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Julia Watson Carlson

2021 Honoree

U.S. Marine Corps
Iraq / Afghanistan

Marine Corps Master Sergeant Julia Watson Carlson qualified for nationals three times as a junior member of the Utah State Association shooting team. She recalled being impressed by the skills, presence, and uniforms of the military teams. As a 17 year old at nationals, she unexpectedly had to pay her entry fees from funds she had saved to buy a shooting jacket. As word got out, the Marines pooled their money and bought her one. The USMC team won everything that year, and Carlson distinctly remembers saying to herself, “I want to earn the title of Marine; I want someone to see me the way I see them.” She enlisted in the Marine Corps her senior year of high school.

Carlson trained as a heavy equipment mechanic, but after a stiff selection process eventually secured her spot on the Marine Corps Shooting Team where she was both competitor and instructor. In fact, her on-the-spot meritorious promotion to Corporal by the Commandant of the Marine Corps took place on a shooting range during competition. After eight years on active duty, she transferred to the Marine Reserves, where she continued to compete and teach marksmanship skills to active and reserve Marines around the country, youth, civilian groups, law enforcement, and other military service branches.

In 2006, while attached to the 3rd Civil Affairs Group, Carlson deployed to Iraq as the Public Affairs Officer and worked with Iraqi civil governance, aiding economic development, education, and communication for Iraqi women by developing and implementing the Iraqi Women’s Engagement Program. She served as Civil Affairs Team Chief and Officer in Charge of the Female Engagement Team under 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade while in Helmand, Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. She drew on the analogy of planting seeds to explain to local women how to nurture the process to gain their needs and wants. “We were planting seeds of hope,” she said.

Carlson’s marksmanship highlights include over 15 Interservice titles, five International titles of which two were Combat Precision against all militaries in the world, over 40 National titles that include four history-making championships by being the first woman to win since the induction of the competition in 1902. She was named Female Athlete of the Year for the Marine Corps in 1998. Carlson earned her Distinguished Rifleman Badge in 1997 and Distinguished Pistol Shot in 2014, and she is one of four known female Marines to become double distinguished. Carlson won the individual National Service Rifle Champion in 2014.

MSgt Carlson said, “There is nothing like the Marine brotherhood. This is my family. This is my crew. This is my gun club.” Reflecting on her 22 years in the Marine Corps, she said. “When you first earn the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor and obtain the title ‘Marine,’ there is nothing else that can compare.”