This female infantry Marine was born in a Siberian prison camp
The first of the Marine Corps' three tenets is "we make Marines," and in accomplishing that, young men and women from across the varied fabric of American society come together to undergo 13 weeks of intense mental and physical training to become basically-trained Marines.
Recruit backgrounds and experiences will vary, but the training is designed to ensure they come together as a single unit.
Rct. Maria Daume, Platoon 4001, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, was born in a Russian prison and brought to Long Island, N.Y., at the age of 4 when she and her twin brother were adopted. Daume became interested in the Marine Corps around the age of 12 when she met Marine recruiters at an anti-cancer event. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Thomas)
Daume was born in a Russian prison where her mother was incarcerated. She and her twin brother Nikolai lived in the prison for two years until their mother's death, upon which they were transferred to an orphanage in Moscow for two additional years. The 4-year-old Daume twins were eventually adopted by an American family and grew up in Long Island, New York.
Daume is among the first female recruits to be sent to recruit training with contracts to become infantry Marines.
"I was driving when (my recruiter) called me," Daume said. "He said, 'Are you sure you want this?' I said confidently, 'yes.' He then congratulated me and told me I got (the infantry contract.) I was so excited I had to stop the car and call my best friend and tell her."
Daume said the experiences she's had in life helped shape her desire to become a U.S. Marine. She said her early life in America made her hopeful for the future, but she said the shine quickly faded as it became clear she wasn't always as welcome as she'd have liked.
"Other kids would bully me consistently from when I was four to my senior year of high school," Daume said. "It would be for being Russian or being adopted. They would say things about my mom and why she was in prison even if no one knew why. Bullying was a big thing."
As this adversity continued, she said she grew the mental toughness needed to avoid letting those actions get under her skin. Daume said she views those negative life factors as elements that will contribute to her future accomplishments in the Marines and School of Infantry.
Rct. Maria Daume, Platoon 4001, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, yells orders to her team during the Crucible Jan. 5, 2017, on Parris Island, S.C. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Greg Thomas)
Mental strength helps recruits through the physical rigors of recruit training and life in the Marine Corps overall. Walking miles with load-bearing gear and completing obstacle courses are frequent activities in the Marine Corps, and Daume said she sees her experiences as preparation for what lies ahead.
"I played a lot of sports in my life, like basketball, soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey," said Daume. "I also did (mixed martial arts) and Jiu-Jitsu. With MMA it is all about staying calm and not getting angry. If you get angry you can make stupid mistakes. I know how to get hit and keep cool. With the team sports, you have to work together. When you're a team, you're a family."
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter opened all military occupational specialties to service members of either gender, and when infantry became an option, the two women, at this point Marine Corps poolees, jumped at the chance to apply. While they had already been in the Marine Corps DEP for some time, it was a fresh take on what they were preparing to attempt.
"At the end of the day, I just want to be like, 'watch, I am going to prove it,'" said Daume. "I think my background has given me an edge to take criticism and keep going."
Knowing what their choices meant and that all eyes were going to be on them, training was the priority, sometimes taking creative turns while waiting to ship to basic training.
"I would take my brother's books and load them in inside of my bag and just start hiking with them," Daume said. "I would walk everywhere around town."
And what of the possibility for failure? The question couldn't even be fully asked before it was answered.
"No," Daume said. "It is not an option and will never be an option. And I don't want it any easier just because I'm a female. I know my mental worth, and I know I can make it through this, but it's not just about me. I hope the females that are there right next to me will take a picture together, saying 'we did it.' I don't want to be like I'm the only female doing this and take all that pride. No, I want as many females to come and we will all get together with the guys and say we are all one team."