MARINE CORPS AIRSTATION YUMA -- Women Marines and spouses of Marine Wing Support Squadron 371 Marines gathered in the Sonoran Pueblo’s Gonzalez Room Jan. 19 to learn about women’s health and how the Marine Corps supports the fairer sex.
The MWSS-371 women’s symposium met the squadron’s annual training requirement for women Marines, which includes equal opportunity and the uniform victim advocate, but Lt. Col. Phillip Woody, MWSS-371 commanding officer, expanded the training to an all-day event that featured guest speakers and representatives from station organizations.
Other topics covered during the symposium included women’s physical and mental health, family advocacy, family readiness, the Key Volunteer Network and how to beat burnout. The event aimed to provide a fun forum and a broad base of helpful information to the women present, said Navy Lt. Jennifer Bixby, MWSS-371 chaplain and native of Perry, Mich.
“I think the over-arching idea here is simply to let people know that they are supported, that what they have to offer this organization is valued and that we, as a command, are a community that extends beyond just the service member -- that we really do want involvement with spouses as far as the Key Volunteer Network and such,” Bixby said. “We’re a big family here.”
One of the symposium’s goals was to inform squadron Marines’ spouses that they always have support from the squadron during deployments, work-ups or anytime they need help, said Woody, a native of West Columbia, S.C.
“We have a responsibility not only to the uniformed service members, but also to the spouses,” he said. “There will always be somebody here that they can call and depend on.”
According to the spouses, the event was very successful in this goal.
“Some of the stuff I did already know, but a lot of it I didn’t, so I found it very informative and I’m happy (the command) would do something like this,” said Katie Connell, one of the attending spouses.
Women Marines, who once wore aquamarine uniforms and were called Marinettes, have come a long way since 1918 in their battle for prominence and equality within the Corps. But they only make up 6.2 percent of the Corps, and the branch is still learning to deal with problems that affect women Marines specifically.
Staff Sgt. Patricia Dupree, squadron substance abuse control officer, said that one problem with being such a vast minority is that many women Marines get treated as a group, where one bad apple can spoil the bunch, rather than as individual Marines.
“The Marine Corps is doing a lot for our female Marines, I just wish more of our (male) counterparts would come on board. I’m not saying be sensitive to our feelings or anything like that, but understand we have needs, dilemmas and crises just like they do,” said Dupree, a native of Wrightsville, Ga.
One such dilemma is when a women Marine has a problem in their shop, an equal opportunity problem for example, they have two options: to deal with it personally or to ‘pull a card’ -- visit the EO representative or chaplain about the problem. In other words, their second option is to ask for help.
But even though help is there, women Marines, who are already working hard to compete with male Marines and prove their worth, often feel that asking for help will turn them into a “rat” in the eyes of their peers, said Sgt. Ana Clark, a bulk fuels specialist from New York. It’s hard to keep your problems confidential, she added.
“I think the biggest problem is gossip,” Clark said. “Once you ask for help, everyone knows about it.”
Dupree and Clark both said they would like to see more men attend symposiums such as this one to help them better understand their female counterparts and how to help them when problems arise.
The topic of women in the military has always been a sensitive and controversial one. This is Woody’s view:
“In my short tenure with the Marine Corps -- twenty-nine years -- I have found that there are some women that, if we went to combat, I would want in my fighting hole, and there are some men that I would absolutely not take,” he said. “You cannot stereotype one gender against the other. You have to take each individual as an individual and measure them against the mission.”