New Bedford woman complete Marine boot campBy NATALIE SHERMAN , Associated Press
Jul. 20, 2013 6:11 AM ET
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — There's the few and the proud. And then there's the fewer and prouder.
Twenty-year-old Sapphire Castillo — who grew up in foster care, graduated from New Bedford High School in 2009 and completed 70 days of Marine Corps boot camp training June 14 — is one of the latter: the first local woman in at least 3½ years to successfully join the Marines, the most male-dominated branch of the armed services.
"It made me feel proud of myself that I made it, out of everyone," said Castillo. "In boot camp, I got this sort of pride. It's not like a job. It's more of a lifestyle. It's something I want to do, I can't say for the rest of my life but for a while."
Of the 169,465 active positions in the Marine Corps, just 7 percent are filled by women, according to service authorization data from fiscal 2011. That's compared to 13 percent of the Army, 16 percent of the Navy and 19 percent of the Air Force, which all also field larger numbers of total personnel.
The Marines accepted their first female Marine in 1918 and named their first female general in 1978 but didn't start marketing themselves regularly to women until 2007.
Sgt. Justin Piacenza, who is posted at the Dartmouth recruiting station, said his office sees three to five people per month, but women are rare.
"It would be a low statistic," he said, adding that Castillo is the first woman from the area to complete the course in at least 3½ years. "It's a rare thing."
Castillo, who graduated from Bristol Community College in 2012 with an associate's degree in criminal justice, said she was inspired to enlist by her father's service in the army of the Dominican Republic and because she was unhappy with the future she was facing in New Bedford.
"It's definitely not somewhere I wanted to be and the Marine Corps was kind of my way out," she said.
"She's always wanted to do it, so I wasn't surprised," said friend Emely Romero, 20, who worked with Castillo at the Coalition for Social Justice. "She is determined and she's very competitive."
In fiscal 2008, about 2,500 of 4,700 of the women who applied to enlist in the Marine Corps were accepted, just 52 percent. The percentage for men in the same time period was about 61 percent.
In Castillo's training platoon in Parris Island, S.C., 50 of the original 68 women graduated after completion of physical and combat fitness tests, which require, among other standards, running three miles in 21 minutes or less and tackling an obstacle course while carrying fellow recruits.
"The physical training — I can't say it was difficult but I can't say it wasn't," Castillo said, adding that she had participated in show choir in high school and did not consider herself particularly athletic. "Boot camp is 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical. It's all about how far you can actually push yourself."
Castillo said she hopes to continue her education and eventually become an officer, an accomplishment that would place her among an even smaller number of women. As of April, all four of the women who started the infantry officer training course have failed since the Marines started recruiting women to try, according to published reports.
Castillo, who woke up at 4 a.m. and went for a run her first morning back in New Bedford, said she is not daunted.
"It's a tough branch but, if you put your mind and your heart to it, it's not tough at all," she said. "It's all how you look at it."