Before and Beyond the Uniform
Col. Sarah Fullwood sat without flinching as a bee crawled over her hand as she recounted nearly three decades and 18 different positions serving in the United States Marine Corps while sighting in on her first civilian job.
Over her 27 years of service Col. Fullwood won the Marine Corps Athlete of the Year award, worked with James Mattis during his time as a general and Secretary of Defense, served as the Battle Watch Captain at U.S. European Command and helped to further the position of women in the Marines.
In one of her more recent positions, Fullwood worked on the public affairs staff for the Pentagon and then Secretary of Defense Mattis.
“I remember drafting the tweet to respond to the tweet STRATCOMM put out about dropping nukes on New Year’s,” said Fullwood
Col. Fullwood, not to be confused with her husband, fellow Marine Col. James Fullwood, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and grew up in Leland, Mississippi. The rural town had just 4,500 residents. This small town served as Col. Fullwood’s first proving grounds. In 1985, she started Leland High School’s cross country team as its only member her freshman year in 1985, later leading a full squad of seven to a state championship her senior year in 1988.
Basketball was the only fall sport for women at Leland High School.
“Basketball wasn’t quite an option for me since I’m not quite five feet tall,” said Fullwood.
Fullwood also led Leland High School to multiple track state championships. Her talents did not go unnoticed, as she was recruited by multiple colleges. Fullwood said that college was not an option unless someone else was going to pay for it.
She eventually decided to join her brother at the U.S. Naval Academy, kickstarting her military career in 1989.
At the Naval Academy, Fullwood enjoyed the structure and rigidity. She said the academics challenged her far beyond Leland High School, and she relied on the system within the Naval Academy to overcome that difficulty.
Outside the classroom, Fullwood was subject to the usual traditions and mischief that occured at the Naval Academy at the time.
“I was duct taped in my bra and panties to a chair at one point,” said Fullwood, “and put into an elevator and sent up and down to all the floors.”
Despite some of the more outlandish stories, Fullwood said that she never felt harassed or discriminated against during her time at the Naval Academy because everyone was subject to the same treatment regardless of gender.
At the Naval Academy, Fullwood also learned beyond the classroom from the cross country and track coach, Karen Boyle.
“She made it very clear that, first and foremost, we had to be good people, not just good runners,” said Fullwood.
By the end of her time at the Naval Academy in 1993, Fullwood graduated with honors and was awarded the Admiral James Calvert Leadership Award for her leadership and loyalty on and off the athletic field.
Graduation from the Academy also meant Fullwood had to decide her future either as a Marine or a Naval officer.
Fullwood said that she did not know what she really wanted to do until the very moment she stood before a panel of officers to declare her choice.
Fullwood attended the Marine Corps’ officer candidacy school, or OCS, the summer before selection. The Marine Corps’ OCS is almost always described as grueling and intense.
Fullwood said she heard rumors that being in the Marines was almost exactly like being in OCS.
“I guess I said Marine Corps ground because when I walked out I said, ‘Oh my God, I think I just went Marine Corps,’” said Fullwood
Fullwood said that after a few years in the Marines, she found out those rumors were not true.
Fullwood said that she likes to think she has played a small role in furthering the position of women in both the Marines and in the military as a whole.
Today, all mission operation specialties, or MOS’s, are open to women with combat roles being opened in 2016.
The first female passed the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course in 2017 according to the Marine Corps’ Quantico roster.
She said that as the Marine Corps embraces the diverse talents of more people it will grow stronger and more effective in its vital task of protecting the nation.
“As I leave the Marine Corps and try to capture the last 27 years in civilian terms, I couldn’t be happier because I know I am leaving this beloved institution in great hands,” said Fullwood.
“Marines are some of the most creative, innovative and funny people on the planet, and the current generation of Marines is no different. I think the future is one where we will be even better as an institution because we will absolutely capitalize on every individual’s best qualities,” said Col. Fullwood.