The Marines Now Have 2 Women Leading Big-Gun Howitzer Teams

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U.S. Marine Cpl. Shannon Lilly  and U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julianna Yakovac.
U.S. Marine Cpl. Shannon Lilly (left) is bitten by a military working dog during a demonstration, and U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Julianna Yakovac (right) graduates from Howitzer Section Chief Course. (Photos: U.S. Marine Corps)

Two female corporals have completed a course that allows them to lead teams that operate some of the heaviest and most destructive artillery pieces in Marine ground-combat units.

Marine Corps M777 Howitzer teams on the East and West coasts have their first female section chiefs. Cpl. Julianna Yakovac, with 1st Battalion, 11th Marines, graduated from Howitzer Section Chief Course in California last month. In December, Cpl. Shannon Lilly, with 10th Marine Regiment, finished the course on the East Coast.

Yakovac and Lilly are the first women in Marine Corps history to graduate from the course since combat-arms jobs opened to women in 2016. But Yakovac told the San Diego Union Tribune, which reported her graduation on Friday, that she doesn't view herself as a trailblazer.

"I'm just happy to have the same opportunity everyone else has," she told the paper. "It's not any more of an accomplishment than my male counterparts."

Related: Top Marine General Wants More Women Serving in Ground-Combat Jobs

Lilly, according to officials with 2nd Marine Division, is currently deployed to Norway with her unit.

Howitzer crews rely on teamwork and physical strength to operate the 155mm Howitzers. Each round weighs more than 100 pounds, and Marines can fire them at enemy targets from up to 25 miles away.

During a months-long Marine Corps experiment from 2014-2015 that assessed whether women should be allowed to join combat units, the service required six-person coed teams to set up the weapons and carry out a series of live-fire missions. Each crew member had to carry the 105-pound round more than 200 yards, Military.com's Hope Hodge Seck reported at the time.

Yakovac told UT-San Diego that when she first reported to her unit, she was one of two women, but in the two years she has been there, more have followed. The Marine Corps reported to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services in December that 613 female leathernecks and sailors were serving in jobs previously only opened to men, which officials said was a 60% jump from the year before.

Commandant Gen. David Berger last month instructed leaders to look at more ways to move female Marines into combat roles. That includes encouraging more lieutenants and captain to attend Infantry Officer Course and possibly bringing back women who'd left active duty to serve in combat roles.

As Howitzer chiefs, Yakovac and Lilly are responsible for "the safe operation and employment of the howitzer including maintenance, handling of ammunition, local security, convoy operations, navigation, direct fire ... and emergency," the Marine Corps Warfighting Publication on artillery operations states.

-- Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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