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Colonel's retirement caps career of firsts

  • Published
  • By Maj. Peter Shinn
  • Air Forces Northern Commande's Action Group
A 34-year military career of firsts culminated March 20 with the retirement of Col. "BJ" Marshall during a ceremony here.

Marshall, previously the Director of Installations and Mission Support Directorate for the Continental U.S. NORAD Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern), began her military career as an enlisted Marine in 1981. After completing technical training for what the Marine's call "plane captain" - better known in the Air Force as a crew chief - she reported to Naval Air Station Memphis, Tennessee. At the time, few of the male Marines she worked with had ever seen a female jet engine mechanic, and even fewer had worked with one.

"The first time my supervisor met me, he told me 'I don't like women in my Marine Corps'," Marshall said. "I told him, 'I don't like men in mine.' We went on to become good friends."

While at NAS Memphis, Marshall became the first Marine - male or female - to be named an Aviation Water Survival Instructor, a feat she achieved as an E-3.

"All the Navy water survival instructors were E-4s, and they said I couldn't do it as an E-3," Marshall said. "I got a waiver."

Despite initial resistance from her leadership, Marshall proved herself as a plane captain and as a Marine. In 1983, she won the Marine of the Year for Marine Air Group 42, Detachment B.

"That was basically for the entire Southeastern U.S.," Marshall said. "I'm still proud of that one."

Marshall transferred from the Marines to the Massachusetts Air National Guard in 1986. A year later, she became the first female airframes and powerplant (A&P) mechanic ever hired by Trans World Airlines. Many other firsts would follow in a career that included earning her commission in 1990, running a business unit that repaired General Electric locomotives, deploying three times, and serving as the Assistant Director to the Air National Guard for Strategic Alignment of the Air Force Smart Operations in the 21st Century Program, among many other accomplishments.

However, Marshall said she does not see herself as a trailblazer or pioneer.

"I don't think of myself as that," she said. "I was the first in a lot of things, and if that made things easier for someone else, great. I had a lot of interesting jobs, and I just wanted to do them well," she added.

According to Marshall, those interesting jobs included each of her three deployments. In 1999, for example, then-Major Marshall served as the Sortie Generation Officer for the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts. From there, she launched 24 aircraft from Massachusetts, Michigan and Idaho Air National Guard units in one-minute intervals in support of Operation Allied Force, the NATO air campaign against Serbia. Just two days later, Marshall said, she deployed with her unit as the Weapons Safety Officer.

Three years later, Marshall said, she deployed on four days' notice to Turkey as a Civil Engineer in support of Operation Northern Watch, where she developed base master plans for various sites across the country for future contingencies. In 2013 through 2014, Marshall added, she deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, where she served as Deputy Director in the Strategy, Plans and Policy Enterprise Advisory Group for the NATO International Security Assistance Forces. In that role, she was responsible for advising the Afghan National Security Council on implementing their National Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Strategy.

Yet despite the deployments, Marshall said she sees her career as less about personal sacrifice, and more about enjoyment.

"I think of my career as being fun," she said. "I never concentrated on the next rank - I always spent my time developing others."

Continental U.S. NORAD Region-1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) commander, Lt. Gen. William Etter, agreed with Marshall's assessment of her career.

"Col. Marshall's accomplishments here at 1st  Air Force have been tremendous," Etter said. "But that's exactly what you'd expect of a leader, warrior and Wingman of her caliber - she's been setting standards and then exceeding them her whole career," he added. "BJ leaves a legacy that will serve as a beacon to those who follow her for all time."