Female Marine Puts Down Flute, Picks Up Horse Reins
In 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. At that time, women were only allowed to perform clerical duties to aid the men who were fighting overseas during World War I.
Today, women make up about six percent of the Marine Corps.
Women serve in hundreds of different jobs in the Corps, including a very prestigious military occupational specialty: the last remaining Marine Corps Mounted Color Guard.
Marine Corps Cpl. Cherisess Paige, a 21-year-old stableman assigned to the mounted color guard here, is one of the first women to receive official orders to the unit.
Such positions had previously only been given to infantrymen, said Marine Corps Sgt. Edgar Torrealba, who’s also a stableman with the mounted color guard here.
“My first impression of Paige was that she was a squared-away Marine. She is very knowledgeable and willing to take advice and put it into action,” Torrealba said.
Paige, who calls Texas her home, said she was born in Panama and raised as a “military brat” whose father was in the Army.
Paige was seven years old, she said, when she came to America with her family. She excelled academically in high school.
“I was the ‘nerd’ in high school. I was taking many advanced placement classes and was accepted into a lot of good colleges,” Paige said. “My family and friends were surprised when I chose the Marine Corps before finishing school. I wanted to do something stable and have a sure way to pay for college. I also have a lot of respect for the Marine Corps.”
Paige joined the Marine Corps in July 2010 as a musician with the band at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms in California.
“I played the flute and the piccolo,” Paige said. “I love music and I loved being a part of the Marine Corps Band.”
Paige had another passion and an even greater devotion than the one she had for music: horses.
“I love horses. They are, by far, my favorite animal,” she said. “I rode my grandma’s personal horses every chance I got while growing up.”
Paige was first introduced to the Marine Corps’ mounted color guard unit in July 2011 during the commanding general’s change of command ceremony at Twentynine Palms.
“At first sight I immediately wanted to be a part of the unit. I was amazed,” she said. “I put in a request as soon as I could but could not quite leave the band [yet].”
On Jan. 1, 2012, the band at Twentynine Palms was disbanded due to budget cuts. With the elimination of the band came the opportunity Paige was looking for.
“In February 2012, I had been temporarily assigned to the MCG. I was interviewed about my experiences with horses and I also showed my ability to ride, maintain and handle the horses,” Paige said.
Paige put down her flute in April and became a part of the last mounted color guard unit in the Marine Corps.
Torrealba said his favorite memory working with Paige was at the Houston Rodeo in Texas. It was Paige’s first trip with the unit, he said, and the beginning of a strong bond that she formed with the mounted color guard.
The city of Houston is Paige’s favorite memory so far, she said. She explained that although she was still too new to participate in the actual event, it felt great to be a part of it and to help with the preparations.
“I loved my time in Houston. It was a huge event and I got to show my family and friends what I do,” Paige said. “They were all very impressed. I cannot wait until next year’s [Houston Rodeo] to actually ride in the event in front of my home state.”
After her first enlistment concludes, Paige plans on either re-enlisting and returning to the Marine Corps Band or becoming a full-time student and getting her bachelor’s degree. Whatever she does, her coworkers believe that Paige has a bright future ahead of her.
“Corporal Paige is an exceptionally hard worker who expects nothing less than perfection on a daily basis. She always goes above and beyond,” Torrealba said.
Paige said she loves to serve her country and to travel.
Whether it’s playing a musical instrument or riding a mustang -- her coworkers agree that Paige has a flair for entertaining patriotic audiences across America.
“I love what I do as a United States Marine,” she said.