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Gunnery Sergeant JoAnna Mendoza

United States Marine Corps

Quantico, VA

I am the only woman in my family to be a US Marine. I am the first to serve in two branches of service, the first to deploy to combat, and the first woman to earn a college degree.

I am the daughter of farm workers and the oldest of five. We grew up poor. During the summers, my parents worked the cotton fields. As the oldest, I was expected to work. I began working in the fields at the age of eight. Every summer was dedicated to working in the cotton fields, under the hot Arizona sun. The summer grind motivated to get a job at a restaurant, as soon as I turned sixteen. Any indoor job was better than working in 115-degree temperatures. I believe that my parents exposed me to backbreaking work, so that I would strive to get an education. What a great strategy.

All my parents wanted was for me to live a life with fewer struggles than they had endured. At 17, I left home and enlisted in the United States Navy. By the time I turned 21, I had traveled half way around the world and served one enlistment honorably. After I left the Navy, I realized the impact that serving in the military had on me. I decided to enlist again.

I joined the Marine Corps. Very few men are United States Marines and even fewer are women. The higher I move up on the leadership ladder, the more I find myself having to prove that I deserve to wear the rank on my collar. At section-head meetings, I was often the only woman in attendance, and I shied away from sitting at the table. Maybe because subconsciously I didn’t feel worthy, but mostly I didn’t want to appear arrogant for being appointed to a position of authority.

I realized that by not sitting at the table I was not living up to my full potential and that I was setting a bad example for other women to follow. I’ve served my country for almost twenty years. I have reached many milestones and I can confidently say that I consider myself accomplished.

I am the only woman in my family to be a US Marine. I am the first to serve in two branches of service, the first to deploy to combat, and the first woman to earn a college degree. I think I’ve done pretty well for myself.  I now understand my right to sit at the table.

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