The few of the few – A female Sergeant Major

What is it like to be a female Sergeant Major in the Marine Corps? Check out this week’s episode of the Women of the Military podcast with retired Sergeant Major Robin Fortner. She served in the Marine Corps for thirty years, enlisting the summer before Desert Storm kicked off. We talked about how the experience of having Desert Storm happen at the beginning of her career shaped her future and the attitude of the Marines. We also covered what it was like to often be the only one in the room (either because of race or gender, or sometimes both).

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The few of the few – A female Sergeant Major

Robin did not want to give her mom the burden of paying for college and instead decided to look into the military. She had a desire to do something different and that led her to the Marine Corps. It felt like a huge commitment to serve for four years and that was all Robin saw herself doing. But at the end of the enlistment as a Marine, mom, and wife. It felt like the right path forward to continue to serve. She loved being a part of the Corps. And she also saw other women who were balancing the role of both mom and Marine.

Highlights of a career

Robin had great leadership that pushed her to be the Marine she needed to change into. The discipline they gave her led her to make rank and become an NCO quickly. She had a desire to serve and give back and used her rank and position to help change things for the people who followed in her footsteps. Not be by being the loudest or most aggressive. Instead, she talks of chipping away at the stone and making people see change through her hard work.

She continued to progress in rank and had various opportunities to lead Marines and leave her mark. When 9/11 happened she was a drill instructor and she talked about the shift between how she trained recruits before and after September 11th. It wasn’t hypothetical anymore, they knew that what they were training them could end up saving their life. They were training warriors. She also had the opportunity to be a part of the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force. The task force was focused on integrating women into the Marine Corps as mandated by the 2013 repeal of combat exclusion.

Changing the culture around women in the Marine Corps

She talked about how the work they did impact how the Marine Corps moved forward. They focused on integration in such detail that other branches took notice and learned from various best practices. The study also paved the way for women and men to train together during Boot Camp. She talked about how desegregation was the right choice, but it also required a lot of thought and hard work to do it right.

The Gap – leaving the military

After thirty years of military service, it was time to hang up her boots and move on to the next phase of life. She is happy to have served and feels she was able to make an impact as a Marine and a female Sergeant Major. But she continues to serve and give back. She left the military about a year ago and still works to find the right resources and build out her new path. She talked about the gap between leaving the military and being a veteran. There is so much you do not know when leaving the military. And she believes there is a better way to connect service members and veterans.

Connect with Robin:




Mentioned in this episode:


Related episodes:

Becoming a JAG in the Marines – Episode 131

The Pressure to Prove yourself in the Marine Corps – Episode 94

Diving into Marine Corps Life – Episode 12

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What is it like to be one of the few. As a Marine you are one of the few, the proud. But as a female you are even more rare and then to reach the rank of Sergeant Major you often find yourself as the only one in the room.

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