The Strive for Acceptance

In 1949, Marine Corps Col. Katherine A. Towle, first Director of Women Marines, trained the first platoon of female Marines. (courtesy photo)

In 1949, Marine Corps Col. Katherine A. Towle, first Director of Women Marines, trained the first platoon of female Marines. (courtesy photo)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Congratulations to Marine Corps Sgt. James Hayes, Marine Corps Detachment, for winning the Top 3's essay contest on Women of Honor. This is the article he submitted.

One of the most powerful female recruiting posters of all time was introduced during World War II. "Be a Marine, Free a Marine to Fight" was publicized to the world displaying a very detailed and self-assured female Marine holding the rank of sergeant.

This push for the acceptance of female Marines to serve proudly at the height of World War II had a major impact on the authorization of the Women's Armed Services Act of 1948. It authorized 100 regular officers, 10 warrant officers and 1,000 enlisted female positions.

Later that year, Marine Corps Col. Katherine A. Towle became the first director of women Marines that set the blue print for reactivating the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. In 1949, the 3rd RTBN was solely responsible for training the first platoon of 50 female Marines.

It is hard to look back on the history of just one female Marine who made an impact on the present day Corps. It was a group effort that showed admirable desire and strive for acceptance.

The days leading up to this essay were a huge hurdle. Being a male Marine, trying to get my emotions and experience of military life as a female to come together, was a difficult challenge. My wife, Alison, simplified the dilemma and bridged the gap by asking me a simple question:

"What are your goals in the Marine Corps and who can you look up to that had to overcome great controversy?"

After deliberating in self-thought for a couple of days, I realized that one of my future goals is to be promoted to a sergeant major in the Marine Corps. This opened the door to the idea of one female Marine who I personally take great pride and interest in, Bertha Peters Billeb.

She was the first female Marine to be promoted to the rank of sergeant major in 1961, which she accomplished in 18 years.

Billeb enlisted in the Marine Corps May 5, 1943, in San Francisco and attended boot camp at Hunter College, N.Y. After enduring the challenges of trying to fit in a male-dominant atmosphere and make a name for herself, which all female service members had to endure during the development stages of the female Marine Corps; Billeb stood tall and strong through this period of history by adapting honor, courage and commitment to the Corps and never giving up on her dreams.

After being promoted to sergeant major, the road didn't end there for Billeb as she strived on to further her success and make her dreams a reality.

Billeb was selected to become a warrant officer in 1966 and served four years successfully. She then reverted back to the enlisted ranks to receive a permanent warrant, which officially made the Billebs the first husband-wife sergeant major team in the Marine Corps. She later retired in 1973 becoming the first female Marine to retire with 30 years of honorable service, and at her own request, she chose to retire as a commissioned warrant officer.

Billeb's dedication and hunger to achieve greatness and to make dreams a reality play a major impact on me as I continue to strive in her footsteps. She has made me realize that no matter the height of the obstacle in front of you, nothing is too high or too hard to overcome as long as your passion and desire to make your dreams a reality exist.

There is a reason why former President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8, 1980, as the first women's history week, which was later expanded by congress in 1987 to cover the entire month. Every year in March, society needs to take a moment and reflect on the impact women have had on our history and show each and every female the respect they deserve. We as a group, no matter the uniform, need to remember that the military is not only a job or a career, but most importantly it is the largest family known to date and it's our family.