Flying the president from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base is a routine mission for Marine Helicopter Squadron One, but when the presidential helicopter Marine One lifted off from the South Lawn at the White House July 16, its crew was anything but the norm.
Maj. Jennifer Grieves is the first female Marine One aircraft commander and she took her last flight with an all female crew – another first in the Marine Corps.
The idea for an all female crew came up two weeks before her final flight when Grieves said Marines where urging that this was something the unit needed to do.
“The chance to have an all female crew is a landmark for the unit,” said Sgt. Harrison Kish, a 23-year-old crew chief with HMX-1. “Most of the Marines came in on their day off just to be part of it.”
The suggestion came as a surprise to Grieves, which her fellow Marines described as humbling.
“She never defined herself as just a female Marine,” explained Kish, who flew frequent missions with Grieves. “It was always Marine-to-Marine with her, never male-to-female.”
Marines are never chosen based on gender to crew Marine One, but for Grieves’ last flight she said she realized “this was not only important for some female Marines, but it was really important to a lot of the male Marines.”
Maj. Jennifer L. Marino from Palisade, Colo., joined Grieves as her copilot and Traverse City, Mich., native Sgt. Rachael Sherman completed the all female crew.
Becoming the first female Marine One pilot was almost a 20-year journey for Grieves. After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1990, Grieves served eight years before completing college and receiving a commission as a second lieutenant.
Grieves graduated top of her class from the Marine Aviation Training Support Group in Pensacola, Fla., and was designated an CH-53E helicopter pilot with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461 where she served from 2001 to 2005.
Grieves deployed aboard the USS Iwo Jima where she served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and stability operations in Monrovia, Liberia, in 2003. She also served as the squadron’s weapons and tactics instructor in Djibouti, Africa.
Coming to HMX-1 was a move that Grieves admits wasn’t really on her mind until her leadership suggested that this was something she should do.
“I was in Africa and my [executive officer] at the time, Col. Johnson, was in HMX-1 and he was a Marine One,” Grieves recalled. “He was very competent and a stellar Marine. He talked to me one day and said ‘you should think about this, you should try applying’.”
Grieves applied to serve with HMX-1 and after what she called a “huge process” due to the clearances you have to get, she was selected.
“So I’m in Africa and Christmas comes around. They called me on the phone and said welcome aboard so, it was a good surprise,” Grieves said.
However, the process to Marine One was far from over.
After serving in the squadron for a little more than two years, Grieves faced another huge process – her commanding officer selected Grieves one of five to serve as the aircraft commander to the president of The United States.
In her 14 months as a Marine One pilot, Grieves flew for former President George W. Bush and has spent the past six months transporting President Barack Obama and the First Family to places like New York and Rome.
“There are so many things that we get to be a part of in a discreet way,” Grieves said, referring to her trip to Rome for the recent G8 Summit with President Obama. “I will always cherish them.”
Grieves’ Marine-to-Marine rapport with her crew was one that Kish described as a “natural crew environment.”
Grieves continues her career at the Command and Staff College in Quantico, Va., before returning to the operating forces, but Marines like Kish said she leaves behind a humble legacy for Marines following in her footsteps.
“Any success I’ve had has nothing to do with me,” she said. “It’s because of the other hundreds of civilians and service members at HMX-1. It’s been a great tour, but I’ve been hogging a job for a long time so I’m ready to step aside and let someone else enjoy it for awhile.”