‘Listen, learn, do’ is some of the advice shared by Capt. Heidi-Anne Mooney, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran.
By Tracey Weiss
More often than not, Capt. Heidi-Anne Mooney was the first woman to take the path so many others after her now take, serving in the United States Marine Corps from 1994-99.
“You learn leadership,” she said of serving in the Armed Forces. “It gives you an edge. You don’t see that anywhere else. You get to be with people from all walks of life. You learn how to make things work.”
She would do it all again, with some modifications.
“I would say there are probably some things I would have done differently,” she said, “but I learned so much, made so many friends and it was such an honor to serve our country and go to so many different places around the USA and the world. Not many 22-25-year-olds are dealing with multimillion-dollar budgets of Marine heavy equipment gear or aircraft gear and following maintenance and safety of all these. You leave after 5-10 years with so much experience that can translate into any job out there.”
Mooney grew up in Bedford, NY, the youngest of five children. “Our parents told us, ‘We can’t pay for college.’ I always got really good grades, and got into all the colleges I wanted to go to.”
She received her degree in environmental conservation from the University of Colorado in Boulder and was enrolled in the University’s Naval ROTC program. “They paid my tuition and for my books,” she said.
At the end of her junior year, however, she was one of six individuals granted a presidential approval to switch to the Marine Corps. She originally had not considered the Marines as they had blocked women from serving in combat arm positions, but the block was lifted in 1993.
“We traveled all summer. I was on an LSD (dock landing ship) that traveled to Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and a few other places,” she said. “They didn’t know what to do with me. They had not had military females aboard for overnights. It was during an NROTC summer training program for one week after they opened Combat Arms to women.”
As a college senior, Mooney not only finished her degree but also fulfilled the Marine Corps class requirements in advance of attending Officer Candidate School (OCS). She received her commission as a Marine Corps officer in 1994.
As a 2nd lieutenant, Mooney attended engineer school and was deployed to Okinawa, Japan, in 1995 as the second female combat engineer officer.
“They were not ready for women,” she said. “A Marine Corps Major and XO (Executive Officer) of my unit that told me I looked ‘too much like a girl’ wearing my hair in a ponytail and with a blouse and slacks on. It was a Marine Officer, Naval Academy graduate, and Captain who let him know this was highly inappropriate to say to me.”
Still, from there, she said, “I learned and listened. I needed to gain respect as a woman and respect as an officer.”
She did earn respect, with the exception of from one officer. “He hated me because I was female. He did everything to make me look stupid,” she said, until she went into his office one day and told him off. The harassment stopped.
“It’s not easy and it’s never over,” Mooney said. “I overcame a lot of barriers because I liked what I was doing. It’s not easy and it’s not for everybody.”
She served at 9th Engineer Support Battalion as a platoon commander and then as Battalion XO, traveling to South Korea and other areas in Southwest Asia for host nation support engineering and de-mining projects in Cambodia, Laos, and other countries. “We traveled all over,” she said. “I would have stayed, I loved it, but the plan was to put another female into that role.”
From there, further assignments included MCAS (Marine Core Air Station) in El Toro, CA, where she served as the G-4 engineer officer and HazMat officer helping manage engineering projects in 29 Palms, MCAS Tustin, Camp Pendleton, and MCAS Miramar in San Diego.
She worked to create a comprehensive health program for the Marines, focused on seven areas of health and wellness, including mental health – a project which earned her a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal.
“Being fit was a huge plus,” she said. “I ran a 6-minute mile at that time and worked out. If you were not physically fit … you wouldn’t get respect. I was an athlete in high school and college.”
Mooney has also been the recipient of a National Defense Service Medal, two Certificates of Commendation, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, and two Letters of Appreciation from the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
“I loved the comradeship,” she said of the whole experience. “It’s like a fraternity, even now. When I meet someone in the military, they’re like a sister or brother in arms.”
In 2019, Mooney relocated her family, including daughter, Bridget, now a sophomore at Gordon College in Wenham, MA, and son, Jacob, a junior at Conard High School, from the west coast to West Hartford. She wanted to be closer to her sisters and her parents.
Mooney has been in pharmaceutical sales since she left the military in 1999, and is currently an executive sales representative at AbbVie (formerly Abbott Laboratories), where she has worked for 13 years.
She is an active volunteer in West Hartford’s Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Street Church in Hartford.
Mooney is especially active with the American Legion Hayes-Velhage Post 96 in town, currently serving as commander for the post, and has worked with other members and volunteers to re-establish the connection with the Scouting community.
“I’m extroverted,” Mooney said. “I enjoy the Legion. That’s my social outlet. I help veterans – it’s rewarding.
“In America, we don’t give back enough,” she added.
She has this advice for anyone looking to get into the armed forces, or any career they might be considering:
“Do what you love. We all have disappointments and defeats. Work through them. Failure makes you more successful.
“Be active physically. Try things. Find your people.”
A version of this article previously appeared in the November 2023 issue of West Hartford LIFE.
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