View Full Version : Female Marines Put Training to the Test

02-02-05, 07:27 AM
Leatherneck: Female Marines Put Training to the Test

January 31, 2005
By Mary D. Karcher

This month, female Marines celebrate 62 years of continuous service since they were allowed to join the Women's Reserve on Feb. 13, 1943, during World War II. When Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948, women were allowed to serve as permanent regular members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Today women are contributing significantly to the success of the Marine Corps through a variety of roles. This article introduces a few good Marines serving their country overseas.

Before Marines enter the labyrinthine alleys of Fallujah, Iraq, to root out insurgents in door-to-door searches, an intricate and carefully choreographed support system of Marines already has maximized their chances for a successful mission. In the global war on terror, unprecedented numbers of female Marines are part of that critical support to the Marines on the front lines.

Imagery analysts, topographical intelligence analysts and tactical analysts acquire and review information to produce data critical to mission success. Military police protect the explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams that mitigate the threats posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Radio operators provide essential communication capability between the base camps and those who venture "outside the wire." Drivers in convoys deliver critical supplies by traveling long distances on hazardous routes, often in total darkness. Linguists enable Marines to communicate with those they must question to elicit valuable intelligence information. Cobra AH-1W pilots provide close air support, visual reconnaissance and casualty escorts. Women enthusiastically serve in these and other military occupational specialties (MOSs), because they want to serve their country and be among America's finest as United States Marines.

Patriotic and eager, many of these women have multiple family members who have served in the Marine Corps. Already aware of the Corps' high standards and strong sense of commitment, they chose to join the Marine Corps, where women currently represent only about 6 percent of the total Marine force.

Roadmap to Success

One of these Marines is Corporal Margaret L. Everett from Eau Claire, Wis., who is a topographic intelligence analyst serving with the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in Iraq. This is her second deployment there, having previously served during Operation Iraqi Freedom I, with a detachment from 2d Intelligence Battalion in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable) in Qalat Sukar. During the onset of OIF I, she became the first woman in her MOS to cross into a combat zone.

In OIF II, the maps that Cpl Everett produces enable Marines to navigate the hazards of an Iraqi neighborhood. "I can depict anything from school buildings and roads, to suspected enemy locations and the routes that are easiest to travel when going off road," she said. Her expertise benefits all Marines, from the commanding general to the grunts.

Like all Marines in her specialty, Cpl Everett received her training at the Army's Fort Belvoir, Va., during nine months of basic MOS training. She was subsequently selected to attend the Advanced Topographic Analysis course. As a Marine among Army soldiers, high performance was expected, but the bar was set even higher for Cpl Everett. All of the soldiers in the class were already staff sergeants or selected for that rank, but since Marines are permitted to attend the advanced training before attaining the rank of sergeant, newly promoted Cpl Everett was the most junior in rank and the youngest in age. The instructors put pressure on her to outperform her classmates to earn the privilege of attending the course.

Cpl Everett decided to join the Marine Corps "because I have a great deal of pride in my country, because I needed the challenge, and because someone had to do it. If I was unwilling, then how could I expect others to do it in my place?"

Her patriotic altruism is rooted in her family. Her father, Forrest R. Everett, served as a Marine during the Vietnam era. Her sister, Cpl Katie Everett, is an AV-8B Harrier mechanic with Marine Attack Squadron 211 and also is stationed in Iraq. Her brother Joe's four years in the Marines included a deployment to Afghanistan at the Kandahar airport.

"All of our kids were taught to stand up for what they believe in and that they should follow as long as the person up front was leading. If that person lost their way, it was up to them to pick up the banner and move forward," Forrest Everett said.

Marching Ahead Despite IEDs

One of the weapons the insurgents have used effectively is the homemade, difficult-to-detect IED. Hidden along the roadways, these devices can be detonated remotely using a cell phone, telephone or handheld radio. When a convoy or a patrol spots an IED, the EOD team is called to destroy the device. Explosive ordnance technicians, their accompanying security team and a doctor are prepared day or night to roll out and diffuse IEDs.

SSgt Timberly L. Willoughby of Gresham, Ore., is one of four female EOD technicians, MOS 2336, in the Marine Corps. SSgt Willoughby returned recently from Al Taqaddum, Iraq, where she experienced firsthand the threat of IEDs. Trained to operate the robots that are used to take the IEDs apart, Willoughby emphasizes that her job requires a clear head so that she can totally concentrate on the sensitive work she performs. In responding to a call, the IED techs assess the situation, send in the robot or search for secondary devices if the IED already has exploded, conduct post blast analysis and conclude if the enemy has changed strategies.

"I love it!" was SSgt Willoughby's response to the question, "What do you think about your job?" She added, "It's scary, fast-paced, frustrating at times, and a complete adrenaline rush." Willoughby believes she has earned the respect of her fellow Marines because she performs her job well and actions speak louder than words.

The EOD techs rely heavily on the military police security detail so they can concentrate on the task at hand regardless of the mayhem going on around them, such as the threat of an ambush. Lance Corporal Jennifer R. Warner, from Red Lion, Pa., and LCpl Crystal J. Lawliss, from Florala, Ala., were two of the female military police officers with Marine Wing Support Squadron 373 who served on the EOD security teams.


02-02-05, 07:27 AM
LCpl Warner described one foray into the Iraqi countryside where an IED had been detected. The security detail was disbursed around the EOD technicians at the IED site, in kneeling or prone position, to provide 360-degree security. In an e-mail from Iraq, Warner wrote about how the security force was hit by a mortar attack: "The first 12 or so were impacting about 200-300 meters from our position and it was exciting, but they were still 200-300 meters from us, so we did not really think anything of it. Moments later the mortars began again, only this time, the 'bad guys' were walking them into our position. (As the mortars fell, they began getting closer and closer after each one.) By number 20, they were impacting within 100 meters of my position, and I could hear the whistle from them as they fell from the sky. The last one landed about 10 meters from me, so close that the Marines around me who received scratches from the shrapnel from the mortar told me they did not see how I did not lose my right leg."

Unfortunately, in a separate incident, LCpl Lawliss was not as lucky. On Sept. 29, 2004, about a month after she had arrived in country, Lawliss was out on a call with the security team. The EOD technicians had just disarmed an IED in the middle of the city of Caldia. While the convoy proceeded through city traffic, Iraqi vehicles were trying to merge into the Marine convoy. LCpl Lawliss, with the radio in her hand to report the intruding vehicles, suddenly saw a huge flash and ducked her head. She recalls lying on the road, checking her extremities and discovering that she could not lift one of her legs.

Lawliss was hit by shrapnel, injured her right hand and broke her leg so badly that she had to have a metal bar implanted. After two months of convalescent leave for physical therapy, she was able to return to Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, Calif., on light duty and has now set her sights on being able to run so she can pass the physical fitness test and return to Iraq.

A Step Ahead of the Enemy

Intelligence gathering is vital to predicting enemy capabilities and intentions. To the Marines on the front lines searching for insurgents, intelligence information guides where they go and who they question. It can forewarn them of danger and suggest safe egress from an area of heavy resistance.

As a senior tactical analyst with the 2d Radio Bn attached to First Marine Division, Sgt Jennifer M. Anderson is tasked with performing short-term analysis on intelligence and putting it in the form of a report. The reports, Anderson said, contain information to help Marines catch insurgents and prevent them from succeeding in carrying out insurgent operations. Her unit works diligently to find new ways to exploit the enemy every day. "My only goal," Anderson said, "is to make sure my Marines make it home safe."

Despite the 12-hour days, the work is appealing to Anderson, daughter of a Marine father whose pride in his service made her dream of being in the military one day. Every time she deploys, Anderson said her "morale shoots through the roof." Training at MCB, Camp Lejeune, N.C., doesn't provide the live missions she performs in Ramadi, Iraq. "It's nice to actually do your job for real and to know you are making a difference."

Linguist: Bridge to Locals

Making a difference was also a driving force behind SSgt Hala G. Monsour's contribution to the mission in Iraq. SSgt Monsour spent the first 13 years of her life in Sierra Leone, Africa, until her family moved to California. The daughter of Lebanese parents, Monsour can read, write and speak Arabic, an asset that enabled her to serve as a linguist in Al Taqaddum with the First Force Service Support Group, I MEF.

Monsour primarily accompanied intelligence personnel through any interactions on or off base that required translation. She often was present to translate at interrogations to determine whether detainees would become prisoners of war. The challenge of her job was to accurately translate the exact words without interpretation, to make it as if the interrogator and detainee were talking directly to each other.

Given the Middle Eastern cultural differences regarding gender, her job was sometimes made more complicated when Iraqi men hesitated to speak to a woman. Ultimately, however, their fate depended on her ability to translate for them.

In addition to supporting intelligence personnel, Monsour also provided critical communication between a Navy surgical trauma team and the Iraqi casualties they were treating. Her language skills also enabled her to accompany the 3d Bn, 24th Marine Regiment on humanitarian missions to villages where she witnessed firsthand the extreme poverty of the local population. Through Monsour and other trained linguists, Marines could assess Iraqi needs and provide water, clothes and school supplies.

Calm, Cool and Collected
On the "Hooks"

The technical side of communication is the goal of LCpl Kristen A. Sanford, serving with the MWSS-373 Communications Platoon. Initially a field wireman, MOS 0612, tasked with setting up phone lines and switchboards, LCpl Sanford cross-trained through on-the-job training into a secondary MOS of radio operator, 0621.

As a radio operator, Sanford provides communication support to military police when they go "outside the wire" to respond to IED missions. She also is responsible for setting up retransmission sites so information can be sent between the command and the IED teams.

"Always staying calm, cool and collected is the motto of a true radio operator. While on the hook [radio], having all those qualities really counts if anything were to go wrong," she explained.

Sanford, who grew up in Moreno Valley, Calif., joined the Marine Corps for many reasons. "The idea of being a female Marine with all that pride is something I wanted—something to be proud of. I wanted adventure; I wanted to see new things, travel, and I wanted to blow stuff up. So far I have traveled all over the U.S. and to three different countries. I have had the opportunity to fire large weapons and to even blow stuff up. So, tell me where any other job allows you that much adventure."

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

On a day-in and day-out basis, all action in Iraq depends on the work done by Motor Transport Marines. Moving food, water, ammunition and supplies around the clock is the job of the 6th General Support Motor Transport Company, a Reserve unit from Providence, R.I. As chief dispatcher for Truck Co, Headquarters Bn, 1stMarDiv, Cpl Elizabeth C. Thompson is responsible for tracking and logging the use of all military vehicles on Camp Blue Diamond, the 1stMarDiv base camp in Ar Ramadi. As a motor transport operator, she also occasionally is able to drive off base with the convoy.

Averaging 45 vehicles per day, Cpl Thompson matches up the right vehicles with the right loads with the right destination at the right time. She is responsible for the drivers' trip tickets, which document mileage, weight of cargo, number of passengers, amount of fuel, or any mechanical difficulties. Additionally, she keeps track of how many miles each Marine in Truck Co drives. The vast majority of the trucks return from their journey on the same day, so the documentation process is repeated as they roll back on base.

Team Marines

Female Marines are performing work that is integral to the success of Marine forces in current warfare. In an environment where units are spread out geographically and hostile action is likely to occur not only on a linear battlefield primarily among infantry, artillery and armored units as in the past, but also in service support areas, women are gaining experiences that heretofore they were unlikely to encounter.

Without exception these Marines take pride in their jobs. They earn the respect of their fellow Marines through hard work and a can-do attitude. Most agree with LCpl Warner that women are contributing to the Marine Corps mission like never before. She said, "We consider ourselves Marines, and everything we contribute is as a team."

LCpl Sanford enthusiastically stated, "I love being a Marine, and at this point in my life it's my greatest accomplishment. I'm doing something not all women can do or even choose to do. A female Marine, being the fewest of the few and proudest [of] the proud, allows me to hold my head high."

© 2005 Leatherneck Magazine.