As a Marine sergeant, 26-year old Alice Nelson was in charge of more than one million dollars worth of explosives each month at the Cherry Point Air Station in North Carolina. Her formal title was Inventory Management Specialist (Aviation Ordnance), and she kept track of “pretty much anything that flies on an aircraft,” she says. “So that could be a rocket launcher, rockets, bombs — 1,000 pound bombs, 2,000 pound bombs, missiles. A little bit of everything.” Right down to the explosive cartridges that blast the ejection seats out of the plane.
When troops were deployed, she kept track of how much ordnance was used and how much came back. “You had to have 100 percent accuracy,” she says. She balanced the reports, and if anything was missing, she tracked it down. She grew up in Maple Valley, Washington in a family of hunters and was always interested in guns growing up. She longed for adventure, and went into ordnance because she heard there were a lot of opportunities for deployment and it wasn’t a typical desk job.
But instead of being sent to a war zone, she ended up fighting a battle she never expected — right here at home. We’ve heard a lot recently about sexual harassment and assault against women on the job in civilian life; but it also exists in the military. And Alice Nelson had to deal with it right off the bat.
She had been at her first post in Hawaii for just a few months when her roommate divulged that she had been raped. Alice was a “mandatory reporter.” A mandatory reporter in the Marines, at that time, had to report any sexual assault or domestic violence that they learned about to their superiors immediately, Alice says. “So I helped her go report it to the staffer and we went to the hospital and I went through the whole process with her.” Word got out on base, and a second woman came to Nelson to report that she, too had been sexually assaulted a year before, by a fellow Marine, at an off-base party. “It was a year later — she had kept it in, tried to deal with it on her own, and they had her still working with the man who assaulted her.”
Again, torn by what she feared this could do to her budding career, Nelson followed military directives and reported it her superiors. Nelson says at that point her commander simply wanted to get her out of his hair and offered her an expedited transfer to Cherry Point, North Carolina, which she accepted. “When I arrived at Cherry Point one of the staff sergeants pulled me aside first thing and said ‘I want to give you a fair shot and let you know what’s being said about you. Someone from your last command said to watch out for you and that you’re a career-ender.’”
But he also wanted to hear her side of the story. “I told him ‘As a mandatory reporter I did what I was told.’ He was very nice. I appreciated that, he was a good supervisor.” She says she was able to move past the issues that rocked her early in her career through no fault of her own. At her new post, she was able to simply concentrate on her job. She was meritoriously promoted to corporal, and received several achievement awards for her work. After five years, she was ready for a new challenge and left to pursue her education through the GI Bill.
“Sexual assault and domestic violence in the Marine Corps is something that they’ve been really working on, implementing new training and trying to decrease, but it happens in the Marines, because the female population is small compared to other branches. When I joined about 7 percent of the Marine Corps was female.”
I ask her what she is proudest of, and she replies “The work that I did and the standard I held myself to — especially when it came to tough decisions, integrity, and doing the right thing.”