UNITAS LXIII – Women in Combat Arms
US Marine Corps | Oct. 25, 2022
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL: Modern successful militaries have one thing in common: each value the contributions of women in all occupational specialties. One military community seeing an increase of women within its ranks is combat arms. It is more common because courageous pioneers in this field have proven women can take the fight to the enemy.
Lance Cpl. Charisse Briguera, an infantry Marine with Delta Company, 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance, 4th Marine Division, and Marino (Private) Milagros Correa with the Uruguayan Marine Corps are two examples of woman in combat arms who are serving as force multipliers for their countries. The two met while training alongside each other during exercise UNITAS LXIII.
UNITAS is the world's longest-running multinational maritime exercise that focuses on enhancing interoperability among multiple nations and joint forces during littoral and amphibious operations in order to build on existing regional partnerships and create new enduring relationships that promote peace, stability, and prosperity in the U.S. Southern Command's area of responsibility (i.e., Latin America and the Caribbean).
One initiative that U.S. Marine Corps Forces, South and U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command highlighted in the exercise is the Women, Peace, and Security Program. The initiative is based on U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in October 2000, which “reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response, and in post-conflict reconstruction.” It also encourages the equal participation of women and the incorporation of gender perspectives in U.N. peace and security efforts.
“Female service women from the region, and world for that matter, enhance the mission through their unique contributions and they do so without lowering the military standards,” said U.S. Air Force Maj Aries Hopf, WPS Chief at USSOUTHCOM. “These women serve alongside their male counterparts in the same conditions, with the same challenges, and for the same goals – to better themselves, their countries, and the overall security of the region.”
"Female service women from the region, and world for that matter, enhance the mission through their unique contributions and they do so without lowering the military standards." Maj. Aries Hopf, WPS Chief at USSOUTHCOM
Exercise UNITAS LXIII (63), hosted this year in Brazil, provided the two women an opportunity to train as part of the multinational force and showcase the value women offer to the combat-arms community. The two experienced how countries train together in support of operations as well as duty aboard the San-Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19) where Correa embarked along with several other nations as part of a combined force.
Briguera knew the road to becoming an infantry Marine was going to be strenuous, but she was dedicated enough to endure the trials and tribulations required to succeed. Although she received a lot of encouragement and support along the way, she was also met with some resistance.
“I was the only female, along with 100 men, I had several Marines come up to me and tell me ‘you don’t belong here, you’re a female, you’re weaker,’” said Briguera. “But I told them, ’Hey, I passed the standard.’”
Briguera’s goal was not so different from Correa’s. She also wanted to serve in combat arms occupation but was originally told she would not make the cut.
“My dad is an old head, so he told me I couldn’t do it, that I don’t belong there. I wanted to join to prove that women can do it,” said Correa.
Correa’s father was very hesitant of her joining due to a perception of women’s ability to perform alongside men. Despite her father’s warning not to join, she insisted on being in combat arms.
Briguera’s husband was apprehensive like Correa’s father, but Briguera and Correa both knew it was the life they wanted. It was an ambition calling and a drive within that led both to break socially constructed boundaries. Before Briguera joined the military, she worked with the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School and The Basic School. That experience ignited her passion to become an infantry Marine.
“Before I joined, I was actually working for the Marine Corps as a role player and started when I was 18. I’ve been working for them for 10 years now,” said Briguera. “That inspired me to join. I have so much respect for the Marine Corps, like how they conduct their operations and train with discipline, and it made me fall in love with what they do.”
Just like Briguera’s passion for the Marine Corps, Correa grew up within a military household that influenced her passion to serve. The military was a part of their lives prior to joining and influenced their decision to be part of the organization and their determination to be in combat arms.
“My dad and grandpa were in the military, so I grew up in a military household. I always thought it was cool to join the military,” said Correa. “I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and also wanted to prove my father wrong by showing that I can make it in the military.”
A year has passed since Correa enlisted and she still enjoys what she does. “I like it a lot; it can be a lot of work sometimes. (Exercises like UNITAS) can be tiring to my body, but I enjoy it,” she said.
Similar to Correa, Briguera has also been in for a year. She enjoys the rigorous training with the job as well.
“For me, it took several years and now I’ve made it. It’s the best feeling,” said Briguera. “You can give me any job, any working party, I won’t complain because it’s what I signed up for.”
Even coming from different countries and backgrounds, the two women have many traits in common. They both had to overcome adverse opinions to pursue the same goal. Briguera and Correa have proven women in combat arms are the new norm. During exercise UNITAS, the two marines bonded through their time on the ship and by participating in challenging training events. In the true spirit of UNITAS, relationships were built, and friendships were formed, due to shared experiences and shared values.