‘She’s one of us’: Lieutenant becomes 1st female Marine combat platoon commander

Opha May Johnson was the first woman to enlist in August 1918.

As the Marine Corps prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women in its service on Monday, there is one female Marine continuing to shatter the glass ceiling.

Last September, First Lt. Marina A. Hierl became the first woman to graduate from the Infantry Officer Course at Quantico, Virginia, a demanding 13-week program Marines are required to complete before leading an infantry platoon.

'She's one of us'

Hierl, 24, grew up in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and worked on a horse farm, before attending the University of Southern California, the New York Times reported.

"I wanted to do something important with my life," she told the paper about her desire to join the Marines. "I wanted to be part of a group of people that would be willing to die for each other."

After learning in 2013 that then-defense secretary Leon Panetta had lifted the ban on women in combat roles, Hierl told the Times that she knew she wanted to lead a platoon.

"I didn’t think there was anything better in the Marine Corps I could do," Hierl explained to the paper.

But women weren't allowed in the infantry until 2015, and the Marines were the last service to integrate women into combat units.

Hierl persevered, making history by becoming the first woman to graduate the Infantry Officer Course and then again as the Marines' first female platoon commander, leading a team that is based out of Camp Pendleton, California.

While dozens of women have attempted to complete the grueling Infantry Officer Course, only two have passed. Hierl's lone female companion is reportedly working through a follow-on intelligence school, which, if she completes, would make her the Marine Corps' only female ground intelligence officer.

The Times reported that while Hierl's arrival at Echo Company was at first met with skepticism, she is now respected among her fellow Marines and is focused on being recognized for her leadership, not trailblazing.

"She's one of us," Lance Cpl. Kai Segura, 20, told the Times.

Celebrating 100 years of women in service

The history of women in the Marines began with Opha May Johnson. She was the first woman to enlist in the service on Aug. 13, 1918, the day after then-Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels allowed women to enlist for clerical duty in the Marine Corps Reserve.

In 1918, American women had not yet been granted the right to vote, but Johnson, who was 39 years old at the time, joined the Marine Corps anyway, serving as a clerk at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

On Monday, the anniversary of Johnson's enlistment, the Marine Corps will celebrate 100 years of women in the service by opening a new exhibition. The contributions of female Marines will be part of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Since 2001, more than 15,000 female Marines have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten women have lost their lives in combat. In 2005, Lance Cpl. Holly A. Charlette became the first female Marine to be killed in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated near her convoy in Fallujah.

Today, women only make up about 8 percent of the Marine Corps, by far the lowest percentage of any branch of the military when compared to the Army, Navy, and Air Force. But female Marines continue to make inroads.

In addition to Hierl's accomplishments, female Marines are serving as officers in artillery, tanks, and assault amphibious vehicles for the first time this year.

Speaking at the 100th anniversary celebration on Monday will be another woman making history for the Marines: Lt. Gen. Loretta "Lori" Reynolds.

Reynolds is only the third woman to earn the three-star rank of lieutenant general in the Marine Corps. In 2011, as a one-star general, she became the first woman to lead the Marine Corps' recruiting depot at Parris Island.

Reynolds is now the deputy commandant for information in the Marine Corps and the commander of Marine Corps Forces Strategic Command.