Marine recruiter Sgt. Zonell Westfield prides himself on having the ability to spot a future Marine anywhere he goes. It was this insight that set off a chain of events that led to a historic achievement in the Marine Corps.
One fall day in 2013, Sgt. Westfield visited Smoothie King and met Kendra Hazelwood, 18, working behind the counter. “I’ve got the eye for a Marine,” he told her, handing her his business card.
Because of this exchange, Kendra and her older sister, 21-year-old Chelsa Hazelwood, became the first women to successfully complete enlisted infantry training. The two women were part of a small group of volunteers who were given the opportunity to go through the training.
According to Marine Corps Times, Kendra accomplished this in the fall of 2014. Her sister, Chelsa, graduated from Infantry Training Battalion on March 19.
It took three weeks for Kendra to visit Sgt. Westfield at his recruiting office in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
“I’ve been looking at your card every day,” she said, according to Westfield. “I can’t stop thinking about it.”
Westfield said it’s moments like those that made all the pressures and frustrations of recruiting worthwhile.
“I tell [the recruiters I train], ‘You can’t be afraid. You’ve got to go out there, and you’ve got to ask everybody because you never know,'” he said. “When [Kendra] walked in there that day, just all that hard work and getting turned down, it made up for all that.”
Kendra, a CrossFit athlete, is now a lance corporal and says she has always dreamed of being a Marine. She currently holds the woman’s record for every single fitness category after amassing an 11-minute mile-and-half run, 85-second flexed-arm hang, and 144 crunches.
While Kendra was preparing for boot camp, Chelsa, who is now a private first class, was beginning her own journey. During this time Chelsa was a member of the volunteer fire department and in Murfreesboro and expected to make firefighting her career.
“I didn’t fully make up my mind to join the military until January of 2014 [when Kendra started recruit training],” she said. “But seeing the transformation in my sister after she graduated boot camp and the camaraderie she had gained with the other Marines, it made my decision to become a Marine very easy.”
The two sisters faced similar obstacles during the grueling eight-week ITB course, including a foot injury for Kendra and a twisted ankle, shin splints and hip pain for Chelsa. Despite these setbacks, the sisters overcame their challenges, which they said have brought them closer together.
Both sisters say that if ground combat units open up to women in the future, they would volunteer.