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PITTSBURGH--Sgt. Kemmala S. Kelsey reflects on her path in life that led her to become one of the “Few and The Proud,” at Recruiting Substation Pittsburgh, March 17. “Initially, I was overweight and I couldn’t enlist,” said Kelsey, a supply clerk with Recruiting Station Pittsburgh. “I took that as a personal challenge. So I said to myself, I’m going to lose this weight and I’m going to show the recruiters that I can do this.” Kelsey, who lost the weight, had recently relocated from Jamaica to Chicago. She would eventually join the Marines and travel to Japan, Guam and Spain.

Photo by Sgt. Pedro Cardenas

From the Islands to the Windy City; Marine sheds weight to become one of the few

20 Mar 2015 | Sgt. Pedro Cardenas 1st Marine Corps District

The Marines are known as “the Few and the Proud.” However, female Marines sometimes have a harder road to earn the title and become one of the smallest and proudest groups within the Corps. 

For Sgt. Kemmala S. Kelsey, the road to earning the title Marine was a harder than usual.

“I was in college, working two part-time jobs, but I wanted more,” said Kelsey. “I saw the Marine uniform on a poster and I thought, that’s what I want,” said Kelsey. “I couldn’t take no for an answer. It motivated me to prove I could do this.”

Kelsey was born and raised in Jamaica. She was the middle child of four siblings born to a single mother. She was 19 when her family moved the United States in March 2009. When she arrived to the United States, her family moved in with her grandmother in the suburbs of Chicago. It was a complete culture shock for her.

“The weather and seeing snow for the first time was weird,” said 25-year-old Kelsey, a supply clerk, with Recruiting Station Pittsburgh. “The coldest I had seen in Jamaica was 65 degrees on a stormy day, so that was completely weird for me.”

After Kelsey had settled in, she began working two jobs and attending college.  She started a career in retail, but something did not feel right for her. 

“I attended college to please my mom, but it wasn’t right for me,” said Kelsey. “I wanted to follow through with my dream, which was to serve in the armed forces.”

According to Kelsey, she has always had a dominant personality and she has always wanted to lead. So she began researching and meeting with military recruiters. Oddly enough, she did not know anything about the branch she would eventually join.

She took her Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, also known as the ASVAB, with the U.S. Army. Kelsey spoke with the different services and she spoke with the Marines last, because she did not know much about them.

“Most applicants don’t know about us and what we provide, but normally nine things out ten that applicants are looking for, we can provide to them,” said Gunnery Sgt. Eugene R. Bryant Jr, operations chief, RS Pittsburgh. “The intimidation factor is what they think Marines do, and what we stand for. We are the best and the hardest, but we have a lot to offer.”

Shockingly, the recruiter who first interviewed her told her that one of the other services would probably suit her better. The reason, Kelsey did not meet the strict weight standards of the Marine Corps. She was 165 pounds; 20 pounds over the weight limit.

“Initially, I was overweight and I couldn’t enlist,” said Kelsey.  “I took that as a personal challenge. So I said to myself, I’m going to lose this weight and I’m going to show the recruiters that I can do this.”

In October of 2010, Kelsey quit her two jobs, stopped attending Westwood College in Chicago and began to train every day to lose the weight. Her recruiter, took her under his wing and began training with Kelsey to motivate and help her lose the weight. However, there was another obstacle to overcome, her mother, who  initially, did not approve of her daughter’s choice

“My mom’s initial thought was that I was going to go to war,” said Kelsey.

Now, her thoughts and mindset have made a complete 180-degree turn.

 “My mom is very proud because of all the positive changes I’ve made; I wasn’t the most disciplined person before I enlisted, but that has changed since then.”

Her determination and perseverance paid off. By the end of November 2010, a month later, she had lost the 20 pounds and enlisted. Kelsey shipped to recruit training in April 11, 2011. Now, she finds motivation the same way.

“It still motivates me being told “no,”” said Kelsey. “I can’t take no for an answer. I want to get the job done and accomplish my mission.”

 Kelsey’s choice has allowed her to travel all over the world to places that include Japan, Camp Lejeune, Guam, Spain, and now Pittsburgh, where she is currently in support of recruiting. To this day, she continues to prove her doubters wrong and enjoy the opportunities the Corps has to offer.

“The experience of traveling to different countries, I never dreamed of traveling so much or living in as many countries as I have,” said Kelsey. “I have yet to spend a full year in the U.S., since I joined the Marine Corps, and I love it.”