BARSTOW, Calif. - In 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. At the time, women were only allowed to do clerical duties to aid the men who were fighting overseas during World War I. Today, women make up approximately six percent of the Marine Corps.
Women serve in hundreds of different military occupational specialties in the Corps, including one very prestigious MOS: the last remaining Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard.
Corporal Cherisess Paige, a stableman with the MCG aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., is one of the first women to receive official orders to the unit, which had previously only been given to infantrymen, explained Sgt. Edgar Torrealba, also a stableman with the MCG.
Paige, who calls Texas ‘home’, was born in Panama and raised as a ‘military brat’ whose father was in the Army, said the stableman. Paige first came to America with her family in 1998 where she excelled academically.
“I was the nerd in high school. I was taking many advanced placement classes and was accepted into a lot of good colleges. My family and friends were surprised when I chose the Marine Corps before finishing school,” said Paige. “I wanted to do something stable, and have a sure way to pay for college; I also had a lot of respect for the Marine Corps.”
The stableman joined the Marine Corps July 2010, as a musician with the band aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
“I played the flute and the piccolo,” said Paige. “I love music and I loved being a part of the Marine Corps Band.”
Like many people, Paige had another passion, an even greater devotion than the one she had for music: horses.
“I love horses, they are by far my favorite animal,” explained Paige. “I rode my grandma’s personal horses every chance I got while growing up.”
Paige was first introduced to the Marine Corps’ MCG in July 2011, during the commanding general’s change of command ceremony in Twentynine Palms.
“At first site I immediately wanted to be a part of the unit. I was amazed,” she explained. “I put in a request as soon as I could but could not quite leave the band.”
On Jan. 1, 2012, the band stationed aboard Twentynine Palms was disbanded due to budget cuts. With the elimination of the band came the opportunity Paige was looking for.
“In February 2012, I had been temporarily assigned to the MCG. I was interviewed about my experiences with horses and I also showed my ability to ride, maintain and handle the horses,” explained Paige.
In April, the musician put down her flute, saddled up and officially checked in to MCLB Barstow, becoming a part of the only remaining Mounted Color Guard unit in the Marine Corps.
“My first impression of Paige was that she was a squared away Marine, she was very knowledgeable and willing to take advice and put it into action,” said Torrealba.
Torrealba explained that his favorite memory with Paige was the Houston Rodeo; it was her first trip with the unit, and the beginning of strong camaraderie between her and the MCG.
Being a Texas native, Houston is also Paige’s favorite memory so far. She explained that although she was still too new to participate in the actual event, it felt great to be a part of it and help with the preparations.
“I loved my time in Houston, it was a huge event and I got to show my family and friends what I do,” Paige explained. “They were all very impressed. I cannot wait until next year’s [rodeo] to actually ride in the event in front of my home state.”
After her first enlistment, Paige plans on either re-enlisting and returning to the Marine Corps Band, or becoming a full-time student and getting her bachelor’s degree. Whatever she does, with her work ethic, her co-workers believe the 21-year-old has a bright future ahead of her.
“Corporal Paige is an exceptionally hard worker who expects nothing less than perfection on a daily basis; she always goes above and beyond,” explained Torrealba.
The steed riding musician explained how much she loves what she does for a living. She loves to travel and she enjoys serving her country, whether it’s playing a musical instrument or riding a mustang — this Marine has a flair for entertaining patriotic crowds across America.
“I love what I do as a United States Marine,” she said.