MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Oct. 22, 2009) --
The Marine Corps has incurred many changes since Ophae Mae Johnson joined its ranks in 1918. From equalized recruit training to a more demanding physical fitness test, the past 91 years have seen a move toward equality for all Marines.
Recently, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point’s Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron established a unique mentorship program to provide women in uniform an opportunity to share their experiences, build camaraderie and provide information to the junior members of the squadron.
The goal of the program is to provide the squadron’s less experienced Marines an avenue of speaking to the senior female leadership to gain insight, support and encouragement.
“We want to influence our junior Marines and let them know they have the support of the senior leadership who have been around and dealt with issues and concerns they may be going through,” said Sgt. Maj. Veney Cochran, the squadron sergeant major for H&HS.
Theresa Fleming, H&HS’s family readiness officer, heads the program and said she wants to give female military members a place where they can discuss items crucial to success in the Corps like uniform regulations, family issues and physical training.
“We had a great turnout,” said Fleming. She said about 50 women attended the inaugural meeting. “I think the program has already generated a lot of positive feedback and I look forward to our future meetings.”
Fleming, a retired petty officer first class who spent 20 years as a religious program specialist in the Navy, said she thinks programs like this would have benefited women during her time in service.
“It was difficult because I felt like I always had to prove myself just because I was a female,” said Fleming. “Having someone who I could relate to and speak to about female-related issues would have been very beneficial.”
Corpswide, women contribute about 6 percent of the total Marine Corps force.
“Females are going to be a minority within the Corps,” said Cochran. “At the higher leadership we understand that sometimes it is more difficult to see the service through those junior Marines’ eyes; so this gives us a better way of teaching them to approach certain situations, both within the Corps and outside.”
Being a minority amongst male counterparts is something Master Sgt. Rita DeSanno, the MCAS Cherry Point food services department head, knows firsthand.
“More often than not, there are just a handful of females amongst the males, but I have been lucky during my career to have been around some extraordinary women, mentors and Marines,” said DeSanno.
Throughout DeSanno’s 23 years in the Corps, she said she has embraced the diversity of the Corps and cherished the relationships she’s built among her fellow Marines.
“We really have to stick together because Marine sisterhood is irreplaceable and invaluable,” said DeSanno. “There are very few places that you can get the support and camaraderie that we get here.”
Marines pride themselves on remembering the Corps’ rich history, and DeSanno is no exception.
“When I joined, there were many changes that were new to the Corps, including drill and qualifying on the range with the rifle,” said DeSanno. “Having seen how far we’ve come and the fact that we are equal with our male counterparts is an amazing thing.”
Fleming said future meetings are being planned on a quarterly basis and will be announced via e-mail. Meetings will include visits from various speakers, and discussions on promotion, parenting and finances.
For more information regarding the H&HS female mentorship program, contact Theresa Fleming at 466-2653.