Seventy years ago the first African-American Marines endured grueling training at Montford Point Camp, breaking ground — and breaking racial barriers — to transform the face of the Corps. Because of those brave men, I am able to serve today.

Since becoming a Marine, I have been inspired by other groundbreakers. Col. Gilda Jackson, the first African-American woman to achieve that rank in the Marine Corps, is a modern-day hero of mine. So is Col. Stephanie Smith, a fellow Marine who has provided me with countless hours of advice and guidance. Col. Smith helped me break my own ground and become one of the few black women to achieve the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

My path here wasn’t easy or short. I was born to a single mother in West Palm Beach, Fla. My mom enlisted in the Navy because she wanted a better life for me. It worked, in more ways than I think she anticipated.

Initially, her service opened doors and provided financial stability that would otherwise have been difficult to achieve — and in fact wasn’t achievable for many families like mine. She met a wonderful man at her first duty station, and he adopted me. Their union and their service changed my life then, and continued to change my life. They inspired me to join.

Becoming a Marine was extremely physically and mentally challenging, as I discovered in basic training, and as has remained true throughout my 17-year career. It’s also incredibly rewarding.

I have been presented with opportunities I could never have imagined: I was the first female Officer in Charge of the Jungle Warfare Training Center, and I was also the Camp Commander of Camp Gonsalves. I was the only woman there, yet I led a group of Marines who respected my rank and billet.

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article courtesy of Kisha Flagg USMC

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