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thedrifter
04-05-06, 08:08 AM
Guest columnist: Let's salute a Marine who has proven herself worth of the name

By DEBBIE THURMAN
Guest columnist
April 5, 2006

Editor's note: With American Forces at war in Iraq, it is fitting to take a look at one Marine — a female, and all of 5 feet tall — who has risen through the ranks of the very special Corps. Her work and dedication can be an inspiration to other young women — whether at Jupiter High School or already in the college ranks at Florida Atlantic University or elsewhere — who may see the military as an option.

For 28 years, I have paused every Oct. 3 to observe an anniversary that remains deeply meaningful to me. On that day in 1977, I stepped off a bus at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia. There, along with some three-dozen other young women, I spent the next 10 weeks sweating through the Corps' 105th Officer Candidate Class.

Only 19 of us made it to graduation day and earned our commissions as second lieutenants of Marines. The first women officer candidates to complete a full training course in combat tactics, we represented the tip of the transitional spear for the evolving Corps.

Now, all these years later, one from our storied class has earned an honor that, in those days, was impossibly illusive for women Marines. Texas-born Colonel Angela Salinas has become only the sixth woman Marine ever to attain the rank of brigadier general. She also happens to be the highest-ranking Hispanic female in the Marine Corps.

Salinas, barely 5-feet tall and with a self-effacing sense of humor, embodies all the unique possibilities the Corps offers to any young man or woman. When we left Quantico for the "real" Fleet Marine Force in June 1978, after an additional six months of tough, integrated training at The Basic School, Salinas was assigned as a legal officer, I as a public affairs officer. While I served only eight years in the Corps, those years shaped me in indescribable ways. They were a rite of passage into an elite and diverse fraternity/sorority of "the few, the proud." Angie Salinas, part old-breed, part new, is now among the most elite of that number.

"When I was given the news, I felt like I went into a Forrest Gump mode: Wow! Life is like a box of chocolates." Salinas said. "Now I've come into an arena of people who are entrusted with shaping the future of the United States Marine Corps. Im a little piece of that rock. I feel in awe of all the responsibility."

Salinas' first step on this epic journey began in atypical fashion back in1974 when she was a sophomore at Dominican College (now University) in the Berkeley area — and era — of California. While mailing a letter in the campus post office, she encountered a Marine recruiter. "Why aren't you a Marine?" the squared-away staff sergeant bluntly asked her. Taken aback, Salinas suddenly had an epiphany. "I was putting myself through school, basically. It seemed I had been working since I was 10 years old. I needed something more."

That encounter was on April 30. By May 7, Salinas was standing on the infamous yellow footprints at Parris Island, S.C., a new recruit. Her family had no idea where she was or that she'd left college.

After a couple years of reserve service, during which the Marine Corps insisted on sending Salinas back to finish college, her unit's sergeant major realized her leadership potential and began grooming her for the officer ranks. Torn for a while between seeing herself as a sergeant and a second lieutenant, she took the latter route, never looking back

Key senior Marines who served with Salinas played that same fatherly role as her career unfolded. They kept opening doors for her to assume commands in combat service support areas no woman officer had held before. The scariest moment of her career came when the Corps decided to make her the first woman to command a recruiting station. She was assigned to the Charleston, W.V., station, then regarded as the graveyard of a recruiting commanders career.

"A Hispanic woman Marine in Charleston, W.V.? I had heard the horror stories about recruiting duty, so I went kicking and screaming" recalled Salinas. "My Marines did a phenomenal job. They didn't care about my gender. They led us — the smallest recruiting station of all — to number five in the nation."

That success eventually led to Salinas' command of the mammoth 12th Marine Corps District in San Diego, the very district out of which she was recruited in 1974. Today, she is chief of staff at the Marine Corps Recruiting Command at Quantico. This summer, she will become the first woman commanding general of Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. Only male recruits train there.

So many doors have opened for women Marines in the three decades since the first of us dipped our toes into combat service support roles that now are commonplace. Today, these women go in harm's way more than ever, of course. The Corps has been the last of the services to move in that direction.

This is the legacy of Marines like Angie Salinas, who "just wanted everyone to look at me and say, 'She's a damn good Marine.'"

Ma'am, no one who looks at you today could say otherwise.

Semper Fi!

Ellie