Eureka veteran draws on inner strength honed in Corps
Standing 5 feet tall at 20 years old, Heather Greenwood stepped off the bus and rooted her feet in the yellow footprints where generations of recruits stood before her and vowed to become a U.S. Marine in 1990.
Greenwood, 48, of Eureka, said she knew from the moment she signed up that the road going forward from those footprints would take everything she had, but she said she refused to be told there was something she could not do.
“The reason I joined the Marine Corps is because they said I’d never make it, and that’s the type of person I am,” Greenwood said. “Challenge accepted.”
Her small stature and gender meant Greenwood had to work harder to mold herself into a Marine.
“Physically, my size has always been a challenge,” she said. “You have to be extremely focused and even a little hard-headed.”
“You have to have the frame of mind of ‘hand me any challenge, and I will do it or I will die,’” she added.
Building up her upper body strength became a crucial part of her training as she sought to meet the standards set for all Marines, male and female, large and small.
“It was tough. I definitely felt like I had something to prove, but when you’re in the Corps, that is a brotherhood that has no gender,” she said. “That’s exactly the way we all acted and the way we all were treated.”
She stood taller than ever beside her brothers and sisters on their graduation day, transforming from a recruit into a U.S. Marine.
The following year, she was deployed to Afghanistan, where the sand was inescapable and bottled water might as well have been gold.
Upon her return, she served as a military police officer in the states and completed a stint in Greenland, which includes tasks such as breaking up bar-room brawls and tracking down criminals within the Corps.
In 1994, she deployed once again to Afghanistan, this time engaging in active combat.
“It’s intimidating, and you look to your commanding officer and that’s the only thing you can do,” she said. “You revert right back to how you’re trained, and you depend on your Marines.”
Following six years of service, Greenwood ended her time with the Marines in 1996 with the rank of staff sergeant and returned to civilian life.
Far from the camaraderie and brotherhood she found in the Corps, where men and women joked and relied on each other much like siblings, swapping out her uniform for civilian clothes took some adjustment, she said, both on her part and on the part of people she met.
“Things were a little different when you were in your ‘civies’ and people found out you were in the Corps,” Greenwood said. “People on the street treated you different.”
The former military police officer took a job as an electrician’s assistant, as well as opening her own dog-grooming business in Eureka.
The attitude she adopted in the Corps, however, stuck with her and bled into her day-to-day routines, into her interactions with other former Marines and over time into her family.
“It’s a lifestyle you bring home with you,” she said. “The Corps will be a part of who I am until the day I die.”
After seeing what female Marines are capable of achieving in the Corps, she said she felt a disparity in the confidence she saw in civilian women.
“The big thing that I would transpose from a woman in the Marine Corps to a civilian woman is the inner strength and the outer strength; combined together both are extremely powerful,” she said. “I think that civilian women could certainly learn how to be more independent.”
Though she often thrived on the brotherhood and unity of the Corps, she said she also gained the confidence and knowledge to take care of herself.
All women, she said, have that ability, and she hopes to impress upon them the fact that “they are actually capable of doing more, that they are actually stronger individuals than they’ve ever known.”
“I still feel exactly the same way, still just as dedicated to the Corps as I was when I was enlisted,” Greenwood said. “That’s a feeling of self-respect that you will never lose.”
A mother of two boys, a dog-groomer, electrician and former Marine, Greenwood said the Corps impacted and changed every aspect of her life.
“As for me personally making a difference,” she said, “the U.S. Marine Corps made a difference, and I was part of that.”
Reporter Mary Cloud Taylor can be reached at 758-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.