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Lady Leatherneck: The Journey of Master Sgt. Cherelle Peter-Williams

By Story by Pfc. Reba James | Marine Corps Air Station Yuma | December 8, 2016

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. – “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” – John Quincy Adams

Solemn reflection, with an exchange of heart-felt hellos, goodbye’s, and hugs became shared memories during the retirement ceremony taking place on the parade field at MCAS Yuma, Arizona, Friday.

Marines, Sailors, family and friends gathered to witness the retirement ceremony of Master Sgt. Cherelle Peters-Williams after 27 years in the Marine Corps.

After enlisting in the Marine Corps in May 1989, Peters-Williams deployed to the Middle East, relocated overseas to Japan, and conducted humanitarian efforts in Cuba.

In 1997, Peters-Williams made history by training female Marines in the first integrated Marine Combat Training (MCT) course at Marine Combat Training Battalion, School of Infantry (SOI) East, Camp Geiger, North Carolina as a squad leader.

“We got a chance to teach them combat strategies, weaponry, patrolling, you name it; we taught them and they went on to do great things,” said Peters-Williams, whose class included the company’s honor graduate.

“Nobody could’ve anticipated Kuwait and Afghanistan, but you saw the fruits of our labors from MCT, in those Marines as they went into leadership positions and we saw them perform based on the things we instilled,” said Peters-Williams. “[They] were in combat and it was a testament to what they learned in their entry level training that allowed them to become better leaders.”

Subsequently, Peters-Williams held the billet of platoon commander and received the Sergeant Major Edgar Huff Award for her work. Thereafter, she was promoted to staff sergeant and took on further responsibility as the Medical Rehabilitation Platoon’s platoon commander.

During her tenure at SOI East, Peters-Williams recalls one of her goal’s being to let female Marines know they don’t have to act “like a dude” in order to fit into a guy’s world.

“You are a woman for a purpose and there is nothing wrong with being a woman,” said Peters-Williams. “Be the best Marine you can be, whether you are a woman or a guy. A lot of [female Marines] feel that to be a good Marine, ‘I have to act like a man or do the manly things’ and that’s not so. We are lady leathernecks, so carry yourself with dignity and grace, put the uniform on, be professional and get the job done!”

In June of 2010 she was re-assigned to 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton and deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of the pioneering Female Engagement Team (FET) 2-10 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

“The female engagement team was fantastic,” said Peters-Williams of her OEF deployment. “I had 46 other females with me and they did a phenomenal job. All the ladies, female Marines, went out and did patrols, embedded with infantry platoons, engaged with the community, especially the woman population of Afghanistan, built schools, opened hospitals, and made sure [local women’s] needs and voices were being heard [and met].”

A mix of feminine and fierce and tough and warm, Peters-Williams spoke modestly of her experience with the FET, but smiles when looking back on her career when asked.

Peters-Williams’ final chapter of her Marine Corps career was spent at MCAS Yuma, from 2012 until 2016, as the station’s staff non-commissioned officer in charge of food services. She also held the collateral duty as one of Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron’s Uniform Victim Advocate. Committed to excellence, Peters-Williams completed her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology Christian Counseling and was an avid mentor of junior Marines following the Christian faith.

“I always tell Marines to follow their heart, go to school, educate themselves and treat people like people and not forget about the human side of what we do in the Marine Corps,” said Peters-Williams.

Always having a bright smile on her face and greeting everyone, from a private first class to a lieutenant colonel, with enthusiasm at the MCAS Yuma mess hall, she has the reputation among all ranks as a very welcoming and approachable senior leader

“Yuma has been great, because it has given me a chance to get out into the community and get to know the young Marines,” said Peters-Williams, a native of Ithaca, New York.

Peters-Williams was able to relate to junior Marines, getting “down in the grass roots” with rank-and-file Marines by volunteering, talking to them, and developing them to become mature adults while they navigate the struggles they have as young Marines.

“One of my biggest things is inspiring Marines through my words, my actions, my attitude and [ensuring] it reflects in everything I do,” says Peters-Williams, who volunteers her time teaching classes for the Single Marine Program. “I always tell Marines to be true to themselves, be honest with their work, have a higher sense of excellence in everything they do [to] be successful.”

Passionate, lively, sincere, and quick to give a compliment, Peters-Williams, also lovingly called “Master Sgt. P-Dub” by junior Marines, had a long line of well-wishers before and after the ceremony.

“I can’t believe it’s been [27] years and that it’s the end of this chapter; but God has an amazing plan for me and I’m so excited for what he’s got for me next,” said Peters-Williams who plans to pursue a career with a non-profit organization to assist and mentor young adults as a career coach. “It’s not the end, but just another chapter, and I’m excited about that.”
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