Sgt. Maj. Lanette Wright salutes Col. Scott Benedict as she prepares to assume the duties as command sergeant major for the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in front of the II Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C., on Friday. Wright became the first female sergeant major of a Marine Expeditionary Unit in Marine Corps history. (Cpl. Joshua W. Grant/Marine Corps)
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Sgt. Maj. Lanette Wright made history Friday when she was named the Corps’ first female sergeant major of a Marine expeditionary unit.
Wright took over as the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s sergeant major, the first female Marine to serve in that capacity since women began deploying with the units in the 1990s. The MEU is slated to begin conducting pre-deployment training in about two months and will deploy to the Middle East roughly six months after that.
“I’m honored to be selected as a MEU sergeant major,” Wright told Marine Corps Times. “This billet is a coveted position, and it’s a privilege to serve the Marine Corps at this level. I’d prefer to focus less on the fact that I’m the first female sergeant major and more on the fact that being selected as a sergeant major, for any command, is an honor.”
Wrighttook over for Sgt. Maj. Octaviano Gallegos Jr., who was named the top enlisted leader of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. Gallegos relinquished his duties with the 24th MEU during a ceremony aboard Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Before being assigned to the MEU, Wright served in the command inspector general’s office with 2nd Marine Logistics Group at Camp Lejeune. She also served as sergeant major for the 31st MEU’s aviation combat element and the 22nd MEU’s logistics combat element.
“I’ve been the sergeant major for every major subordinate element of a MEU, with the exception of the Ground Combat Element, so I’m comfortable with the MEU construct,” she said. “Every billet I ever held has prepared me for this job and the jobs that I’ll continue to hold.”
During Wright’s tour as the top enlisted leader with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265, the unit was awarded the Commandant’s Aviation Trophy in 2009 from the Marine Corps Aviation Association, and the 2009 Aviation Safety Award from the chief of naval operations.
She also served as the sergeant major for Combat Logistics Regiment 27.
Marine Corps Times caught up with Wright to discuss her new assignment. Excerpts of that interview, edited for clarity and space:
Q. What kind of message do you hope it sends to other female Marines to see so many “firsts” like this happening for women in recent years?
A. I want all Marines to know that this is not about me being a female Marine, it’s about being a Marine leader. I just always did what was expected of me as a Marine and took advantage of every opportunity that came my way. So few actually get the chance to lead, I hope all Marines — not female Marines or male Marines, all Marines — see that they should always push themselves to do better and get to the next level. There are still many more firsts out there, so go out and get it. There is a lot more ground to cover, and we’ll cover it, because that’s what Marines do.
Q. How did serving with the 31st MEU’s ACE and the 22nd MEU’s LCE help prepare you for your new assignment?
A. My experience as an ACE and LCE sergeant major on a MEU provides me with a great foundation, but the role of sergeant major does not change. I’ve been a sergeant major for several years; being a MEU sergeant major is the next level.
Q. As a female Marine, true combat experience can be limited due to current restrictions. How do you respond to criticism for your lack of a Combat Action Ribbon?
A. Not every Marine who served in combat earns a Combat Action Ribbon. I’ve been to combat, but I also understand that there will always be criticism, regardless of what I’ve accomplished. The bottom line is I was screened for this billet, just like every MEU sergeant major in the past, and I was selected because I was qualified for the job.
Q. You served as a Marine Security Guard. Since MEUs can be tapped to respond to embassy crises, how do you think that experience might help you during a mission like that?
A. My experience as an MSG gives me a different perspective about one of the many environments in which Marines operate. It was a great experience and served as a building block for my overall understanding of the role the Marine Corps plays throughout the world. This does not mean that I will be advising the commanding officer on potential operations in an embassy; we have duty experts that do that.
Q. Some of the Corps’ top female leaders never had the opportunity to serve with a MEU as the duty was closed to women when they first joined. Now you’re the top enlisted leader for one of those units. What do you think that says about where the Corps is headed?
A. When I first came into the Marine Corps, I, too, did not have the opportunity to serve on a MEU, so my sea experience is all as a senior enlisted Marine. This just shows the forward progress of the Marine Corps and that there are opportunities constantly opening up for Marines to serve and continue to serve.
Q. How are you motivated by female lieutenants, privates and PFCs volunteering to attend infantry courses? What about by women picking up more positions of leadership in the Corps?
A. Every Marine joins the Marine Corps for different reasons, but when they see opportunities that are best for them, they take advantage of it. I’m proud of any Marine, male or female, who takes on a challenge and overcomes it.
Q. Do you think women being named leaders in new areas is becoming the Corps’ “new normal” as time goes on?
A. I don’t think this is a new normal. I think this is the natural progression in the Marine Corps. It’s not that the opportunities are not there for female Marines to serve, it’s just that demographically, there are not a lot of women in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps is the smallest branch with the least number of women: only about 6 percent of the Marine population, so there are many more firsts to come. It’s not a shift in equal opportunity, it’s a logical evolution based on demographics.
Q. What are you looking most forward to as you take on your new assignment?
A. I am most looking forward to the opportunity to lead another group of fine Marines. It’s the greatest privilege given to a leader, and I’m honored to serve alongside America’s young men and women.