NEW ORLEANS, LA --
As the clock ticked away on her senior year of college, Brietta Larmon knew she had little time to decide what was next. She needed a pursuit that would fit her outgoing personality and military background. By the end of her senior year, she found exactly the adventure she was looking for: the thrill of flying.
Growing up, Larmon, now a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps and the assistant chief of staff for the G-1, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, was surrounded by military figures. Her father was in the Navy, her oldest brother was in the Air Force, and a second brother was in the Army. She always knew she would end up in the service, but where she would end up was the question on her mind.
“I knew a lot about the Navy because of my dad and because I spent a lot of time on Naval Air Station Brunswick in Maine teaching aerobics during college,” Larmon said. “I also worked at a bar in town where some of the pilots from the base would come from time to time. So I heard all their stories and that’s where not only my interest in the Navy grew larger, but also my interest for becoming a pilot.”
The connection she developed with those pilots opened the door to what would become the adventure of a lifetime.
“The stories the pilots told just captivated me,” Larmon said. “One day, they took me to the flight simulator and I fell in love with it. They gave me the recruiter’s number, I called him and told him I was ready to join the Navy, but the catch was I demanded a flight contract. He made it happen and the rest is history.”
As her career kicked off with the Navy in 1998, Larmon completed officer training and headed for flight school. After just a short period of time, a new interest developed.
“While I was in flight school, I started to notice the camaraderie amongst the Marines,” Larmon said enthusiastically. “It was something I wanted to be a part of. So I went to the senior advisor and asked about switching services. He made some calls, got me the paperwork and after it was all said and done, I joined the Marine Corps after just under two years in the Navy.”
Larmon’s career in the Marine Corps took off. Even while under the microscope for being one of the few female pilots, she held her ground and let her skills flying the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters do the talking. This came with guidance from one of her mentors, the first female aviator in the Marine Corps.
“The aviation field is heavily male dominated,” Larmon said. “As a female, I went in with thought process of ‘when I leave the room, or operate an aircraft, I want those around me to see a Marine pilot, not a female pilot.’ I had Lt. Col. Sarah Deal Burrow at my first squadron in 2001 to mentor me and show me the ropes. She was a strong female I could look up to and paved the way in aviation for the rest of us to fall in under.”
Ready for a change
What is unique about Larmon’s experience in the Marine Corps is that she has seen it from all angles. She served on active duty until 2006 then transitioned to the Reserve component, where she took full advantage of the opportunities.
“A common misconception of Reserve Marines is that there are not many opportunities to activate and mobilize, and that is not the case,” Larmon said. “In 2009 I deployed to Afghanistan during the troop surge, again in 2012 as a C12 Huron pilot and then in 2016 I deployed to Honduras with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Southern Command as a CH-53E pilot where I got to provide humanitarian assistance to areas struck by Hurricane Matthew.”
The Marine Corps Reserve not only provides Marines with great opportunities within the Marine Corps, but also in their civilian jobs.
“I am a production test pilot for Sikorsky Helicopters, which is a helicopter manufacturing company for both civilian and military use,” Larmon said. “I’ve been able to use my knowledge from the Marine Corps in my civilian job and vice versa with my civilian job in the Marine Corps.”
Larmon is currently serving with 4th MAW as an active-reserve Marine. Marines in the AR program serve full-time and receive the same pay and benefits as active duty Marines. This includes change of duty stations, serving additional billets like recruiters or drill instructors and they qualify for active duty retirement benefits.
“I made the decision to join the Reserves because I still wanted the Marine Corps in my life, but also did what was best for my family at the time,” Larmon said. “I had so many opportunities to enhance my resume with different schools and deployments. When the billet with the MAW came up, I was excited to get back to day-to-day interactions with the Marines and being able to watch those Marines grow as I did.”
Just as Larmon had a strong mentor in her career, she hopes that she can encourage and advise the Marines she leads.
“My advice to these junior Marines just entering the gun club is to be as fast and as strong as you can be right out of the gate, in everything you do,” Larmon said. “You might have to train longer and work harder than the person next to you, but that shouldn’t stop you from breaking down barriers. At the end of the day, I don’t want anyone to question whether or not I can carry my load, and that is what I want to instill in these young Marines.”
After several deployments and thousands of flight hours, Larmon considers what will come next as her 20-year milestone approaches. It is evident that wherever she ends up, she hopes to continue to be a role model and mentor to those in the service.
“I love being around Marines,” Larmon said with a beaming smile. “So as long as that remains true and I get to put on this uniform every day, then I don’t have any plans of leaving the Marine Corps anytime soon. This has been a journey for me, and now I want to help others get their adventure started.”