In nearly 20 years in the Corps, Gunnery Sgt. Lisa Kulczewski has continually overcome stereotypes of female Marines. Juggling training, deployments and the other rigorous expectations of the Marine Corps with dinner, daycare, soccer practice and housework as a single mom hasn’t been easy for Kulczewski, but she has relished the challenges the Corps has presented her. (Multimedia production by Sgt. Cassandra Flowers and Cpl. Chelsea Flowers Anderson)
Since Gunnery Sgt. Lisa Kulczewski enlisted nearly 20 years ago, the expectations of female Marines in the Corps has changed significantly. The Marine Corps authorized female Marines to attend Marine Combat Training, lengthened their 1.5-mile run in the Physical Fitness Test to three miles, permitted women to deploy on Navy ships and more recently, opened hundreds of combat-related jobs for female Marines.
Adapting to these changing requirements was exactly what Kulczewski was looking for when she enlisted in the Corps and she has relished in the challenges they have presented throughout her career.
Following boot camp, she attended schooling to become a motor transport operator and got orders to Truck Company, 1st Marine Division at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., where a large portion of the Marine Corps’ infantrymen are stationed.
“It was one of the toughest places you could go in the Marine Corps,” said Kulczewski, from Gilroy, Calif. “I went into a man’s world where they didn’t know females or the females they did know didn’t have the get-up and go they needed to break those stereotypes. I wanted to prove that I could do anything they could do.”
Determined to break existing misconceptions about female Marines, Kulczewski volunteered for every type of additional training she could throughout her years in the Corps. She became the second female Marine in Okinawa to attend static rope suspension training, graduating with a broken foot. She spent time as an instructor at Corporals Course and the Motor Transport advanced school. She helped mold female recruits as a drill instructor and endured the grueling Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival Course at Marine Corps Base Camp Johnson, N.C.
“I’ve gotten to do a lot of really cool things I don’t think your average woman would do,” Kulczewski said.
Along with incredible training opportunities, Kulczewski also got the chance to apply those skills to a combat environment on three combat deployments — one to Iraq and two to Afghanistan. Both deployments to Afghanistan forced her to leave behind her two young boys.
“Deploying with kids is definitely much harder,” Kulczewski said. “I had a lot of guilt that I had to work through. Then you have people judging you for leaving your kids behind and that almost makes it twice as hard to struggle through.”
Learning to juggle training, deployments and the other rigorous expectations of the Marine Corps with dinner, daycare, soccer practice and housework as a single mom hasn’t been easy for Kulczewski.
“It’s kind of like running when you’re tired,” Kulczewski said. “If you just lean forward, you’re going to catch yourself and keep going. You won’t let yourself fall.”
Kulczewski has pushed herself to exceed expectations and physical fitness is no exception. She sticks to a strict workout regimen including daily, two-hour workouts in the gym.
“Gunnery Sgt. Kulczewski is an absolutely fit Marine,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph M. Marshall, staff noncommissioned officer in charge at the Marine Corps Water Survival School at Marine Corps Base Camp Johnson, N.C. “She has the epitome of a ‘can do’ attitude. She’s very dedicated and doesn’t stop. We need that type of attitude across the Marine Corps.”
Kulczewski’s commitment in the gym has more than prepared her for the recent change to the female PFT to include pull-ups instead of the flexed-arm hang.
“I’m excited for this new PFT we’ve got,” Kulczewski said. “I really think these female Marines are going to show them what they’ve got. I see my girls in the gym, and they’re lifting weights, slimming down, and doing what they have to do to stay in the Marine Corps and hang with the guys. I think they’re going to get out there and they’re going to kick butt. I think our boys who are doing the minimum better get in the gym because they’re going to get shown up on the PT field.”
But even hard-chargers like Kulczewski eventually move on from the Corps. After 20 years, she plans to retire soon to focus on raising her two boys. More than likely, though, she will find another challenge to overcome, another barrier to break and another stereotype to shatter outside the Marine Corps.
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