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Maj. Jessica Acosta is from the small town of Tehachapi, Calif., and had high hopes of one day working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While working toward her degree in criminal justice at California State University, she learned the FBI would require her to have experience in the field before even applying. Her answer to this was to join the military and then find her way to the FBI. What she found instead was a life changing decision and an unexpected journey.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Lauren Kurkimilis

Advice from the Top

15 Mar 2013 | Lance Cpl. Lauren Kurkimilis

Maj. Jessica Acosta is from the small town of Tehachapi, Calif., and had high hopes of one day working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. While working toward her degree in criminal justice at California State University, she learned the FBI would require her to have experience in the field before even applying. Her answer to this was to join the military and then find her way to the FBI. What she found instead was a life changing decision and an unexpected journey. 

I thought I was just going to be in this green machine for four years, my requirement, and then apply to the FBI. That was 15 years ago. I enjoyed my time in the Marine Corps so much that I said, “No, I think I’ll stay here instead.”

I went to Officer Candidate School the summer of my junior year in college which was in 1996. That was my first time on active duty. I finished my senior year of college and then I started at The Basic School in 1998.

When I was thinking about joining the military, there was never a doubt as to which branch I would choose. It was because of the reputation, because we’re the best. Maybe it was all of those commercials but I was convinced. My step dad was in the Marine Corps as well so I had the family experience.

I’ve been all over, which has been wonderful. My first duty station was in Hawaii. I couldn’t ask for anything better. Then I went to Parris Island, S.C., and  had the opportunity to be a series commander and company commander. I then went to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., and worked for 10th Marines. Following that, I went to Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C., so I got some experience working with the aviation component and now I’m here.

I’ve deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan and participated in exercises in Korea. So my time in the Corps has been really exciting. It’s opened my eyes to things far beyond Tehachapi, Calif.

This organization is very male dominant. The military is very male dominant but the Marine Corps is even more so because of the nature of our primary mission. We are the nation’s 911 force. We need to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to be able to go anywhere and do anything. Because of that, we’re a minority in the population which makes us unique.

It’s always been my personal mission to be the best at what I do. Even if I were to fold towels at the gym, I’m going to be the best one who does it. That kind of mentality helps you to be successful in the Marine Corps as a female Marine.

You’re competing against individuals that innately do the physical part of the job more easily. So you’ve got to stand out and do your best.

Do your best. This is a team organization and a team mentality. Even though you’re competitive and probably a Type A personality, as most Marines are, you still have to have the collaboration effort. You can’t get anything done here by yourself. If you come in with the wrong attitude like, “I’m just going to judge others,” or, “I’m going to make you look bad so I look better,” that doesn’t work. That’s not the way the Marine Corps runs and you will fail. You will not succeed in this organization.

My platoon commander (in OCS) was a captain and she could do one-armed pull-ups. So she’d come out there and do her one-armed pull-ups in front of everyone, males and females alike and she was showing everyone up. That’s just an example of what I had to look up to when I was first becoming a Marine.

When I was at TBS, Gen. Wilson was the commanding general of Quantico. When I’d drive by the general’s building, I remember I’d see her, the female commanding general of the base and I just thought that was so great. It was very inspirational for me to see female officers already accomplishing so much.

My grandma is very motivating to me. I remember she would always say, “We are women. Hear us roar.” She had that mentality that you can do whatever you want and to be the best. I’ve always had women like her to inspire me.

My other grandma went to college and got her real estate license. She became a professional in an era when that wasn’t  done. Women didn’t go to college. She had a job and she had seven kids.

My mother was the same way. She got her degree and had two jobs while she was in college and then went on to become a successful school teacher. She’s very strong-willed and eager. She believed that nothing was impossible. You can do and be whatever you want. So I’ve grown up around all of that.

Just having positive role models, like I did growing up, no matter what they do, makes a difference when you’re raising children. I would definitely agree that my kids get the benefit of learning how to become healthy successful adults because of the examples they’re given now.

I waited 10 years to have kids. I didn’t want to be a second lieutenant that was supposed to be taking care of her Marines and being there when they needed it because I was being pulled away for my own personal family reasons. But now I’m in a position where I can take a sick day if my kid is sick and all they want is mom. It won’t disrupt the whole system if I do.

My firstborn is five, her name is Camille and she just started kindergarten this year and my second born is Peter, he just turned two in December.

It takes a lot of support from your command to be able to balance being a Marine and a mom.  They have to give a lot of flexibility to the situation. It’s obviously not mission one but to complete the mission, you have to support the troops and that includes letting them support their families. That’s always been visible in the Marine Corps.

 

Master Sgt. Carla Perez thought she had one shot at greatness. She went to college directly after high school and enrolled in 18 credit hours at the University of Montana, not knowing if she could afford to attend school again the following semester. Despite her success in her studies, Perez found herself unable to pay anymore and moved back home. While working at Burger King, a recruiter came in and spoke with her. Ten days later, she was off to bootcamp to begin a long successful career that has now brought her to the rank of master sergeant.

As of May 17 this year, I’ll have been in for 20 years. That sounds really long when I say it out loud doesn’t it?

For me personally, I have always had equal treatment. It’s always been about equal opportunity. It’s been about accountability of myself and about knowing my own vulnerabilities because if I can pick out my vulnerabilities, then someone else can too.

I always just stay positive and focused. I think our reputation as individuals is based on how we work and the goals that we set for ourselves. I think if we stay positive and we don’t give people, whether they be men or women, a reason to poke at us, then they’re not going to. But if we’re sick, lame and lazy and that’s the attitude we take, then other people will view us as just that. You've got to know yourself and just be strong and positive.

One thing about the Marine Corps is the physical aspect of it and what people view us as. Some people think we’re always running around with guns and that we’re all tough and big and bad, but I think the intellectual aspect of it is key. I don’t care what your job is, what your rank is or if you’re male or female, you have to bring something to the table. By doing that you really close the gap on the whole team concept. I think I’ve always known my own capabilities and I’ve always been able to fit in or find my niche.

It’s really worked for me. I think it’s because I’ve had good role models and good leadership, some female and some male.

When I was a young Marine, my first sergeant I had was “the guy.” He was the one you could go to for anything. He was one of the ones that made me really good at my job. My leaders always looked out for me as a Marine and then they also always made me look things up. They’d say, “Don’t ask me, look it up in the book.” So they made me very independent.

I think when you’re good at your job and you know your job, it gives you confidence in everything. It gives you the tools to only get better.

If you believe that you suck at your job then you’re probably just going to keep doing poorly or just OK work.

I was a recruiter from 2001  to 2004 in Vancouver, Wash.  It was my first challenge as far as not being around other female Marines. Out of 78 recruiters, I was the only female. It was really amazing to me how many people in my area had never met a female Marine. Stereotypically, the target market for the Marine Corps is males; males 18 to 27 and I was neither of those. So for me to go and meet a young male applicant  with either their dad or uncle or grandfather, they’re looking at me, a female staff sergeant like, “What can you do for my son to make him better? What can you do for my grandson, nephew to make him stronger? You’re not in infantry. You’re not in artillery.” So I just talked about the intangible opportunities; being a better person, learning self respect and independence. I had to spend more time explaining.

The parents would always come to me later and be like, “Thank you so much. You changed my son’s life.” Honestly, kids want to be pushed. They want to be put on a schedule. Kids want to be challenged.

At the end of the day, the Marine Corps is an experience that will last you a lifetime even if your commitment is just four years.

I think women have gotten tougher over time; mentally and physically. Society and the Marine Corps have evolved into a smarter generation. These young Marines that are coming in to the Marine Corps today are like wizards and that’s because education has improved. I think what I’ve seen for women is that there is more opportunity, but we’ve also been more recognized. It all goes back to what you bring to the table.

I know my job. I’m a hands-on worker and a go-getter. If you need to know something, I’m there. If you need me to move something, I’m there. If you need me to mathematically figure something out with my mind, I’m there.

Marines are always going to form an opinion and sometimes it’s just by the way you look, but I make their opinions based on what I present to them and I pass that along to my Marines. I'm all about troop leadership and troop welfare. I take care of my Marines.

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