Chapter President Iris Biggers Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps (Prior Service)
Iris Biggers enlisted in her hometown of Detroit MI in March 1985. She was her recruiter’s first female and first recruit. She saw her recruiter on a Friday night and Monday evening she was immediately on her way to Parris Island, S.C. for boot camp. She graduated as a PFC in June 1985 with Platoon 12B, K Company, Women Recruit Training Command.
In August 1985, she arrived at Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School, Twenty-Nine Palms CA and was assigned to A Company to become a Ground Radio Repairman (2841). She was promoted to Lance Corporal and Corporal during this time.
In September 1986, Iris arrived at Okinawa Japan. She was first assigned to the 3rd Medical Battalion at Camp Hanson but after 2 weeks, she was transferred to Hq & Svc Bn, Comm Company, Maintenance Plt, Camp Kinser. She participated in Team Spirit 1987.
In October 1987, Iris arrived at Camp Pendleton and was assigned to the Fleet Communication Electronics Office (FCEO), Headquarters Bn, Marine Corps Base. In February 1989 she was promoted to Sergeant. She attended the Noncommissioned Officers (NCO) Basic Course, Class 4-90, graduating in March 1990. Her EAS arrived and was Honorably Discharged May 1991. Sgt Biggers awards include National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal (2) and Navy Unit Commendation.
Iris joined the national WMA and local chapter on September 12, 2015. She has served on several committees, responsible for our chapter Facebook page and contributing chapter news for publication for the national WMA ‘Nouncements
Chapter Vice President Melinda Willett Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Prior Service)
Melinda Willett, formerly Melinda Nepfel, joined the Marine Corps in 1970. She attended Woman Officers Candidate in the summer of 1970 and then returned to college for her senior year. She was commissioned in June 1971 in the town of Camillus, New York along with 6 male candidates, a result of the campus unrest. She graduated from the Woman Officer Basic Course in 1971 and reported to her first duty station at MCAS Kaneohe, Hawaii for OJT in Airfield Operations.
Her two years at Kaneohe taught her a great deal of independence because there was no Women’s company and there were almost no women in Airfield Operations. During that tour she worked in Flight Clearance and Operations and met her future husband, Bryce Willett, who was an F-4 Radar Intercept Officer. In 1973 she transferred to MCAS Santa Ana. After a short time in the Airfield Operations office, she took over as the Crash Crew Officer. During this time, she married Bryce who was stationed at MCAS El Toro. Upon promotion to Captain, she was sent to Admin Officers School at Parris Island and reassigned as an Admin Officer.
In 1976 Melinda was assigned to MCRD San Diego as the Admin Officer for Casual Company, H & HS Battalion. During this time, Capt Nepfel became pregnant and although this was legal, based on a lawsuit brought by Women Officers, she was removed from Casual Company and sent to Battalion as the Bn Admin Officer. Her son was born on 2 Sept 1978 and after 30 days of maternity leave, she was reassigned as the Depot Adjutant. In 1979, she left active duty and transferred to the Reserves. During this time, she was the Admin Officer at 4th Tanks at Miramar, and was promoted to Major. In 1981 she transferred to the IRR shortly before the birth of her second child.
Melinda remained in the IRR until December 1990 when she was recalled for Desert Shield. She reported to Treasure Island in San Francisco as an admin officer and remained until the combat phase of Desert Storm drew to a close. Upon returning home, she received another set of orders to Camp Pendleton to assist in releasing all the reservists who had been recalled. After reporting to Camp Pendleton, she was released since she was pregnant with her fifth child.
In June of 1991 her discharge papers arrived in the mail at about the same time as her daughter was born. She joined WMA CA-7 in 2006.
Chapter Secretary Brenda Hockenhull Gunnery Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Brenda Hockenhull joined the Marine Corps in June 1971 after graduating high school in Fort Fairfield, Maine. After recruit training, she was the first woman Marine to complete the Test Instrument Repair Course and was assigned the MOS 2871, Field Test Equipment Repair. After 5 years and a short stint at Lowrey AFB in Denver, her MOS was upgraded to 2874, Calibration Technician. Her duty stations included Parris Island, SC; Twenty-nine Palms, CA; Albany, GA; and Barstow, CA.
Interestingly, Brenda's chosen sport while in the Marine Corps was competitive shooting, and she was among the last of the women Marines who were forbidden to participate in a Divisional competition because she was female. Upon completing twenty years of active service, Brenda retired in 1991 as a Gunnery Sergeant.
Today she is an assisting pastor at a Foursquare church in Lake Forest, CA, having earned two Masters of Divinity and one Ph.D. in Biblical Studies, majoring in the Old Testament. She presently serves as the Pastor of Pastoral Care and Discipleship.
Of the four members in her nuclear family, she says only her father was never in the service (her father was a farmer during WWII, and because of their value to the nation, farmers were not drafted into military service). Brenda's mother was in the Army (Signal Corps) during WWII, her brother served in the National Guard during Vietnam, and Brenda enlisted during the Vietnam Era. Brenda wears her mother's dog tag when she attends the Chapter CA-7 meetings in memory of her.
Chapter Treasurer Lillian "Lil" Cross U.S. Marine Corps (Prior Service)
Born in San Bernardino, California, Lillian graduated high school in Las Vegas, Nevada, attended Nevada Southern University (now UNLV) and joined the Marine Corps in 1967. She was assigned the administrative field. Marrying her husband in 1970, she left the Marine Corps to raise her family. She re-entered the civilian work force in 1977 and eventually found employment at the Department of Motor Vehicles. After 22 years, she retired in 2000 as a manager.
Lil joined WMA and the chapter as a life member in 1994 and has served the chapter in every office except secretary. She served WMA as area director 10 and is currently serving as the WMA Headquarters Manager and Document Curator and Property Control.
Chapter Past President Kathleen Ables Major, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
Kathleen Ables, formerly Kathleen V. Abbott, from Castro Valley, CA, joined the Marine Corps in 1967. She went through the Women Officers Candidate Course (WOCC) in Quantico for 10 weeks, June through August 1967. In those times, women attended weapons demonstrations but were not allowed any weapons training; however, they did get to experience the gas chamber! After WOCC came the Women Officers Basic Course (WOBC), also in Quantico. Kathleen completed WOBC in October 1967 and was then sent off to attend Administrative Officers School at Parris Island until the first week in December. Kathleen’s first duty station was MCRD San Diego. She met Chuck Ables in the Personnel Office in January 1968 when they both reported in at the same time. She and Chuck dated that year, and then he was transferred to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey. In June 1969, Kathleen transferred to Atlanta, GA, to be the Woman Officer Selection Officer for the 6th Marine Corps District, which included North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
Chuck and Kathleen married in May 1971. In August 1971, they both attended Amphibious Warfare School (AWS) in Quantico. (It's believed that they were the first married couple to attend AWS together.) At AWS, both had to write a staff study, so since she was tired of explaining what women Marines did, Kathleen’s staff study dealt with training women officers at The Basic School (TBS).
Then it was off to Okinawa for 18 months, followed by Twentynine Palms for two and a half years. In 1975, Kathleen was sent to H&SBn and became a company commander, first of Service Company, then of Headquarters Company. This was after the WM companies had been disestablished. According to the WM history monograph, Kathleen was the first woman commander of a mixed gender company since WWII.
Next, both Chuck and Kathleen headed east, Chuck to Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC) (at that time in Arlington, Virginia) and she to Quantico. She spent her first year at the air station (home of Marine One), and the second year at the Education Center. From there she went to HQMC and worked in the Reserve Division for three years.
While at HQMC, Chuck and Kathleen adopted their daughter Jennifer in December 1978. In 1981, the Ables transferred to the 1st Force Service Support Group (FSSG). Because the CO liked to move his officers about every six months, Kathleen held several different jobs while there: Battalion XO, Assistant G-1, and the FSSG personnel officer. It was during that time that Chuck and Kathleen adopted their second daughter, Elizabeth.
Then it became Kathleen’s turn to go back to Okinawa. Chuck waived his overseas control date and the whole family went to the 3rd FSSG in Okinawa. After the year in Okinawa, they came back to Camp Pendleton: Chuck to 1st FSSG and Kathleen to 1st Marine Division. She spent three years as an assistant G-1, then retired in June 1987.
Kathleen has been a member of the WMA CA-7 Chapter since 2006 and serves as the Chapter Officers Nomination Chair, and now serves as the Chapter President as well.