First Female Sergeant Major of Parris Island
Story and Photography by Randy Gaddo CWO-4 USMC (RET)
Angela Maness arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., in April 1987 as a 24-year old recruit. Last November, after 28 years, she came full circle, returning as the top enlisted Marine, the sergeant major of the base.
Almost three decades ago, with two young boys at home and married to a Marine gunnery sergeant, Angela did not fit the mold of the average recruit. She recalled when she first got the bug to be a Marine, “We were stationed in Saudi Arabia with our two boys. My husband was a Marine Security Guard detachment commander at the embassy there. Watching him and his Marines protect the embassy and its staff made me want to be a Marine."
That was in 1983; she was nearly 21. It would take four more years for things to line up. She had to get waivers for being a military spouse and having children. “The Marine Corps didn’t need me as much as I needed it,” she admitted. “I needed the structure. I wanted to do something with my life and not disappoint my family.” Her dad was a retired Marine master sergeant, her mom had been in the Navy and two of her four siblings served, one in the Army and another the Marines."
Her husband supported her decision. “He was all for it,” she said. “He even made a wooden M-16 so I could learn to drill with it.” She enlisted as a reservist truck driver, the only thing she could get at the time. In boot camp, she found out if she signed an eight-year contract she could go active duty, so she did.
Angela excelled in boot camp and finished as her platoon’s honor graduate. Everybody told her not to mention her husband was a gunnery sergeant to her drill instructors, so she didn’t. Finally, she had to because he was coming to the graduation, in uniform. “It was awkward,” she understated. It isn’t the norm for a brand new Marine to be married to a senior staff, non- commissioned officer (NCO), but she was quickly becoming accustomed to breaking norms.
Stationed back in Quantico, Va., she and her husband learned to balance professional military protocol with their private lives. “We couldn’t go to the Marine Corps Ball together,” she said. “I went to my unit’s ball and he went to his, separately.”
After signing for eight more years, she was assigned to personnel administration. “I wasn’t happy being behind a desk,” but Angela excelled in that area and was promoted to corporal and sergeant meritoriously. She set her sights on being a drill instructor.
In 1990 the first Gulf War broke out and Angela and her husband were transferred to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C. Both of them were slated to deploy, so she began making arrangements for the children to go to her parents. When her boss found out, he said, “That’s not going to happen.”Angela’s husband deployed and she stayed with the children.”
When he returned, she got orders to drill instructor’s school at Parris Island. Again rising to the challenge, she ran a perfect 300 physical fitness test. “I had played All-Marine sports so I was in very good shape,” she said.
During a successful two-year tour on the drill field she was promoted to staff sergeant but the duty took its toll: “I got divorced and became a statistic.” She transferred with the children to Quantico to train new lieutenants at Officer Candidates School. Her mother came to help with the children.
She continued moving up the ladder. “ You have to keep being competitive in your job and looking above your pay grade to see what the next step is. If you’re not competitive, you’re going to be asked to leave.”
She was engaged to be married again, but her fiancé was diagnosed with cancer and died six months into treatment. Her mother continues to help raise her 13-year old daughter from that relationship.
After a promotion to sergeant major in 2006, combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and several key stateside assignments, Angela’s triumphant return to Parris Island was completed when she became the first enlisted woman to be appointed sergeant major at the Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot in its 100-year history.
Who influenced you most in life? "My mother. She still lives with me. I owe her my life.
"What is a memorable moment in your life? "Being treated to a surprise visit with my Marine son in Iraq on Christmas Day 2007, when he was stationed at Haditha Dam and I was in Fallujah."
How would you encourage young women to succeed? "Stay in school, do the very best you can, stay in good physical shape and avoid distractions (such as, young men)."