Brazilian Marine Corps First Lieutenant Débora Ferreira de Freitas is the first female combat officer in the Marine Corps.
Brazilian Marine Corps (CFN, in Portuguese) First Lieutenant Débora Ferreira de Freitas defies all odds. She was the first woman to compete for a CFN junior officer slot becoming the first female combatant—a feat she accomplished before the December 2017 passage of Public Law No. 13.541, authorizing women to be admitted into the Brazilian Navy’s (MB in Portuguese) Officer School at the Naval Academy, in the Navy or Marine Corps.
Since becoming an officer, 1st Lt. Débora served in important roles. She was chief of the Department of Civil Affairs and Social Communication for the 25th Contingent in Haiti and commanded the Liaison Platoon for the Communication Company of the Command and Control Battalion. Currently, she works in the personnel division of the Marine Corps Command and Control Battalion in Rio de Janeiro.
Originally enlisted as a CFN staff sergeant musician in 2004, 1st Lt. Débora had higher aspirations for her Marine Corps career. “I have a degree in music from the Federal University of the State of Rio de Janeiro, which meets CFN’s higher education requirement for Officer’s School,” 1st Lt. Débora told Diálogo. “In 2015, after three years of study, I was approved for service as a junior officer in the Brazilian Marine Corps, and I went off to Officer’s School.”
Enrollment, she recalled, had no restrictions on female inclusion. “All that was required was to be in CFN. So, I decided to give it a try even though I’m a woman, and I competed equally against the men,” 1st Lt. Débora said. “What motivated me was the opportunity for growth within the force. Today, I feel fulfilled, because CFN strives to maintain the honor, competence, determination, and professionalism for us to stay current and well-trained to defend our homeland.”
The officer’s pioneering work didn’t stop there. She was also the first woman to complete the Amphibious Warfare Course in 2016, which qualifies marine officers to command infantry platoons. The four-month course demands a lot from combatants, especially in terms of physical requirements. “The rucksack alone weighed around 25 kilograms, not to mention the bullet-proof vest, weapons, and other gear that we had to carry all the time,” 1st Lt. Débora said.
The daily routine during the course began at 6:30 a.m. and included military physical training and other activities related to the training of a platoon commander, which were constantly evaluated. “The main problem was physical fatigue. There are also physiological differences between men and women that have their own peculiarities,” 1st Lt. Débora said, before highlighting the necessity to value esprit de corps and change certain habits, such as setting her vanity aside and learning to get by on little sleep in any location.
An inspiration to other women
Completing the course, 1st Lt. Débora said, opened doors for other women. “I showed that it’s possible for a woman to carry out operational duties without being diminished by that: carrying a heavy rucksack, using weapons, and effectively leading the men on a mission,” she said. Currently, CFN has two women serving in an operational capacity and others taking the Amphibious Warfare Course.
She shared her pride in helping pave the way for other combatants. “When I look back, I feel a sense of accomplishment, because doors have been opened for other women who wish to join CFN.” Among her goals are to keep improving within the operational arm of the force through courses and training.
MB’s authorization for women to join all operational units was cause for celebration. “That decision shows the importance of valuing our work and our professionalism. The Navy has always been a pioneer in female enlistment, and this shows that our force values female inclusion and our level of competence,” she said, encouraging other women to join. “Whoever has this dream should go ahead and study, focus on their goal, and not neglect to train physically,” 1st Lt. Débora said.
Gender Commission acknowledges MB’s pioneering approach
According to Brazilian Air Force Major General (R) Antônio Carlos Coutinho, president of the Brazilian Ministry of Defense’s Gender Commission (CGMD, in Portuguese), the experience MB gained throughout the years overcame all doubts and gave the institution the assurance needed to offer unrestricted access to women. Maj. Gen. Coutinho explained that each service branch is free to determine how many slots, and when, will be allocated to women. But similarities in standards used among the three forces indicate that MB’s decision might prompt the Army and Air Force to adopt the same measure in the near future. “Each branch is unique, and it could be that this new understanding isn’t reached everywhere with the same speed—but new spaces are being created,” Maj. Gen. Coutinho said.
“Pioneering attitudes of the like of 1st Lt. Débora only enhance the armed forces’ operational performance, regardless of gender,” Maj. Gen. Coutinho said. For him, what matters is that standards set by the institution for the position are met. “This young officer’s decision to face a unique challenge, overcoming all the barriers and succeeding in her goal, shows how results don’t depend on gender, and it bolsters female inclusion in military service,” he said.
CGMD was created in 2014 to smooth out gender differences in the Brazilian Armed Forces and broaden the policy on women serving in the nation’s military. CGMD is directly associated with UN Women, an entity established by the United Nations to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.