A Brief History
On August 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first of 305 women to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, proving that women can do and be just about anything! Taking over clerical duties in the U.S. while the men went overseas, these first female Marines were unofficially called “Marinettes.” Although first formed during World War I, the Women’s Reserve was again mobilized during World War II and only became a permanent part of the Marine Corps in 1948. The first female Lieutenant General (3-star rank) in the U.S. military was a Marine, Carol Mutter. Today, women comprise about 6.2% of total personnel strength of the Marines. Of the approximately 194,000 Marines currently on active duty, about 12,000 are women. Of the 40,000 reservist Marines, 2,400 are women.
A slang term for a Marine is “Leatherneck,” for the uniforms worn in the past. Marines are also sometimes called “Devil Dogs,” the name stunned German troops gave them during World War I. During World War II, Marines suffered losses of 87,000. With just under 500,000 troops fighting, they suffered much higher casualties than the other American service branches.
The U.S. Marine Corps is arguably the elite fighting branch of the United States Military and is comprised of some of the smartest, toughest, and best-looking troops the country has to offer. (It must be noted that the author of this article is a retired marine.) With the highest tooth-to-tail ratio of any service (highest percentage of combat versus support troops) and the lowest percentage of officers, the Marine Corps is always right at the cutting edge of the scene of conflict, positioned “at-the-ready” on deployed amphibious ships and able to implement force long before the Army can get people and equipment to the scene.
Each individual Marine costs the government about $20,000 less than an individual soldier, sailor, or airman. At only 6% of the U.S. defense budget, the Marine Corps is a terrific bargain. Marines are in better shape, too, with a 3-mile run as a mandatory part of their physical fitness test, whereas the Army only requires a 2-mile run.
Marines must also qualify annually with the M16A2 or M16A4 rifle, or the M-4 carbine, firing 50 rounds at distances of 200, 300 and 500 yards. 200 yards in the standing position and 500 yards in the prone position is an awful long shot with regular iron sights, i.e. with no scope. By contrast, the Army rifle qualification is only 40 rounds at 50 to 300 meters. Note: In 2019, the Marine Corps re-vamped its rifle qualification to include starting at the 500 yard line and moving forward to the 100 yard line, incorporating a more combat realistic course of qualification. The stationary “known distance” course is still used as well, maintaining the high degree of marksmanship the USMC is known for.
All the medical personnel serving with the Marines, including doctors, nurses and corpsmen, belong to the Navy, as do the Chaplains. Contrary to popular belief, the Marine Corps is not part of the Navy or run by the Navy. Both the Navy and Marine Corps, however, are co-equal (by law) branches of the Department of the Navy under the Department of Defense. The Marine Corps is a “naval service.”
To all of our women and men Marines, retired Marines and former Marines, thank you for your service and Semper fi. To everyone else, sleep easy tonight knowing the Marines are on the job. Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have any family members who served as a Marine? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please read…
Crow, Tracy. Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine. University of Nebraska Press, 2012.
Frank, Lisa Tendrich. An Encyclopedia of American Women at War [2 volumes]: From the Home Front to the Battlefields. ABC-CLIO, 2013.
Hewitt USMCR, Linda L. Women Marines in World War I. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.
Zeinert, Karen. Those Extraordinary Women/Ww1. Millbrook Press, 2001.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Lance Cpl. Paul Ochoa of US Marines of the Opha May Johnson monument at St. Paul’s Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C, is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work prepared by an officer or employee of the United States Government as part of that person’s official duties under the terms of Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 105 of the US Code.
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