PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. --
On May 5, 2022, a group of proud women gathered in front of the historic 4th Battalion on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to unearth a time capsule that had been buried 10 years earlier, and to celebrate the persevering service of women in the Marine Corps.
Some in attendance hadn’t been an active duty Marine in many years, but all had come with a clear expression of pride and belonging.
The scene was strikingly similar to a celebration held on February 13, 2012 to commemorate 69 years of women serving in the Marine Corps, hosted in the very same place in front of 4th Battalion.
Those in attendance on May 5th included members of the Women Marines Association, Marines assigned to various units across the depot, and the command team who buried the time capsule in 2012.
As the box was hoisted out of the ground, the crowd cheered, excited to see the tattered wood still holding strong. Through many hurricanes and tropical storms, the time capsule kept most of it’s contents safe and waiting to be unveiled by Marines of the future.
Inside were relics of female drill instructors, officers, and veterans that were significant to each of their time serving. Decades of changes in the experience of a female Marine were represented by each item pulled out of the capsule.
Digging Up History
Photo by Lance Cpl. Michelle Brudnicki
Brig. Gen. Julie L. Nethercot, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island and Eastern Recruiting Region Commanding General (left), Sgt. Maj. Robin C. Fortner (Ret.) (left center), Lt. Col. Axia R. Dones, 4th Recruit Training Battalion Commanding Officer (center), Col. Maria Marte (Ret.) (center right), and Rhonda Amtower, National President of the Women Marines Association, pose for a photo in front of the exposed time capsule on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island S.C., May 5, 2022. The time capsule was buried on February 13, 2012 as a part of the celebration of 69 years of continued service by women in the Marine Corps.
Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner, retired, was the Battalion sergeant major at the time of the time capsule being buried, and was in attendance to open the box. She had placed multiple items in the time capsule all those years ago and has been an active advocate for women in the Marine Corps and their history since her enlistment in 1990.
“I was the sergeant major of 4th Battalion at the time ,” Fortner said. “We put together the 69th anniversary at the time to celebrate the continuous service of women in the Marine Corps. Our goal was to bring things to emulate pride to the drill instructors and recruits of 4th Battalion and to aid in preserving the history of women Marines.”
This time capsule served as a visual representation of how far women have come in the Marine Corps, even in just the last 10 years. The cover and dress blues coat have been changed to match that of male Marines, advancements in the equalization of physical standards, gender integration, and the opening of all occupational fields to female Marines are some of the changes made to female Marines’ service since the capsule was placed in the ground.
Just 10 years ago, women could not serve in combat roles, and 4th Battalion on Parris Island was the only battalion within the Recruit Training Regiment that trained female recruits..
“A lot has changed in 10 years!” Fortner said. “From the covers we’re wearing to the uniform that is worn now.”
The feelings of nostalgia and pride were present in all who attended the ceremony that day.
“I got so much joy out of seeing others come back to where it all began,” said Fortner. “There were veterans who became Marines in the 1970s present and who put items in that box.”
The Marine Corps has always thrived on its esprit de corps. This legacy continued into the newer Marines who took the time to attend the historic ceremony.
“Watching the pride of being a Marine go into a box along with hopes and prayers that it would withstand weather and the test of time, just became so rewarding to see it come full circle and to share those mementos with the Marines of today,” expressed Fortner. “It was just epic”
Every aspect of the Marine Corps has a story; from the Marines who serve or have served in our ranks, to the uniforms they adorn today. Each item is unique in its own way and has left a lasting impression on the Marines who used them.
“I really enjoyed the ‘oohs and ahhs’ of seeing what survived and then the reminiscing going on with each piece and it’s story.” Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner, retired Battalion sergeant major
“Each item as we took it out had its own story. You could see newer drill instructors and Marines looking at each of these items and hearing the stories behind them and recognizing the passing down of a legacy occurring in front of them,” said Fortner.
The time capsule was a piece of the larger effort to make 4th Battalion a symbol of pride for Marines past, present, and future. Col. Maria Marte, retired, along with her team in charge of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion at the time in 2012, achieved multiple goals of re-designing the headquarters of the battalion to reflect women’s history as well as to give each company reason to have pride in itself and its roots.
“I walked into the battalion and there were two dilapidated photos of different headquarters where the battalion once stood,” Marte said in a speech. “These images were in bowed frames with staining from age, and I asked myself ‘Is this what the Marines see and what they believe the battalion is reflecting?’”
Marte spent her time as the battalion commander making lasting changes that she hoped would inspire every Marine and recruit within the battalion to feel pride in the history they were becoming a part of.
“I can proudly say that each company in 4th Battalion has a logo and a coin that was established in 2012,” said Marte in reference to one of the changes.
In the future, with constant changes and advances being made to the service of women in the Marine Corps, it is hoped that the barriers broken and glass ceilings shattered will not be lost on female Marines who only know a fully integrated and equal Corps.
“I hope we continue to tell the stories to the future generation of Marines,” said Fortner. “I have a lot of confidence in that passing of history and legacy. Integration is a part of the history, it is now a part of the story. As long as we look at it like that, we’ll be just fine.”