Marine Private First Class Maria Daume is a name to remember. She is the first female to graduate from the United States Marine Corps School of Infantry, and is now on her way to see combat on the front lines, fighting side by side with her Marine brothers. It has been a long hard road for Daume to get where she is today, and not just the road to becoming a Marine. She’s already been fighting her entire life.
Maria Daume was born in a Russian prison. She and her twin brother, Nikolai, lived in the prison cell with their mother for two years until their mother died. They were then sent to an orphanage in Moscow, where they lived until being adopted by parents in the United States. She grew up in New York, where she competed in school sports and mixed martial arts.
It was when she was just 12 years old that Daume got the passion to join the Marine Corps. At a cancer fundraiser, she saw a group of Marines with a pull-up bar at their booth. “They were doing pull-ups and push ups and I fell in love with it right off the bat. When I met my recruiter through our high school, he already knew about me from the recruiter I met when I was 12 years old at the cancer fundraiser,” Daume said.
In March, USMC Private First Class Maria Daume made history by becoming the first female ever to graduate from the School of Infantry. She didn’t make it any easier on herself, either — she completed one of the toughest Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) courses the USMC offers to become a Mortar Marine. Sgt. Matthew Schneider, one of her mortar instructors, said, “She was right at the top of the pack.”
The Marine Corps established the School of Infantry in 1953 at Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune. Prior to that, there was no formal or specific infantry training for Marines. PCF Daume had to meet all of the same requirements as her male brothers-in-arms to graduate from the School of Infantry. While other branches have different physical requirements for male and female service members, the Marine Corps — which was the last branch to open up combat positions to women, making that decision in late 2016 — requires the same performance from all everyone with an infantry contract, regardless of gender.
While the topic of women serving in combat roles has been much debated in recent years and remains a heated topic for some, PFC Daume is just focusing on being a Marine and ignoring a lot of the politics around her accomplishment. “Women have been in combat for years and so I don’t feel a lot of pressure in that regard,” she said. “I’m not really worried about what anybody thinks. I’m going to get through it and do it for me, and for other females joining the military so they can do it as well.”
There are three other women serving in an infantry unit with the Marine Corps. Those three, however, did not go through the School of Infantry but rather transferred into the 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment at Camp Lejeune in January. Daume may be the fourth female Marine in an infantry unit, but she is the first to earned it from the entry level through the School of Infantry. She is now serving with the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton.
After such a hard beginning to life and a tough path to get where she is now, Daume is proud to be a Mortar Marine. She first received her Eagle, Globe and Anchor pin as a United States Marine in January, and now after graduating infantry school she is ready for what is ahead of her. “I want to fight ISIS,” she said in an interview, looking forward to serving in combat and protecting the country that she loves so much. “To be able to fight for this great country is an honor.”
“No matter what your belief is, you can’t argue that I didn’t do it, because I did,” said PFC Daume.
Watch the video below to see PFC Maria Daume in training at the Marine Corps School of Infantry.
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.