Cris Hanes, Timnath, Colorado Marine Corps Veteran | Master of Education | Future Wine Entrepreneur
As a young Marine I was fresh out of high school and on my own for the first time. I was working a very non-traditional full-time job while friends from home were living what seemed to be their best lives in college. Meanwhile, I was working, adjusting to a new culture, social, political, and career hierarchy that I had willingly and eagerly entered into. I watched new friends and colleagues get sent to war, and worked alongside male and female colleagues that were openly sexist, racist, hostile and more. Not only was the military an entirely different world, it was the first time I realized just how much women were pitted against each other both politically and socially. What was generally a close-knit fraternity for male Marines was often a hostile environment for women. Towards the end of my Marine Corps service, however, I served under (then) 1stSgt Fortner, a woman Marine who would influence the course of my life and career. 1stSgt Fortner was a powerhouse, and serving under her was like being shown a living example of how confidence, hard work, and mentorship could change someone’s trajectory. She was empathetic, put people first, and exemplified how hard work and work-life-balance are interconnected.
1stSgt Fortner supported me through personal crisis, while also pushing me to be my best self at work, showing me how all aspects of our lives are intertwined. She also demonstrated leadership, showing staff or colleague support can’t be limited in scope. 1stSgt Fortner was also one of the only leaders I had in the Marine Corps who encouraged me to follow my post-Marine Corps dreams. She supported my continued education while on active duty, celebrated my admission to the University of Oklahoma, and has kept in contact since then. She showed me that when women support each other and rally against social stereotypes and toxicity, great things happen.
Above all, she showed me that support and empathy are stronger than toxicity and discouragement. She reminded me that Women Marines can do anything – the truest form of the saying “once a Marine always a Marine.” With her mentorship I learned to believe in myself, my dreams, my strength, and the value of female friendship – values and lessons I’ve leaned on throughout my current career, and that I’ll carry with me into my career in the wine industry.