Local Military News

Parris Island in the 90s: A tomboy with something to prove

Jeanna Encalade
Jeanna Encalade Submitted photo

Jeanna Encalade is the toughest meteorologist you'll ever meet.

The Lady's Island resident worked as a forecaster and drill instructor with the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1990s and early 2000s.

"I think it's fair to say we were a transitional generation, especially for female Marines," Encalade said.

Different policies and attitudes at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, where Encalade trained in 1993, created higher standards and expanded roles for women Marines.

Encalade arrived at the depot on Parris Island in her early 20s, branching out from her hometown in southern Alabama.

"I always had an alpha personality," Encalade said. "And I was a bit of a tomboy that wanted to prove something."

Encalade had a hard training, sustaining an injury to her knee, but pushed through the pain to graduate on time.

"That probably wasn't smart looking back on it," she said. "But you better bet I graduated on time. There was no way I was going to drop out."

After training, Encalade became a forecaster and traveled to Myanmar, Japan, Kosovo, Kandahar and Australia, among other places in her time with the Marines.

"Planes wouldn't take off unless I said so," she said. "I worked through hurricanes, typhoons, mud slides, every natural disaster you can think of."

Encalade became a drill instructor at Parris Island in 2002 before health complications with her knee put her into medical retirement. She went on to get her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland in history and military studies.

When it came time to determine her dissertation, she chose something close to home -- the changing role for women Marines after the Gulf War. More than 1,000 women Marines were deployed in Desert Shield and Desert Storm between 1990 and 1991.

During the following decade, more roles opened up to women, including the ability to pilot a combat aircraft.

And training standards were raised for female recruits. In 1997, female Marines began attending the same Marine Combat Training as the men at the School of Infantry and were required to qualify on the gun range. Additional training was also added to the physical fitness test for women to mirror the requirements of male recruits.

The 1990s also saw the development of the culminating test of training at Parris Island, the Crucible, with both women and men participating in the rigorous 54-hour group event.

Recruit training is now identical for both male and female recruits.

The change didn't come easy.

"There was an old mentality -- that is still there somewhat -- that men are superior," she said. "The change was sort of a 'Let's just see them just try it. Let's see what you got.' But you know a bullet isn't going to discriminate on gender."

Now women make up about 7 percent of the Marine Corps and can take on about 93 percent of the jobs.

Encalade is married to a fellow Marine and has five children, including a stepson who recently graduated from Parris Island. She often works at Parris Island as a freelance exhibit curator at its museum.

Encalade said that perceptions about women Marines are still slow to change.

For example, Encalade has a Marine Wounded Warrior Regiment sticker on the back of her car because she is a member of the group. She and her husband are often stopped when people see the sticker.

"They come up to my husband and say,'Thanks for your service,' " Encalade said. "And he just says 'Talk to her!' "