Scrappy veteran went through boot camp twice
Nearly 40 years separate Re’ Richards, 57, from the new recruits tackling Marine Corps boot camp today. Given the chance, though, she’d be down in the mud and belly-crawling beside them in a heartbeat.
Looking back on the days when she enlisted, envy saturates her thoughts about when the standards changed for female Marines in recent years to require the same standards for all soldiers.
“They kind of tried to make it a little easier on us at times and now they don’t, and that’s the way it should be,” Richards said. “We were always supposed to be ‘Marines are Marines.’ That’s it. But now women Marines can actually do what men Marines do.”
Richards, of Kalispell, enlisted in 1978 after completing her high school’s ROTC program in Clearwater, Florida, and falling in love with the Corps during a trip to Parris Island.
Upon her return she immediately went to sign up and spent her high school graduation night in boot camp.
There, she said, she was in heaven.
“If I could’ve stayed in Marine Corps boot camp for 20 years, I would’ve stayed because it’s just a big game,” she said. “If you look at it that way, it’s fun.”
Near the end of her time in boot camp, she broke her ankle, but rather than jumping ahead to graduation as recommended, she begged to recycle through and do it again.
“I was my biggest challenge. Overcoming my timid, quiet personality,” she said. “I was pretty mousy and under the radar...before I got in the Marine Corps, and then it was like ‘I can do this. I did boot camp twice. I can do anything I freaking want to.’”
Upon graduating boot camp in the 1970s, however, women were still limited to non-combat positions.
Richards served as a payroll clerk in Memphis for three years, but she didn’t let her desk job keep her from getting her kicks in with the men.
Her job allowed her to see which Marines got the largest paychecks, so she went dressed in her skirt and heels down to the local club after work to challenge the men.
Unrecognizable as a fellow Marine in her street clothes, she would arm-wrestle with the guys, betting her paycheck against theirs.
While they laughed and joked with their friends gathered around them, she would slam their fists down together for an unexpected victory and a hefty payday.
Her colonel, she said, got a kick out of seeing his men taken down a notch by a fellow Marine, so with his blessing, she beat opponent after opponent, losing only once and buying herself a car and apartment with her winnings.
“The Marine Corps showed me who I really was,” she said. “I was like a pillow that wasn’t fluffy yet, and the Marine Corps let me fill in the corners.”
After three years of service, Richards re-entered the private sector with a new attitude and military training pushing her forward.
She first landed a job as a bouncer at a bar in Tampa, Florida, before a professor at Tampa University persuaded her to take her first college class.
That class, Richards said, was the beginning of a 13-year college career, and she went on to complete a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, law school and a second master’s degree.
While working on her first master’s degree, she also accepted a position teaching college at a male maximum-security prison.
Upon introducing herself as a Marine, she said all the Marine inmates approached her and promised to look out for her.
“Yeah, I was safer in prison than anybody,” she said. “I was like the safest person on the planet.”
Today, she said, she wishes she had re-enlisted when she had the chance, but the desire did not fully re-emerge until 9/11.
By then, Richards had aged out and could no longer re-enlist. Instead, she did her part, tutoring students in math to prepare them to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test.
“If I could do it right now, if I was 18, I’d go in enlisted and work my way through to officer,” Richards said.
Women entering the Marine Corps today, she said, are lucky.
Training demands more of women today, requiring the same skill level for both genders, but with the extra challenges come the added opportunities of deployment, combat and a choice of any military occupational specialty they want.
One aspect of a female Marine’s service that has not changed, according to Richards’ experience, are the common public misconceptions about their presence in the military. Several times a week Richards said she encounters both men and women who ask whether the jacket bearing the Marine Corps emblem she wears or the Mustang with military plates that she drives belong to her brother or her father.
“I’m not going to be rude to them. I don’t want to be a bad representative of the Marines,” she said. “But most of the time they just assume.”
Fellow Marines, however, more often get it right, and within moments of meeting one, Richards said, she has a new family member.
“Better than a real family for me,” she said of the Corps. “I would love to be able to talk to young women and tell them, ‘if you don’t already know what you want, where you’re going, if you don’t already have that figured out and you need some help, that’s a big outlet.’”
Almost 40 years later, Richards said she still stays in touch with friends from boot camp and can make an instant connection with Marines she meets day-to-day.
“The Marine Corps stays with you,” she said.
She pointed to her chest. “It’s still in there.”
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.