CIAA Celebrates 100 Years of Female Marines

March 03, 2018

While celebrating the accomplishments and competitive spirit of student athletes at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) 2018 Basketball Tournament, the CIAA paused to honor 100 years of women serving in the United States Marine Corps during the men’s semifinals at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, March 2, 2018. 

In front of a crowd of nearly 10,000 college basketball fans, female Marines, past and present, stood center stage with the CIAA commissioner and staff members of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) participating in the tournament to recognize the scarifices and efforts of female Marines. 

One hundred years ago, on August 12, 1918, then-Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels granted authority to enlist women for clerical duty in the Marine Corps Reserve. The following day, Opha May Johnson enlisted and officially became the first woman Marine. 

During the remainder of World War I, 305 women enlisted with the intention of “freeing a man to fight.” Over the next two decades, approximately 18,000 enlisted and 1,000 officer females served. Historically, during the last year of World War II, women Marines represented over half of the personnel on Marine Corps bases in the continental United States. 

Years later, the 1948 Congress passed the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, which authorized women to be a regular component in the Marine Corps. Currently, more than seven percent of the Corps are women with the capability of serving in every Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). 

Additionally, during the men’s second semifinal game, the Marine Corps was able to recognize five outstanding student athlete advisory committee students from various HBCUs. 

“It’s important that we recognize the accomplishments of these students,” said Sgt. Maj. Robin Fortner, sergeant major of Marine Corps Systems Command. “The fact that we are recognizing their achievements, lets them know, as a nation, that we are looking at them and we recognize and value their efforts.”

According to Fortner, the Marine Corps greatly appreciates the recognition of 100 years of female Marines. 

“Any recognition of what we do in the Marine Corps is important,” said Fortner. “With this being the 100th anniversary of women in the Marine Corps, many citizens might not be aware of it or the significance of their contributions. It shows that not only we value our Marines, but the communities we’re in do as well.” 

During the weeklong tournament, the Marine Corps was also able to engage with members of the Charlotte community and fans of the CIAA tournament at the CIAA High School Education Day, Diversity and Inclusion Townhall Forum, CIAA Fest, Food Lion Chancellor’s and President’s Dinner and during the semifinals and final game of the tournament. 

The CIAA is a collegiate athletic conference made up of 12 HBCUs and is affiliated at the Division II level of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Conference members are located in Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and Pennsylvania, and are comprised of both public and private colleges and universities with enrollments ranging from 750 to over 8,000 students. 

“The partnership between the Marine Corps and CIAA is a great one,” said Col. Melvin G. Carter, assistant chief of staff for 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force. “There is a very strong population of African-Americans. It’s pretty clear that for 18 years, we’ve not only been getting quality leads, but have reached a number of key influencers not only in the CIAA, but in the community as well.”

According to Carter, another key aspect of the partnership is interaction between the Marines and the HBCUs involved. 

“The chancellors and presidents of these schools are not only influential in the lives of these students, but in the community too,” said Carter. “Ultimately, once a student finishes college and they are looking for something bigger and better, the Marine Corps could be their option.”

The CIAA is America’s oldest African-American athletic conference; producing championships annually in the following sports: Men’s and Women’s Cross Country; Volleyball; Football; Men’s and Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track; Men’s and Women’s Basketball; Women’s Bowling; Women’s Tennis; Golf; and Softball.

“There’s a reason why we partner with the CIAA,” said Carter. “It has been working for 18 years and that’s one of the strengths of this relationship. When you look at the CIAA and the things they produce, these student athletes, they have the same drive and determination that we strive to achieve. These students are highly skilled athletic individuals, very physically fit, motivated and driven. These ultimately are the same characteristics we look for in Marine Corps officers.”