A Black female Marine is slated to become the service’s first two-star general.

In August, General Michael Langley became the first Black Marine four-star general.

Major General Lorna Mahlock is in the process of becoming a major general. (Marine Corps)

A woman of color will become the first two-star Marine Corps general, marking a significant milestone in the service’s history.

The Pentagon announced on Dec. 6 that President Joe Biden had appointed Brig. Gen. Lorna Mahlock to the rank of major general, and the Senate confirmed her Thursday. Mahlock is the deputy director of combat support cybersecurity at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland.

According to Marquette University’s biography, Mahlock immigrated to Brooklyn, New York, at the age of 17 in 1985. In three months, she enlisted in the Marine Corps and became an air traffic controller.

Brigadier Gen Lorna Mahlock
Brigadier Gen Lorna Mahlock (Source: NARA)

According to the Women Marines Association’s biography, she was commissioned as a Marine officer in December 1991 through the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program after graduating from Marquette. Marine Corps Times previously reported that she has earned two master’s degrees in Strategic Studies from the US Army War College and the Naval Postgraduate School, in addition to her multiple higher educations.

In 2018, Mahlock became the first Black woman to be nominated for brigadier general.

She has been the Marine Corps’ chief information officer and director of the command, control, communications, and computers since then.

The Marine Corps is one of the smallest military branches, with 9% of its personnel being women. Only three women have attained the rank of lieutenant general, and all are now retired.

General Michael Langley recently became the first Black Marine four-star general.

Women in Military Leadership

The role of female Marines in the US military has come a long way since the first women enlisted in 1918. However, despite making strides towards equality, there are still many challenges for females in the Marine Corps to reach the highest ranks and secure top positions within the service. This is especially evident in Major General Lorna Mahlock’s historic rise to become the first two-star black woman general, as she will be only the fourth female to have achieved this rank.

To fully understand the obstacles that Major General Mahlock had to face before reaching such a high level of success, it is crucial to examine how female representation has evolved within the Marines over time.

Members of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service (DACOWITS) discuss treatment of women in the Marine Corps with female members of the Corps. (Source: NARA)

In 1948, Congress passed a law allowing women to serve as reservists but barred them from serving on active duty or holding combat roles until 1967, when restrictions were lifted due to public pressure. Women then began slowly being integrated into more areas of Marine service, allowing for more potential advancement opportunities; by 1975, Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody had become the first female four-star general in the US military. 

“I have never considered myself anything but a Soldier. I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer, but it’s important that we remember the generations of women, whose dedication, commitment and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today,” says Gen. Dunwoody. 

Despite these gains, however, women continued facing discrimination and limitations from upper levels of service throughout their career paths into higher-ranking positions due to pervasive gender bias among senior personnel who held traditional views on acceptable roles for women within military leadership structures. As recently reported by The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in Military Service (DACOWITS), females faced “significant barriers” when applying for higher grade promotions because they did not receive support or backing from their chain of command due to their gender identity (“DACOWITS Report 2018: Analysis of Promotion Opportunities for Female Soldiers“). 

Given these past struggles for female Marines trying to break through glass ceilings, Major General Mahlock’s promotion serves as an encouraging sign about possibilities for others aspiring for equal opportunities at reaching similar heights of achievement regardless of what gender identity they may have. Now with her ascent marking a new milestone within Marine Corps history, there is hope for aspiring leaders with similar ambitions who wish to attain higher ranks despite any challenges they may face along their journey toward greatness.