USMC Appoints First Female Force Sgt. Maj. In Its History – Sgt. Maj. Joy Maria Kitashima

The Marine Corps has a storied history and a tradition of excellence in war and in peace that is world-renowned. For the first time in its 247-year history, it has appointed a woman to the top enlisted Marine Corps Force position. Her name is Joy Maria Kitashima.

When Kitashima was in college at Vincennes University in Vincennes, IN, the thought of entering the military had never entered her mind. Her intent was to earn an Associate of Arts degree in law enforcement and get a job on a police force. But the plans we start out with in our youth often morph into something totally expected because of an experience, or because of an unexpected challenge we get from some random person or circumstance.

Photo: Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

That’s what happened to Kitashima. A Marine Corps recruiter who apparently had seen something in her demeanor approached her one day and asked if she might be interested in joining the Marine Corps. She was surprised, but, in character with her personality, she took it as a challenge and joined.

She went to boot camp at Parris Island, and, after graduation, she went to Military Police School at Fort McClellan, Alabama. Her journey had begun. After this school, she received her first assignment with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing in Okinawa. She would be assigned as an MP at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, NC. Then another opportunity came up for Kitashima. She was made a combat instructor at the School of Infantry East.

Photo: US Marine Corps/Cpl. Adam Henke

Kitashima had not intended to stay in the Corps beyond her first enlistment contract, but, again, serendipity and new possibilities kept popping up. Her Master Gunnery Sergeant asked her if she would like to go to combat training. He told her that the school needed females who can deal with the grueling PT that was necessary for those in combat training. She liked the idea and the challenge, so she reenlisted and went to Camp Geiger as a Corporal.

She said in an interview on the daily site: “That’s kind of been the theme throughout [my] career. Just because I don’t know what I‘m getting into, it doesn’t mean I’m going to be too afraid to try. And also, they’re called ‘orders.’” This experience caused an internal change in her as she began to no longer see herself as a law enforcement officer but as a Marine.

Photo: U.S. Marine Corps

She would go on from there, proving her ability to learn and to adapt, rising through the ranks as she went. In 2016, she was named Sgt. Maj. for the 5th Naval Gunfire Company, then, not long after, she became the top NCO for the II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group. In mid-2020 she was made the Sgt. Maj. of Marine Corps Installations Pacific, followed by the same position at the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, NC. Her leadership skills have been clearly shown to be of the highest level, and the Marine Corps has recognized those skills again in naming her as the first female Marine to be made a Force level Sgt. Maj. in the history of the Marine Corps.

Kitashima has been in the Marine Corps for 26 years. She is married to Mark Kitashima, a retired Master Gunnery Sgt., and they have an 11-year-old daughter, Caitlynn.

Bravo Zulu, Sgt. Major Joy Maria Kitashima, on being named the first-ever female Force level Sgt. Maj. in the Marine Corps. You have earned it! May your tenure in this very important top-enlisted Marine position be full of many successes. OooRah! and Semper Fi!

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