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From Siberia to the Marines: Meet one of Parris Island's first female infantry graduates

Maria Daume, Platoon 4001, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, was born in a Russian prison and brought to Long Island, N.Y., at the age of 4 when she and her twin brother were adopted

GREG THOMAS/U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO

By LIZ FARRELL | The Island Packet (Hilton Head Island, S.C.) (Tribune News Service) | Published: January 15, 2017

She was told not to do it.

In fact, she was told she would regret it.

But, just like the thousands upon thousands of newly anointed Marines before her, she was too tired and hungry and excited to heed the advice.

By the end of the Warriors Breakfast on Jan. 7 — which is to say, after 54 hours of long marches, heavy loads and tests of physical and mental endurance — Maria Daume had managed to stuff down four plates of food, each containing its own slice of cake.

And then, just like those thousands upon thousands before her, she paid the price for her post-Crucible gluttony, her first meal as a Marine after her final test to become one.

Back at the barracks, she found a laundry bag full of dirty clothes and collapsed on top of it. She lay there on her side for a long while.

“I was so sick,” she said.

Later, when she was able to call home, she told her grandmother how ill she felt.

“Go to the doctor’s office,” her grandmother, Mary Dawson, said.

“Umm…” Daume, 18, laughed telling the story later.

She tried to explain to her grandmother how this was recruit training; she couldn’t just get up and leave and go to any old doctor’s office as if she were a civilian.

“Tell them your grandmother says so,” her grandmother said emphatically.

Daume smiled.

“She doesn’t understand all this,” she said Friday, her grandmother just a short distance away, standing and beaming on the parade deck of Parris Island with the rest of Daume’s family, friends and even friends’ families, a talkative and happy crowd who had come from Long Island, N.Y., to see her graduate.

For Daume, “all this” is not just completing boot camp and becoming a Marine, though. She is among the first women in the history of the Marine Corps to finish recruit training with every job available to her.

She is also one of the first four women in the history of the Marine Corps to graduate with an infantry contract in hand.

Having an infantry contract means that these women have qualified to continue their entry-level training in ground combat at the School of Infantry at Camp Geiger in North Carolina, training that was previously unavailable to them.

If they meet the training standards there, they will then be billeted to combat arms units and join the three female Marines who completed the school of infantry as part of the Corps’ years-long, gender-integration research and who earlier this month became the first female Marines to join an infantry unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Jobs in infantry include rifleman, scout sniper, armor Marine, machine gunner, anti-tank missile Marine and infantry assault Marine. Many of the infantry job titles have been changed by the Marines to replace the word “man” with “Marine.”

Nearly 100 years after Opha May Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the Marines and less than 40 years after women were considered half a man to recruiters’ quotas, this is merely the next generation of those who, since the Civil War, have had to daily prove themselves to be as capable and as worthy to fight for their country and their values in the same way men do.

These young women, who are still finding ways to be “firsts” in 2017, will now venture forth to extend the beaten path a little farther for the Marines who follow, including the four other women currently on Parris Island hoping to graduate with infantry contracts next.

‘She could do anything’

Maj. Gen. Loretta Reynolds, who was the first woman to command Parris Island, from 2011 to 2014, returned to Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Friday.

She was there for the retirement of Sgt. Maj. Angela Maness, one of the top officers at Parris Island and the first woman to assume the duties of senior enlisted Marine at Marine Barracks Washington in 2013, a job that is known as the oldest in the Corps, according to the Women Marines Association.

Both were at the graduation Friday, and Reynolds served as the reviewing officer for the ceremony.

Recruit Depot spokesman Capt. Gregory Carroll tells me this is just a coincidence.

But as the announcer read Reynolds’ list of accomplishments to the new Marines and their families Friday morning — something that took a full four minutes to complete — it was hard to ignore the symbolism of her presence.

Sue Chabut of Bloomingburg, N.Y., sat nearby in the first row of the bleachers with her son, Jason.

They were there to see Sue’s granddaughter — Jason’s daughter — Ashley, who was the honor graduate in her platoon in Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, the all-woman company on base staff only by female drill instructors and officers. Ashley, she said, hopes to become an assistant recruiter.

As the announcer listed Reynolds’ billets, her prestigious training and the honors she’s received over the years, Sue Chabut made small sounds of approval.

At the end, she let out a breath.

“What a career she’s had,” she said slowly and quietly. “Wow.”

And then she went back to peering through her binoculars so she could see her first-born grandchild in the distance.

Sue told me that her granddaughter is also the first Marine in their family.

“It’s the only thing she’s ever wanted to do,” she said.

“Do you know what inspired her to want to become a Marine?” I asked.

Sue shook her head, mystified.

“You know … I don’t know.”

When the new Marines were dismissed, Sue’s son — a proud man who, during the ceremony and as his daughter received special recognition and was presented with a plaque, appeared to be giving it his all to keep his emotions under control — shot up and out of his seat to go find his daughter among the masses.

Without a moment of hesitation.

In that crowd, and after some effort, I found Pfc. Maria Daume, who was one of 626 new Marines and one of 120 new female Marines, who graduated Friday.

I knew what she looked like. She had been interviewed several times for stories and news segments, including on “Fox and Friends” and ABC News. I had seen her looking tough and throwing frightening punches on camera as a poolee. I had seen her looking girly and gorgeous in her $500 on-point cut-away prom gown on Facebook.

In person, though, she looked like every other Marine. Only vaguely identifiable. Her posture exact. Her chin pitched slightly forward. Her eyes impassive.

When we sat down to talk, she transformed again to an exuberant teenager who talks rapidly and certainly, with a deep Long Island accent.

Daume’s story is usually written the same way. She was born in a Siberian prison, described as hellish, and she lived there with her mother and twin brother for two years until her mother’s death.

She and her twin, Nikolai, then lived in a Russian orphanage until they were 4 and adopted by a couple, Maureen and John Daume, from the United States.

Daume doesn’t remember a lot from that time. But to this day, she will not drink apple juice.

Apple juice is what they drank in that orphanage, and Russian orphanage apple juice is different from the sweet American variety.

The kind of different that leaves a lasting and gagging impression.

“They made it by putting rotten apple in water,” she told me.

Her adoption is interesting in that her mother still worries that she’ll be taken from her. Daume was bullied for being adopted. And she’s still being adopted in a sense, by friends who are drawn to her, by her friends’ families who adore her, by mentors and supporters and even by the Marine Corps.

Daume’s father, John, died nearly two years ago, but there were plenty of surrogates to stand in for him Friday. Her brother, a college student studying forensics, was there with her cousin, Thomas. Arnold Reyes, the father of her best friend Brianna Reyes, was there and in his Army uniform. Scott Doherty, a veteran Marine and father of another of Daume’s best friends, Shannon, was there too along with his father, Martin, also a veteran Marine.

They all drove 16 hours to see her graduate, alongside her mother and grandmother.

“Everybody loves this girl,” Scott Doherty said. “She excels in everything she does. As far as I’m concerned, she’ll be the toughest Marine, but put her in a dress and she’s a beauty queen.”

Daume looked over at us talking.

“Oh God,” she laughed, “You’re getting info from him?”

Martin Doherty had not been back to Parris Island in nearly 60 years and was still taken by the expanse of sky.

“It never ends,” he said, looking up. “It’s bee-yoo-tee-full.”

“I’m not even her blood,” he said of Maria, but he was proud nonetheless.

Over the past month, I had been keeping up with the stories of women Marines and the infantry. A year earlier, Defense Secretary Ash Carter had opened all jobs in the military to women, something the Marine Corps initially opposed. The Corps asked Carter to keep infantry, reconnaissance and machine gunner roles male-only, but he rejected the request.

This past summer, the Corps trained commanders and senior enlisted personnel in the ground combat gender-integration plan. And the first female Marine recruits with infantry contracts didn’t start training until this past October.

Inevitably, on every story that has been written, there are the comments.

Some are in support of the change.

But, as expected with any change, many are not happy about it.

The move infuriates some and feels uncomfortable to others. Mostly, the comments come from men who feel the civilian world misunderstands the unity required on the front line and how gender affects that.

The comments run the gamut, but mostly sound like this:

“This nation is going down the drain fast,” written by someone who also lamented racial integration and women getting to vote.

“Marines used to run toward the sound of gunfire. Now they run like girls toward the sight of a shopping mall,” written by someone who clearly doesn’t know that malls have been overtaken in popularity by outdoor shopping centers.

“Well, with luck Mattis will be in place before they graduate and it won’t matter: they will be all dressed up with nowhere to go,” written by someone who went for the jugular.

The argument against women in combat typically centered on physicality — women can’t physically do what men can, they assert. Now, as some women have proven they can meet the same standards as men, the argument has honed in on sexual relationships and “eros,” something Defense Secretary nominee Gen. James Mattis has said concerns him about mixed-gender combat units. It’s also a notion that was brought up during the 2016 presidential debates when a woman asked now-President-elect Donald Trump about his stance on women in the military and referenced an old tweet of his that linked sexual assaults to women being permitted to serve with men in the military in the first place.

During his confirmation hearing Thursday, Mattis said he has no plans to bar women from serving on the front lines. Trump’s position is still unclear.

But none of this reflects the thinking of a man like Martin Doherty, who took a break from marveling at Parris Island to talk about women in infantry.

“I love it! I love it!,” he said loudly.

Fifty-six years ago, he learned a lesson, Martin Doherty said, when he got out of the Marines and saw a pretty girl standing on the corner in the Bronx. He married her and had six kids. She died last summer, leaving him heartbroken.

“She was the greatest part of my life,” Doherty said, pulling out his wallet to show me black-and-white photos of them as a young couple.

His wife, Carol, he said, showed him that women are strong and tough, tougher than men.

“She could do anything,” he said.

‘I was wrong’

Last summer, Daume was working in a bar for some extra money while counting down her days to Parris Island with excitement and training at an MMA gym.

One day, a man started asking her about her decision to join the Marines.

He pummeled her with questions.

Why the Marines?

Why not the Navy?

Why not the Army?

She told him her reasons.

She has wanted to be a Marine since she was 12, and she learned to do pull-ups with Marines at an event to raise money for brain cancer research, a cause that meant a lot to her because of a neighbor who was sick with the disease.

She wanted to be in the infantry.

She wanted to fight ISIS.

“I thought he was a weirdo,” Daume said of the man.

She turned her back to him and when she looked back she saw that he was gone.

He had paid his bill and left this enthusiastic poolee, who had been giving him the side-eye because she wasn’t quite sure what he was up to, a $150 tip.

Daume’s determination and certainty are formidable. Her countenance almost challenges anyone to say she can’t do something.

She has met all ground combat standards in boot camp, which are tougher than before and are the same standards men must meet. Of her peers, only one female recruit out of five with an initial infantry contract did not meet those standards. One male recruit out of 147 with an infantry contract did not meet the standards.

She’s physically ready, an athlete and a mixed-martial arts fighter, and she rejects the idea that “eros” will get in her or any other determined female Marine’s way.

They’re not going to mess this up for themselves.

“They’ve got to get a new mind-set,” she said of the people who might have a problem with women in infantry roles, “... without automatically thinking (grunts are) sleeping together.”

When she finishes infantry school, she hopes to become a rifleman. She had not fired a weapon before coming to Parris Island, but it was the thing she was looking forward to the most since she had made the decision to become a Marine.

The feel of the rifle. The sound of the shot. The quest for absolute accuracy in her target every time. It all lived up to all her expectations.

She wants to eliminate the enemy, and she knows she has what it takes to do it.

During training, Daume and the other three women with infantry contracts were treated no differently from the other recruits in their platoons, but the drill instructors were eminently aware that they were training these four for a tough road ahead.

During Battle Warrior Training, it was especially on the DI’s minds. These women need to be ready.

Even though I get the sense from the Marines I’ve spoken to that most grunts don’t really seem to care that women will be joining them in roles they hadn’t before been able to fill, the four women at Parris Island will no doubt face negative comments.

But, as one drill instructor was overheard telling Daume on Friday, there will always be those negative comments to contend with. Just ignore them. Look ahead.

Which shouldn’t be a problem for Daume.

Everything about her personality and her being seems to be set on the future. She has a good sense of humor. And she frankly doesn’t seem to care one bit what people think about her. That’s their problem, not hers.

The burden, though, of being the first woman anything is real. The three other women with infantry contracts in hand have not spoken to the press and want to remain anonymous through the process for reasons that should be obvious.

But Daume isn’t bothered by the pressure. Even if she were, it wouldn’t matter to her.

She knows what to do with it.

During training, she knew rappelling would be a challenge for her.

“I’m so scared of heights,” she said.

So while she was rappelling, she pretended to be someone who isn’t afraid of heights and she got the job done.

It was hard. She did it.

Before she broke away from the parade deck to head home Friday, she paused for a photo.

She stood at ease, her face serious and deadly.

Her friends and family watched as she posed, then one of them yelled out “Whoo-hoo! Looking goooooood!”

Daume’s stern look, the look of a warrior, instantly disappeared and was replaced by a giant smile, all teeth and amusement.

She continued to stand for the photo, still at ease, chin still forward, that smile still there.

When she’s done with infantry school and when she’s serving her country in the way she knows she can, she’s hoping that those who have doubted her abilities or who have doubted the success of mixed-gender combat units, will look back on their words and realize one thing.

“I was wrong.”

——

©2017 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)

Visit The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) at www.islandpacket.com

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