Attacking enemy-held beaches is the specialty of the U.S. Marine Corps. They have been doing it since 1805 when they stormed the shores of Tripoli against the Barbary pirates.
Now, mechanized assaults are how the Marines typically roll ashore. “Amtracks,” fully tracked, amphibious landing vehicles are a preferred method of landing surface assaults.
A woman has never been able command one in combat — that is until now.
Second Lt. Mariah Klenke made military history last month, becoming the first female to graduate from the Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Officer Course and earn the military occupational specialty of 1803, assault amphibian officer. Klenke, a 24-year-old Breese native and graduate of Highland High School, was one of seven Marines — and the only woman — to graduate in a ceremony Oct. 3 at the YAT-YAS Museum, which houses old assault vehicles and memorabilia from the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California.
“The Marine Corps and Training Command congratulate 2nd Lt. Klenke and her classmates on their graduation from Assault Amphibian Officer Course,” said Brigadier General Jason Bohm, Commanding General, Training Command. “We wish her, and the entire class, the best of luck in their future endeavors as leaders of Marines.”
The course ensures the AAV platoon commanders are trained to prepare their crews and AAVs for the tactical employment of troops and equipment during ship-to-shore movement and subsequent inland operations.
“It’s an honor to make history in the Marine Corps and to become the first female assault amphibious officer,” Klenke said. “It feels pretty great to know that a lot of females will be looking up to me. Assault Amphibian Officer Course was a great experience, and everyone worked well together. I chose the 1803 MOS for the role it plays in Marine Corps’ amphibious mission, the occupation’s close community and the opportunity to work closely with the infantry. I am looking forward to moving on to the fleet and training with Marines.”
The most difficult part of the 12-week course, Klenke said, was a one-week training of amphibious operations on the beach at Camp Pendleton. There, she and her classmates practiced splashing from their ship into the ocean, assaulting the shore and attacking inland targets.
“It was the hardest part, because we would do three or four missions a day on about 2 or 3 hours of sleep a night,” said Klenke, who has a degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee at Martin, where she also was a standout goalie for the women’s soccer team, breaking a number of school records.
Klenke was the first woman to enter the Assault Amphibian Officer Course after the Pentagon lifted its ban on women in combat roles in 2015.
Making history does not surprise her parents, Darrell and Tina Klenke, who supported their daughter’s decision to go into the Marine Corps.
“Do the best you can,” her mother told her. “There are so many opportunities for women.”
Darrell and Tina were on hand for their daughter’s graduation.
“We’re very proud of her. She’s always been one to go above and beyond,” Darrell Klenke said of his daughter. “She does everything 120 percent. When she gets something in her mind, you can’t hold Mariah back. She’s going to give it her all.”
Klenke’s first duty station is with the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, the 1st Marine Division, at Camp Pendleton. She will be stationed at Camp Pendleton for the next three years. She doesn’t yet know where she will be stationed after that.
“I am currently with a platoon, 40-50 Marines under my command,” she said. “It’s been going pretty good so far. We are currently on a work-up for a deployment next year. Having my parents, boyfriend, and family’s support was a big thing for me. Being so far away from home is hard, but I talk to them a lot, and they are what keeps me going. Overall goals are to make my platoon the best Marines they can be and to set them up for success in their future. I want to set my Marines up for success after they get out of the Marine Corps.”