For the first time, a female Marine will serve as the top enlisted adviser to a three-star general, the Corps announced Wednesday.

Sgt. Maj. Joy Kitashima, now the senior enlisted leader of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, was selected on Nov. 22 to be the sergeant major of III Marine Expeditionary Force, the Pacific-focused force based in Okinawa, Japan. She tentatively is scheduled to assume the role in July 2023.

Sergeants major serve as the senior enlisted advisers to senior commanders. At III Marine Expeditionary Force, the commanding general is Lt. Gen. James W. Bierman Jr.

A Bloomington, Indiana, native, Kitashima enlisted in May 1996 and became a member of the military police, according to her official bio. She served as a military police officer at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Japan; Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina; and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.

Kitashima did two tours as a combat instructor at infantry schools and then became an enlisted leader for The Basic School, which trains newly commissioned Marine officers.

Before her leadership role at 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, she served as sergeant major for Marine Air Control Squadron 4, 5th Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company, and concurrently for 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade, II Marine Expeditionary Force Information Group and Marine Corps Installations Pacific.

Her deployments and operations have included Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, a deployment with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit and Operation Unified Response-Haiti, according to her bio.

Kitashima earned a Legion of Merit award in June for her role as the sergeant major of Marine Corps Installations Pacific, according to DVIDS. She has also earned the Meritorious Service Medal with three gold stars in lieu of fourth award, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal with two stars in lieu of third award and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with two stars in lieu of third award, according to her bio.

She has earned an associate of science degree.

“A hundred years ago, women were given the right to vote, and we, as a nation, have come so far since that time,” Kitashima said in a 2020 Marine Corps video commemorating a century of women’s suffrage. “But women’s equality — it’s got to mean something to our young fathers who have a young girl, a daughter, who want to be able to tell that daughter, ‘You can do anything. You can do anything you want.’ That’s what women’s equality’s about.”

While Kitashima is the first female force-level sergeant major in the Marine Corps, she is far from the first female Marine to attain the rank of sergeant major. Bertha Peters Billeb earned that title in 1961, according to the Women Marines Association.

Female Marines have since obtained the rank of sergeant major — but none have served there at the Marine expeditionary force level.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of sergeants major.

Irene Loewenson is a staff reporter for Marine Corps Times. She joined Military Times as an editorial fellow in August 2022. She is a graduate of Williams College, where she was the editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.

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