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    Retired female Combat Camera Marine makes history

    MGySgt Shalanda Raynor Retirement Ceremony

    Photo By Kathy Reesey | U.S. Marine Corps Master Sgt. Diana Pugh presents the American flag to U.S. Marine...... read more read more



    Story by Ida Irby 

    Marine Corps Base Quantico

    QUANTICO, Va. - After 97 years of gender-integration in the Marine Corps, the first female to achieve the rank of master gunnery sergeant in the combat camera occupation retired with 23 years and 16 days of service. A momentous ceremony was held Dec. 30 at the Semper Fidelis Memorial Chapel in Triangle, Virginia to retire Master Gunnery Sgt. Shalanda Raynor, who served as a combat photographer, drill instructor, a platoon sergeant for Officer Candidates School and victims advocate among other jobs.

    When Raynor enlisted in the Corps many jobs were closed to females. Over the years that has changed. Defense Secretary Ash Carter mandated that all branches open all combat jobs to women. Raynor didn’t wait for this major shift in military policy to make history as a combat photographer. She worked side-by-side with graphic designers and videographers and played a vital role in documenting the history of Marines. Their responsibilities include documenting our nation’s wars, presidential inaugurations, veteran funerals, training exercises and retirements among other official Marine Corps ceremonies.

    “Not many people get the opportunity to see the real Marine Corps and do what we do,” said Lance Cpl. Elisha Peake, a combat photographer from Lana, Maryland. Peake has served on active duty for two years. He mentioned that in that time Raynor had given him good advice and supported him in every respect.

    “It’s cool to see the higher-ups stay honest. Sometimes it’s brutally honest, but I appreciated how she always kept it real,” said Peake.

    Before Raynor left her imprint on the Corps, she graduated from Peoria High School in Peoria, Illinois. The young academic was honored with several scholarships in track and field, but declined each one. After sitting at home for nearly a year, Raynor decided to join the Marine Corps. She referred to herself as a recruiter’s dream, as she needed no convincing to join.

    “I joined the Marine Corps because I was lost and I suffered from self doubt,” said the retiree. “I didn’t go to college right away. Mostly, I was afraid that if I did not perform well enough, my family would have to take out a second mortgage on their homes to help me finish.”

    She quickly grew curious of the Corps without even knowing what a Marine was.

    “After hearing that they ate snakes and didn't allow women, I remember thinking, ‘Well hell, for some reason, people were intimidated by Marines.’ I thought they must be some bad jokers, and so I want to be one of them,” said Raynor.

    At the age of 17, she attended recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina. She went on to work as part of a select group of combat photographers in the Marine Corps and attended her first duty station at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California.

    Raynor returned to Parris Island in 1998, the only place in the world where female Marines are made. She had one-on-one contact with hundreds of women who volunteered to take on the challenge of becoming a Marine. In three years she trained six platoons of female recruits to be what she called the “baddest women on the planet.”

    “From the day I graduated boot camp, I knew I wanted to return as a hat,” said Raynor who saw the position as an opportunity to shape perceptions and lives. She said she didn't want young recruits “falling into the traps” of doubting themselves and thinking less of themselves. After the drill field she was more determined to build up each Marine she came into contact with.

    While providing one-on-one mentorship, Raynor was able to reach Lance Cpl. Courtney Emery, reprographics designer from Pallet Point, Texas, who was dealing with a personal issue.

    “She always gave me good advice about respecting others and myself. I learned not to let anyone step on me just because I’m smaller, junior and female. Growing up in my family we were always told to be the best and that is why I became a Marine,” said Emery, who accredited Raynor with grooming her into being a better Marine.

    In April of 2006 Raynor reported to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) in Iwakuni, Japan where she served as an educational counselor for uniform victim advocates. Raynor, a first-generation college student began working toward her educational goals and earned her bachelor’s in psychology in 2009 and a master of science in human resource management in 2013. In 2007 she was selected as the MCAS Iwakuni Woman of the year, and later received the federally Employed Women’s Miltary Recognition Award in 2010.

    A series of events in 2012 changed Raynor’s life forever. She was promoted to master gunnery sergeant and she left her twin girls for the first time after receiving orders to a combat zone. In Bahrain she assumed the duties of combat camera chief in support of Marine Corps Forces Central Command Naval Support Activity. She recalled this as the biggest challenge of her career.

    “Women in the Marine Corps are still climbing uphill. Every few years a new change is thrown our way to see if we can handle it, and we kill it,” said Raynor of herself and female comrades.

    During her service Raynor showed that Marines can be vulnerable yet strong. She admits that in her career she has made many mistakes and has shared them with her subordinates in hopes that they wouldn’t fall under the same circumstances.

    Diana Sims, a combat camera photographer from Kingwood, Texas, mentioned how Raynor helped to define the battle rhythm when she was appointed as the senior noncommissied officer of the photography section of the Combat Visual Information Center aboard MCB Quantico. As a leader, Raynor took time to mentor her Marines and gained their trust by offering something as minuscule as a smile.

    “Discipline was always enforced and we could tell when she turned the drill instructor on, but there were times when her sense of humor really showed. She took time to come around and tell stories about her career. It’s always good to know that your leaders have a family life and a personality and they expect you to as well,” said Sims.

    “Ultimately, I would like to work in human resources or with equal employment opportunity. I have a passion for helping sexual assault and harassment victims, who don’t have a voice,” she said. “If I take my last breath today, I have no doubt that I made a positive impact on the men and women of our Corps.”



    Date Taken: 12.30.2015
    Date Posted: 01.11.2016 11:44
    Story ID: 186033
    Location: QUANTICO, VA, US 
    Hometown: PEORIA, IL, US

    Web Views: 2,654
    Downloads: 7