmís impact, but Sturms treated the ceremony as her chance to honor those who served beside her.

"There are only three things I carry with me: God, my parents and my country," Sturms said through clenched teeth, fighting back tears. "Itís an honor for me to have been your staff NCO. I am here because of you, and I salute you for that."

Sturmsí face reflected her gratitude throughout the rest of her speech.

"Today is the end of my 30 years as a Marine. I leave a mark on this green grass of my 30-year journey," said Sturms, pointing downward. "Iíll leave you with this: I came, I saw, I conquered."

The first American-Samoan woman to reach 30 years of active duty within the Corps came to her parade as a master gunnery sergeant and went home Saiolo Saiaana Sturms, but her marks as Master Gunnery Sgt. Sturms and her leadership style are permanent, and will continue to show through the Marines she mentored and the Marines they will mentor tomorrow.


Saluting the colors and her fellow Marines, Master Gunnery Sgt. Saiolo Saiaana Sturms stands proudly at her retirement ceremony January 30. Photo by: Cpl Julie Paynter