Marine helped pave the way for servicewomen
By Angela Elbern, Kukini Photojournalist
/ Published March 09, 2007
HICKAM AFB, HI -- When Debra "Deb" Lynn Straight greets you with a smile as you walk into her office at the 15th Airlift Wing Headquarters, it's hard to miss the 2003 Master Gunnery Sergeant Retirement Certificate from the United States Marine Corps hanging on the wall behind her.
"Master Gunnery Sergeant is the equivalent to a Chief, the highest enlisted rank," says the retired Marine, who now works as a civilian with the 15th Airlift Wing Inspector General's office. "You don't find too many old timers at that rank. The percentage of women that served when I joined (in 1973) was very small. We only made up two percent of the entire Corps. But now, the Air Force is at about 10 percent."
Ms. Straight notes that when she first enlisted, the slogan used to recruit women in the Marines was, "Free a man to fight!"
"So you came in to do the job behind the scenes which allowed a male to go forward and actually fight in combat," Straight says. "It wasn't until 1975 when they actually integrated women into the full branches of the military. We still had the Women Marines, the WAVs, the WACs, the WAFs ... Women Army Corps, the Women Air Force ... So even though you joined the Air Force, you were a part of the "Women" Air Force."
According to Straight, women are still not allowed in the infantry and artillery divisions of the Marine Corps ... although she notes, "if you go back to the Civil War, every woman with a gun was participating."
On a related note, Straight says she found out a year before she retired that she comes from a long line of American patriots.
"My grandfather, nine generations back, fought for the American Revolution, " she says. "That meant a great deal to me ... that I was just another generation to continue allegiance to the United States."