Tag Archives: Marine Barracks

Oohrah for Strong Women

The Major Marches

Not familiar with “ooh-rah”? It’s that explosive sound that Marines use to express enthusiastic approval. I heard it at Friday’s evening parade at Marine Barracks in Washington DC and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Among the precision marchers on the parade ground and ceremonial hosters were a few women in uniforms identical to their male counterparts. And they looked sharp.

I was saddened, then, when I saw the trolls out on Marine Barracks’ Facebook page commenting on the photo that appears up top:

Thank God I got out of the corps before I witnessed this political crap take place!

It seems that several of the Barracks’ Facebook followers were dismayed to learn that women had invaded the Corps, and in this case, were wearing the male uniform.

A woman Facebooker responded far more courteously than I might have (but knowing online trolls, I like to stay out of their line of fire):

Gentlemen, it’s the prescribed parade uniform for designated personnel at the Barracks. Pls keep your personal attacks/feelings against this Marine to yourselves.

The Major also received support from two men who follow the Marine Barracks page:

I look at it like this. I dont care which uniform of the Marines she is wearing. She a Major and by the looks of it, has had a pretty good career. Semper Fi Major!

I prefer that she wear this one as she carriers herself, the Ladies of the Corps and the Marine Corps well. Semper Fi

I had the honor and pleasure of meeting the Marine they were writing about. And she’s not just any Marine. Major Sarah Armstrong is the first female parade commander of a Friday Evening Parade, a tradition that started back in my Dad’s time as Executive Officer of Marine Barracks.

Those shiny medals on her jacket? They’re campaign and achievement medals. She earned ’em the hard way. At least one of those ribbons denotes her tour in Afghanistan.

My mother was a strong woman. My friends are strong women. My daughter is a strong woman.

In the place where my father served 56 years ago, at a time when only men achieved positions of leadership in the Marine Corps, I’m thrilled to see Major Armstrong doing her thing, and doing it so competently.

As one of the Facebookers concluded:

Ooorah ma’am!

Update:

Per the comment I received from my second cousin John, turns out I’ve got a strong woman in my extended family in the form of Col. Marne Sutten, US Army. She’s married to John’s son, Col. Grant Fawcett. Between the two of them they served five tours in Iraq. They’re busy raising their two children in Tampa, FL. Photos provided by John Fawcett:

Just after Col. Megan Sutten's promotion ceremony, watched happily by her husband Grant via video

Just after Col. Megan Sutten’s promotion ceremony, watched happily by her husband Grant via video

Col. Megan Sutten and Col. Grant Fawcett

Col. Megan Sutten and Col. Grant Fawcett

Col. Grant Fawcett as the last convoys pull out of Iraq

Col. Grant Fawcett as the last convoys pull out of Iraq

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Tracing My Father’s Footsteps

marineband

The whole time that I was getting ready to leave for my meeting this morning, I was rehearsing what I would say in my mind. Everything sounded wrong. Then I put on my just-ironed white blouse. Too sheer. Put a tank underneath it. Tied a colorful scarf around my shoulders. Untied it. Did it a different way.

I was representing my Dad to his contemporary counterpart and I had to get it right to meet the Executive Officer of the Corps’ oldest post.

Having allowed for traffic, I arrived at 8th and I about a half hour early and pulled into one of the diagonal parking spots. Turned off the car.

I heard a trumpet fanfare. Sounded like the Marine Corps band. I thought perhaps one of the restaurants across the street was piping it outside to appeal to the tourists. Then the music stopped. Started again. Stopped again. The same musical phrase was repeated several times in a row.

I got out of the car and looked behind me. Between the two-story brick buildings, past the tidy painted iron fence, I could see the edge of reviewing stands. That’s the parade ground, I realized, the one in Dad’s black and white pictures of the evening parade.

The Marine Corps band was practicing outside at the very moment I arrived.

Entering the gate on 8th, I parked as directed alongside the parade ground, next to the building marked “Center House,” and “Bachelor’s Quarters.” Immediately, a precisely-pressed Marine approached me. It was LtC. Garnett, the current Exec Officer of Marine Barracks.

We entered Center House, which functions – as it did in my Dad’s day – as the reception area for visitors and Marine officers. LtC. Garnett stowed his tan cap in the slots provided for that purpose in the entry. He ushered me into a room with two large leather couches that faced each other. He asked if I had memories of my Dad’s service there, and I explained that I was born while Dad and Mom were stationed in Canada, just a few months before my Dad assumed his role as XO. I said that Dad had some wonderful experiences, experiences I was sure he was having, too, as one wasn’t asked to serve as XO unless someone wanted you there.

He explained that he had served in Afghanistan as Executive Officer of the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Division. When his Commanding Officer of the 8th was appointed Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks, he asked LtC. Garnett to come with him.

I pulled out my book of photos, worried that I would bore him – the equivalent of inflicting your home movies on a stranger.

He pointed out that the grass on the parade ground, which doubled as a baseball field in my Dad’s time, now had to be maintained perfectly. The evening parade, now a tradition for more than 50 years, was started while Gen. Leonard Chapman was Commanding Officer of the Barracks, and the same format and traditions persist today. In some of the photos, there is a tree, which the Lt. Colonel explained was the ceremonial tree. It had died of a virus, and a post and sign about it still serve as the dividing line between the south and north viewing stands. Guests of the post are seated just to its south.

“This is like royalty,” he said, looking at the officers in Dad’s photos, many of whom had legendary careers in the Marines.

When we got to photos of men holding silver mugs, standing in front of a wall of mugs, he said, “That’s here. That’s the drum room.”

LtC GarnettOn a brief tour of Center House, he explained that it’s still the gathering place on Friday nights. The drum room has an ample number of beer taps. Each of the officers assigned to the Barracks have a mug associated with their position, and on the far side of the mug is engraved the names of those who have held it in recent years. When room for names is exhausted, the mug is retired. He explained that, when the building was renovated in the 70s, the mugs were sent to Quantico with the intent of returning them following the renovation. Unfortunately, they were lost and never restored to the Barracks.

My father served under Gen. Leonard Chapman, then CO of Marine Barracks

My father served under Gen. Leonard Chapman, then CO of Marine Barracks

I said several times that I didn’t want to take too much of his time. He explained, smiling, “This is part of what we do. This is the legacy of the Marines.”

He said that he hoped that some day his son would be interested in learning more about his father’s experience at Marine Barracks. His son, now three, was born while he was in Afghanistan.

I noted that it was my mother’s decision to come east to marry Dad, and that she sent him a telegram to that effect not long after Pearl Harbor.

“She was a pretty strong woman,” I commented. He smiled. “I guess we attract strong women,” he said, smiling. He had asked his wife to follow him on one of his deployments prior to Afghanistan. “She said she’d go… with a ring on her finger,” he noted.

After covering a few logistics, he walked me out to the car.

“I bet your Dad is up there organizing things in heaven,” he said. I replied, “Mom got there first and I’m sure she had it all under control.”

As I approached the car, the Marine Corps Band had just come to the finale of the song that always reduced Dad to tears: “Glory, glory, hallelujah, His Truth is marching on.” Dad said he cried because it reminded him of all of the good men he knew, men that died in the War. We ended Dad’s memorial with the Mormon Tabernacle choir version.

The way the Marines play it, it ends with what seems to be the final chord,  but after a pause, it crescendos in slow pulses, a half step higher, and another half step, and another half – again and again, until finally the trumpets blare in a massive, perfect chord. The air vibrates as the echo dies away.

It felt like Dad had arranged it, just for me.

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