Beaufort News

History-making Marine general: 'I'm not here by mistake'

Life has been a whirlwind for Brig. Gen. Lori Reynolds since becoming the first woman in the 96-year history of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island to serve as the base's commanding general last month.

Her first frenzied weeks on the job have included a lot of traveling, interviews with NBC Nightly News and the CBS Evening News and an in-studio appearance on Fox News last week.

All the attention has caught the newly minted, one-star general off-guard.

"I didn't expect any of this," Reynolds said, seated at a conference table inside her office at Barrow Hall. "I honestly didn't. It was just a matter of time and numbers, really. There's going to be firsts all over the place as people come through the ranks.

Still, her rise is more than a matter of numbers.

"... I'm not here by mistake," she said. "I'm not here because they thought it was time to put a girl here."

It's a post she's earned over the course of her 25-year career.

Reynold's resume in the Corps includes a two-year stint at the Pentagon, deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as posts as commanding officer of a recruiting station in Harrisburg, Pa. and platoon commander at the Corps' Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va.

The wood-paneled walls of Reynolds' office are adorned with flags, photographs and other mementos of a military career that began at the U.S. Naval Academy in 1986. It culminated June 17 with the Baltimore native becoming one of only two active-duty female generals in the 202,000-member Marine Corps and assuming command of the Corps' historic training base.


Reynolds didn't mention her place in Parris Island history in the brief speech she gave to Marines there during a change of command ceremony last month.

That omission wasn't an oversight.

"That day was about what Brig. Gen. (Frederick) Padilla and the Marines around him accomplished in those two years," Reynolds explained. "It wasn't about Lori Reynolds. I wouldn't have talked about it anyway. The Marines understand that. In the Marine Corps, you're placed where you're placed based on merit and experience. They knew if I was there, I was there for a reason. There was no need to talk about it."

Padilla has since assumed command of the Corps' 3rd Marine Division in Okinawa, Japan.

In addition to commanding Parris Island, Reynolds also oversees the Eastern Recruiting Region, which spans more than 20 states east of the Mississippi River and Puerto Rico.


Parris Island may be Reynolds' first post as a general, but it is not the first time in her career that she's made history.

While serving a yearlong tour of duty earlier this year at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan as commanding officer of the Headquarters Group for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Reynolds became the first female Marine ever to command space in a warzone.

She was credited with commanding five battalions and a Bahraini company, and helped double the capabilities of a base initially able to house, feed and equip more than 10,000 Marines and sailors stationed in Helmand Province, according to the MEF's website.

Reynolds said her Marines didn't care that their orders were coming from a female commanding officer or that she was the first female Marine to command a warzone.

"They didn't pick me for that job as like, 'Come here, Lori. You're the tallest female we've got and we need you to be in charge of the battlezone,'" Reynolds said. "It was because that was what my job required as the (commanding officer) of the camp. Marines respect that. They know that I wouldn't have been the commanding officer of that headquarters group if I had not already proven myself."


Reynolds admits her new job comes with new challenges -- and new pressures.

As the commanding general of Parris Island, Reynolds oversees the only Marine Corps base that trains female recruits, a fact she said adds to the already mounting pressure of being a role model to the Corps' 12,300 female enlisted Marines, 1,200 female officers as well as their male counterparts.

"The higher you go up the flagpole, the more people see your backside," Reynolds said. "I got cards and letters from all over the country congratulating me."

She realizes that all eyes are on her.

"Is there a responsibility not to let those people down?," she asked. "Yeah, there is but there's also a huge responsibility to take care of this uniform whether I'm serving as a role model or not."

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Reynolds becomes first woman to serve as depot's commander, June 17, 2011