They are the few. They are the proud. They are the women at Hillsdale College pursuing the United States Marine Corps.
Junior Aubrey Brown and senior Jean Pendergrass are like other students at Hillsdale. Brown studies biology and is a resident assistant at Waterman Residence. She also serves as a business manager for the Winona Yearbook and works at the Roche Sports Complex. Pendergrass, a math major, works for campus security as a dispatcher in the Hillsdale College Security Office.
Surrounded by students with lofty academic and career ambitions makes Brown and Pendergrass stand out — something they both acknowledged can be difficult.
“I’d always considered going into the military, but coming into Hillsdale, I was probably with the larger percentage of the freshman class, thinking, ‘I’m going to go to law school and become a lawyer,’” Pendergrass said. “But at the end of sophomore year, I started seeing the Marines coming to campus to recruit, and I started talking to them.”
Brown is from Findlay, Ohio. Her grandfather was a Marine. She said her family’s history in the Marine Corps has influenced her drive to pursue the Marines.
“The military has always been an interest for me. If I weren’t coming to Hillsdale it would have been a military academy,” Brown said. “I decided that I wanted more of a college experience and the military afterwards instead of it being intermixed.”
Pendergrass is from the Los Angeles area. She said she would be the first in her close family to be in the Marines.
“Being here, everyone is going to medical school or going to get their master’s, so a lot of professors are pushing that,” Brown said. “But I can’t say there’s ever a time where I ever doubted it. It’s just very different and hard to relate to other people sometimes.”
One of those times where Brown said it is difficult to relate to others because of her career projection is in her sorority, Chi Omega.
“Being surrounded by a lot of women is empowering, but it’s also sometimes very difficult because my interests are very different from most,” Brown said. “The relatability with that is kind of difficult. When people talk about long-term jobs and starting families, my life will be the complete opposite of what most people’s will be. That’s the hardest part to juggle. Because I know that this is what I want, you just find time. You find time to work out, you find time to study.”
Brown went to Officer Candidate School for six weeks during the summer between her freshman and sophomore years and will complete another six-week period this summer. OCS is comparable to Basic Training, which enlistees complete after graduating college.
“Every Marine, whether you’re enlisted or an officer, goes through the same initial basic training. Every Marine starts out the same,” Brown said. “That’s really important, especially from a leader’s perspective, because you all started from the same position and then you worked your way up.”
Pendergrass completed OCS in one 10-week stretch, and she is preparing for Basic Training this summer once she graduates. In August, she will go to Quantico, Virginia for six months of Basic School, where all the new lieutenants train to become provisional rifle platoon commanders.
‘“It’s longer than OCS and pretty physically demanding,” she said. “You spend five days out in the field every month.”
In addition to OCS and Basic Training, every month, Brown and Pendergrass go to Ann Arbor, Michigan for Marine training and physical activity.
Both Brown and Pendergrass agreed that the Marines appealed to them because of the array of functions it serves and the versatility that comes with the title.
“The Marine Corps is the most badass and the most elite fighting force our nation has to offer,” Brown said. “The Marine Corps is the most versatile in terms of things you can do. You can really get whatever you want out of it whereas some of the other branches are more selective in what they do specifically.”
That versatility, Brown explained, includes activity on the water, in the air, and on the ground. At Basic School, enlistees are tested physically, academically, and in leadership. They are then ranked on the Military Occupational Specialty list, which determines their specific duty and function in the Marine Corps.
Perhaps the most rigorous portion of becoming a Marine are the physical challenges. Every three months, Brown and Pendergrass take the Physical Fitness Test, which involves pullups, situps, and a three-mile run. In addition to the periodic tests, they stick to a workout plan which they do on their own.
“Sometimes it’s tough because last semester, I hit the gym at 6 a.m. every morning,” Pendergrass said. “It’s almost like being a college athlete.”
A perfect score in the PFT for Brown’s age range consists of 105 situps in two minutes, nine pullups, and a 21-minute three mile run.
“Running is crucial to your success as a Marine,” Brown said. “I am in the gym five to six times a week to be physically proficient at all kinds of workouts since the physical part of training varies greatly. Endurance is a huge factor in success, so hitting the gym often is key.”
Perhaps even more rigorous than the physical fitness expectations is the mental toughness that the process demands.
“There’s plenty of movies that depict what Basic Training is like, and that’s exactly what it is like. You’re getting constantly screamed at with no sleep, and everything you do is wrong; you’re a garbage human, and then you’re expected to perform physically 24/7,” Brown said. “But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Once you graduate college and become an officer and get to be that role model or leader for other people, it’s a very cool thing. It’s a lot in the moment, but thinking in the long term, you’re getting there.”
Amid the business of college life and the relentless effort it takes to prepare for the Marine Corps, one phrase comes to Brown’s mind.
“The best advice I’ve gotten, and this is a universal truth, is to ‘Embrace the suck,’” Brown said. “That is applicable to everything in life.”
Although the Marine Corps does not tolerate any disrespectful behavior toward women, Brown said being in the minority as an aspiring Marine is sometimes met with opposition.
“I have faced many men and women who are shocked that my goals are not to become a mother, stay at home to raise children, and be a dutiful spouse,” Brown said. “I constantly get asked if I am sure this is what I really want to do, and that I am too pretty to be put in harm’s way. Traditional gender roles are still a hot topic in the military, just not in my book.”
Both Brown and Pendergrass have an idea of where they’d like to be in 10 years, but they also know that life can change at any moment, and today’s plans might not translate into tomorrow’s reality.
For now, they know one thing is for sure.
They are the few. They are the proud. And before long, they will be the United States’ next Marines.