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Hometown: Camp Pendleton, CA, US

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Female engineer breaks new ground with promotion to master gunnery sergeant


Story by Lance Cpl. Shellie Hall

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Surrounded by teary-eyed family and friends, a woman stands, looking into the eyes of her father. Deeply comforted by the presence of her loved ones, she raises her right hand.
“I, September D. Brownfield, do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States…” she says.
After reciting the oath of enlistment in 1993, she is congratulated by her father, who places his dog tags into her hand and wishes her the best of luck on the journey she is soon to begin.
On May 6, 2016, September Brownfield broke new ground for female engineers and made her legacy one to be remembered after becoming the first female engineer to earn the rank of master gunnery sergeant.
The Marine Corps has been deeply rooted in the life of Brownfield, who comes from a long line of Marines. Her mother served for two years and her father is a retired captain. When he found out his daughter wanted to follow in his footsteps, he tried to convince her to go down a different path.
“My father tried to persuade me to go into the Navy or the Air Force where there were more females,” Brownfield said. “My thought was, ‘If mom could do it and you did it, why not? I’m going to go into the most elite forces.’”
Unlike most Marines who join between the ages of 18 and 25, Brownfield always knew she would begin her journey much later.
Brownfield graduated high school in 1983 and spent five years attending college on and off. She left college without a degree and spent the next few years working and traveling. At the age of 27, she enlisted and originally planned to serve for four years and move on, but that wasn’t the case.
“Those four years turned into eight, eight into 12, and now we’re at 23. It’s hard to believe that those years have flown by,” Brownfield said. “It seems like just yesterday I stood on the yellow footprints.”
After graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, Brownfield headed to learn the basic skills of being an engineer at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Although she accomplished her goal to be part of the “911 of the United States,” Brownfield still faced challenges throughout her career.
“They handed me a broom and showed me where the coffee pot was and told me I was going to be the scribe because females don’t ‘operate,’” Brownfield said.
Despite the lack of faith in her abilities from superiors, she finished her schooling, became an engineer and has shown how well she can do her job and work side by side with male Marines.
“There are going to be naysayers out there and people who don’t necessarily agree with females being in the Marine Corps,” Brownfield said. “We have as much right to be here as anyone. Do your job, learn as much as you can, and become good at what you’re doing.”
Many female engineers Brownfield knew earned the rank of gunnery sergeant and retired or left the Marine Corps for various reasons including family choices and schooling. There have been four female engineers who have been promoted to master sergeant; however, Brownfield is the first and only female engineer to earn the rank of master gunnery sergeant.
“I think that females need to see more senior leaders,” Brownfield said. “It wasn’t even in my cross hairs that this was a goal of mine, so by obtaining this rank, I think that others will hopefully have it set as a goal and strive to meet that.”
Over the years, Brownfield has been to many places including Kuwait, Tinian, Iraq, Korea, Germany, Italy and spent many years stationed in Okinawa. She has held numerous leadership positions including equal opportunity advisor on Marine Corps Base Camp Butler, hazardous material noncommissioned officer, field supply and maintenance analysis office team leader, and engineer equipment chief.
“I started off breaking a few boxes but, by the end of it, I was grading and operating most of the machinery,” Brownfield said.
Brownfield says she has been fortunate to have the leaders she has been given over the course of her career. They have afforded her many opportunities which helped her get to this point during her time in the Corps. She holds on to the qualities she saw and valued in her leaders and hopes to pass those on to her junior Marines.
“I’ve always wanted to be one of those leaders that you would want to follow,” Brownfield said.
Brownfield has shown what it takes to become a strong leader for female engineers. She says if Marines do the right thing, take interest in their jobs and dive into every aspect of what they do – they can achieve the highest rank they yearn to reach.
“I wasn’t given the key to the city – I had to dig for it,” Brownfield said. “I had a lot of really good leaders and some that wanted to bury me. I made it my mission to prove them all wrong.”
Brownfield is headed to the field supply and maintenance analysis office on Camp Pendleton and will assume the position of operations chief. There, she will train new analysts, ensure orders and directives are correct, and conduct inspections of engineer equipment and maintenance practices. Most importantly, this new billet will offer her the opportunity to train and educate junior Marines, which Brownfield says is the best part of her job.

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