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January 6, 2010

The Toughest Woman in America

How did a girl who loves shopping and never leaves the house without lip gloss become the meanest of the Marines?

combat boots and stiletto

Photo Credit: Andrew Hetherington

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Porter's husband knows this technique well — Lieutenant Eugene Porter was a drill instructor, too. Over the years, they've offered each other support, nursed each other's vocal cords. But work has also strained the marriage. Both have felt at times like they were married to the Corps.

They started dating while stationed at Camp Pendleton a decade ago, where she'd been attracted to his Marine body, he to the fact that "she knows how to separate being a Marine from her feminine side." Indeed, Porter gets frustrated when she sees her fellow female Marines subsuming themselves to some idea of how they're supposed to look. "Just because it's a male-dominated culture, it doesn't mean you can't wear lip gloss," she says. "Women wear suits and put on makeup to look good for their jobs at IBM; I do the same thing for the Marine Corps." Her brows are sculpted and her highlights maintained. Her walk-in closet has 60-plus pairs of shoes, arranged by season. She has balanced her drill instructor duties with part-time work as a saleswoman at Benetton (50 percent off!) and a Mary Kay rep — all of which has earned the Gunnery Sergeant what has to be the most unusual nickname in the Corps: Gunny Revlon. (Even though, technically, she's more of a MAC girl.)

This winter, Porter receives a new assignment. Deployment is an ever-present possibility — she's served in Iraq — and her husband's orders for Afghanistan weren't exactly a surprise. Now, with his departure looming, she tells herself that he'll be OK — that they'll be OK — though war and distance aren't always the best ingredients for a happy marriage.

"Stand up!" Porter barks at the former teacher. She isn't going to stand for his blubbering, no matter how sorry he is. She sends him back to his platoon with a wave of her hand. No encouraging words. No sympathy. If he's not cut out for the Corps, so be it.

A few days later, he's gone.

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