First Woman to Command Parris Island
by Randy Gaddo, CWO-4 USMC (Ret)Growing up in Baltimore as the daughter of a steel worker and the youngest of five girls, Lori Reynolds admits she had no idea where life was taking her—definitely not towards the Marine Corps.
“Coming up in the ‘70s and ‘80s, I don’t think many little girls grew up saying, ‘I’m going to be a Marine,’” observed the tall, fit and trim Marine brigadier general during an interview at her impressive, two-story brick headquarters. For the past three years, she has been the commanding general of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C.—the first and only time a woman has commanded the legendary base in its 100-year history.
In July she transfers to the Pentagon, where she will help develop Department of Defense policy as the Principal Director to the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia. Seeing her now as a woman who exudes command, confidence and a get-the-job-done attitude, it’s difficult to imagine there was a time when she didn’t know what she wanted to be. It wasn’t until her junior year in high school that her path became clear.
“From the time I learned that women would be allowed into the service academies, that became my goal,” she said with conviction, validated by a successful 28-year career that started at the Naval Academy.
Ironically, growing up in Baltimore with the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., just 30 minutes down the road, she never even knew it existed. She smiled as she recalled that memory, confirming, “As soon as I knew about it, I said that’s where I wanted to go.”
She was among pioneers breaking the glass ceilings of the service academies; she entered in 1982, just six years after Congress authorized admission of women.
“It was an absolute privilege to be accepted by the Naval Academy,” reflected the 1986 graduate. “I have been very fortunate in my professional career that things have always just worked out,” she suggested. But if one believes the adage that luck is when preparation meets opportunity, it is clear that becoming a brigadier general in the United States Marine Corps involves more than just good fortune.
“I’ve have always wanted to be part of the team and be someone who strengthens the team,” she confided. Being a team member comes naturally to her. She played soccer, softball and basketball growing up; she was captain of the Naval Academy women’s basketball team. “Without a doubt team sports has a correlation to the Marine Corps,” she affirmed. “The things I learned on the basketball court absolutely helped me as a young Marine officer, in terms of being part of a team, leading the team, never letting the team down. The Marine Corps is all about team work; everyone doing their part for the team mission.”
Parris Island is home of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion, the only place in the world where women recruits are trained to be enlisted Marines. BGen. Reynolds doesn’t have daily interaction with recruits (“They get a little nervous when I come around,” she disclosed), however, she influences the young women through the chain of command, which is predominately female at 4th Battalion.
“I hope when those young ladies see that they have a female lieutenant colonel in charge of them and a female sergeant major and others, they will say, ‘I can do this.’ If I provide that for them, then I’m happy,” she said.
Being the only woman to ever command Parris Island is heady stuff, but she takes it in stride. “When you are such a small part of the Marine Corps there are going to be firsts all the time, so I don’t even think twice about it and I don’t think Marines do either,” asserted the general, who was also the first woman Marine officer to hold a command position in a battle zone in Afghanistan as a colonel. “A Marine is a Marine. A Marine will follow any leader who they feel earned their way to be there.”
The young women who come to be Marines are a reflection of society and BGen. Reynolds hopes that young women do not limit their options with wrong choices.
“There are many things that young women do, for example with social media, that ultimately can limit their options for the future,” she lamented. “I would encourage them to never do anything that will limit their future options. There are so many doors that are opened to women now if they are willing to walk through them. They should never be afraid to walk through them.”
CWO-4 Randy Gaddo, USMC (Ret), was a combat correspondent as an enlisted Marine and later a public affairs officer. He retired from active duty in 1996 and now is a freelance photojournalist living in Beaufort
PICTURED ABOVE: In this Nov. 10, 2011 photo, U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds, commanding general, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, (left), and Col. Robert W. Jones, commanding officer, Recruit Training Regiment, Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, (right) lead drill instructors and recruits during a motivation run aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. Recruit Training Regiment hosted the two-mile formation run to celebrate the 236th birthday of the Marine Corps. (USMC Photo by Lance Cpl. Aneshea Yee)