Friday marked the 76th anniversary of the Women Marines Association NC-1 Tarheel Chapter. To celebrate, the organization hosted a luncheon and ceremony at the Paradise Point Officers Club on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
Guest speaker of the event was Raquel Painter, a retired sergeant major who served 26 1/2 years in the Marine Corps. Painter was part of Female Engagement Teams (FET) as well as Lioness Programs.
“I was lucky enough to lead the FET in Afghanistan,” said Painter. “We had the privilege of engaging with a population men couldn’t engage with. We also gathered intelligence, which helped us provide aid for women and children. We patrolled to make sure we could help as many people as possible. … FET was a unique experience.”
Painter also looked back at the history of women in the Corps. She expressed astonishment at the progress made in the last 100 years in which women have been part of the Marine Corps.
“It’s remarkable what we’ve accomplished in 100 years. … Even in the early years, we didn’t even have a rifle. And what’s a Marine? A rifleman,” said Painter.
She also looked at MCB Camp Lejeune itself and how those Marines had left their mark on the area. The streets around the Joint Reception Center, said Painter, are named after women because it was where women Marines trained beginning in 1944. It was also where they ate and slept — all while surrounded by barbed wire fencing.
She acknowledged the tenacity of women who wished to join the Marine Corps, past and present, for changing practices. She mentioned her time spent on recruiting duty and how women recruits were not sought out.
“Our demographic was males age 18 to 21. It still is,” said Painter. “Nothing wrong with that. But it means that women Marines, myself included, found a recruiter and we kicked the door in.”
Painter made not of women Marines she called pioneers, like Pvt. Opha May Johnson, who became the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps. She also paid tribute to women in attendance such as Dolores Luhm, current president of NC-1 Tarheel Chapter. Luhm was one of the first women to work in a Utilities Military Occupational Specialty.
Painter also acknowledged Maria Daume, the first woman to ever join the infantry through the entry level training process.
“She’s paving the way for the future,” said Painter. “It’s not going to be easy for her. … Everyone, all of us, have to reach out and help her. We’ve still got a ways to go, but we’re going to get there with everyone’s help.”
“History is made by pioneers,” Painter concluded.
Also in attendance were June Mills, who served from 1954 to 1956, and Pfc. Jayzeonia Tidwell who is currently in the Personnel Administration School. At 82 years young and 18 respectively, Mills and Tidwell participated in a ceremonial cake-cutting to show the bond between generations of Marines.
“It’s life-changing being here,” said Tidwell. “I never expected to experience so much so early on in my career. I love it.”
“I just love the Marine Corps,” said Mills.
The two women called meeting one another an honor — something that Painter addressed.
“To be in a position to influence others, to bond with one another and stretch out that hand … anytime we can help someone, I am a happy camper,” said Painter.