FORT BENNING, Ga. (June 19, 2013) -- Since the age of 16, Cpl. Jessica Manning knew that she wanted to be a Marine.

"I saw this movie one day and told my parents I wanted to be a Marine." Manning said. "One day my mom and I were out and we said, 'let's go to the Marine recruiter office,' and 10 days later I signed my contract."

With the support of her parents, Manning enlisted in the fall of her senior year of high school through the delayed entry program. She later graduated and left for boot camp 10 days after her 18th birthday. With no prior military service in her family, Manning said she only had images of her new experience through friends and conversations along the way.

"I had a couple of friends that joined a year before me who both did Infantry training and they told me what they were doing," Manning said. "I thought it was really cool."
She said she was also aware of Marine Corps' reputation of having the hardest, longest boot camps. With 14 weeks of boot camp, four weeks of combat training and four weeks advanced interval training, Manning said the hardest part of the process was leaving home to new territories and rules.

"It wasn't difficult, but it was very intense because of the discipline and going from a high school kid to Marine Corps boot camp," Manning said. "Everything is laid out and you follow the schedule and get used to it."

However, the 20-year-old Green Bay, Wis., native said she never expected to become the only female Marine in her unit. As an administrative specialist for the USMC Detachment on Fort Benning, Manning works and lives among more than 350 male counterparts.

"It was unexpected, you don't join thinking you're going to be the only female in a unit," Manning said. "I was actually the first female Marine to be stationed at Fort Knox, Ky., when this unit was open there."

Her attitude was immediately noticed by her superiors. Sgt. Jonathan Bennamon said Manning's greatest strengths are adaptability and leadership.

"I like to throw curve balls at the Marines to challenge them and make them think for themselves, and she always approaches it with a can-do attitude, no matter what," Bennamon said. "She's good at managing the Marines and keeping them working … that's what I look for in my corporals.

"When you look at a corporal, they're usually a little older and more experienced, but here she's really learning. I could see her being an (senior noncommissioned) officer and she has the potential if she wanted to. With the meticulousness she shows and the way she performs, she could definitely do the same thing in the field."

When Manning came to Fort Benning in June 2011, she wasn't the only female in the detachment. Manning said she was guided and mentored by a female Marine officer until she transferred in April. However, Manning said she doesn't feel different from any other Marine.

"I consider myself to be one of the guys," Manning said. "We all do the same thing and try to get to the same ending point, no matter if you're male or female."

Manning said being part of a smaller detachment instead a Marine Corps base has allowed her opportunities to take on multiple tasks as an administrative specialist.
Whether in the office or in combat, Manning said she is ready to take on any situation.
"I want to deploy … there's risks with it, but you have to understand that when you join the military," she said. "There's a saying that every Marine is a rifleman, so you're trained that no matter what gender, height or weight … every Marine is trained to go into combat."

For now, Manning said she plans to re-enlist and hopes for opportunities to travel more and experience life at a Marine Corps base.

"I have learned that you don't let what other people think you can't do affect what you know you can do," Manning said. "You have to be willing to push yourself, and if you aren't willing you aren't going to make it and fall. It's important to have people who will help to push you along."