Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas speaks during the dedication of the Molly Marine statue, a replica of a statue in New Orleans honoring World War II female veterans. (Mike Morones / Staff)
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Gail Nittle and her granddaughter, Sydney, 10, visit the new Molly Marine statue at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., on Friday. (Mike Morones / Staff)
TRIANGLE, VA. — The highest ranking female Marine, who spent nearly four decades breaking gender barriers, began her final day of active-duty service by dedicating a statue honoring women who served in the Corps.
Maj. Gen. Angela Salinas, director of the Manpower Management Division, was the military guest of honor at the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Friday. She dedicated a replica of the Molly Marine statue, which stands in New Orleans and was the first to honor women serving during World War II. It was a fitting milestone at the end of Salinas’ 39-year career in the Corps, which began when she joined as an enlisted Marine in 1974.
Salinas told Marine Corps Times that dedicating the Molly Marine statue at the service’s national museum brings female service members into the fold. The statue sits just outside the museum in the Semper Fidelis Memorial Park, not far from the statue of Lt. Gen. Lewis Burwell “Chesty” Puller.
“People get to see her right down the walkway from ‘Chesty’ Puller and others from the legacy of our Corps,” Salinas said. “It really gives women the credibility I think they’ve been looking for for years.”
Salinas broke through several barriers during her career as a female Marine. In 1989, she became the first woman to command one of the Corps’ recruiting stations. In 2006, she was the first woman to be named commanding general of one of the Marine Corps’ fabled recruit depots.
Salinas is also the most senior Hispanic Marine in the Corps. She was the first female Hispanic Marine to be promoted to the rank of general officer.
Salinas is now ending her career at a time of historic change for women in the Marine Corps. The military is conducting research as officials examine whether to open certain jobs previously closed to women, including those in the infantry and special operations. For the past year, female Marine lieutenants have been able to volunteer for the Infantry Officer Course, an arduous 13-week process to determine whether an officer is fit to lead infantry Marines in combat. Senior service officials want women to take part so they can gather date and determine which jobs women might be able to fill.
Leaving the Corps at this moment, when women are allowed to try for some of these jobs, makes Salinas feel like her career is complete, she said.
“I got to see everything that could possibly happen happen during my time in the Marine Corps,” she said. “For me personally, it’s like I’m done. There’s nothing else I could do to make it better for the next generation.”
She said dedicating the Molly Marine statue gives her hope that young girls considering a career in today’s Corps have something to look to, she said. When she joined the Marine Corps just after the Vietnam War ended, it wasn’t a very popular time to don a military uniform, she said. What’s more, there weren’t a lot of people doing so who looked like her.
But having the chance to command as a young officer and serving in roles in which no women had served before her, helped build credibility for women in the Corps, she said, which made leaders recognize that it was time to open more opportunities for women. The path has been paved for female Marines to do great things, she said.
“I look at a young officer now and say, ‘There’s nothing for you to do but take advantage of the opportunities before you,’ ” Salinas said.