Tom Kisken | Ventura County Star

A pilot who soared over barriers in a 24-year Navy career has cleared one more obstacle, bringing her name and trail-blazing legacy to Ventura.

Capt. Rosemary Bryant Mariner was one of the first six women to earn wings as a Naval aviator in 1974. Stationed for three years at Point Mugu in Ventura County, she became the first woman to command an operational aviation squadron. She later helped lead the fight to change laws and rules that kept women out of combat.

Mariner’s name will grace the new 50,000 square-foot Veterans Affairs clinic that opened last month in Ventura. President Joe Biden signed legislation on Oct. 11 authorizing the long-awaited clinic becoming what is believed to be only the third VA facility named for a woman.

A dedication ceremony will be held Nov. 9.

“Women veterans will see the name of a woman on the building. I think that’s really important,” said Katherine Sharp Landdeck, Mariner’s friend and a history professor at Texas Woman’s University. “It’s just a reminder that women have volunteered to serve.”

Mariner died of ovarian cancer in 2019 at age 65. She was raised in San Diego by her mother, a Navy nurse in World War II. Her father, an Air Force pilot, died in a plane crash when she was 3.

The New York Times reported in Mariner’s obituary that she was fascinated by flight, and as a girl, watched pilots take off from a Navy base in San Diego. She joined the Navy in 1973. She became the first female military pilot to fly a tactical jet, the A-4E/L Skyhawk and the first to fly the A-7E Corsair II, a light attack aircraft.

“She was just a badass pilot,” Landdeck said, remembering how her friend worked for change. “She pushed the limits. She was no wallflower. She asked why a lot and why not.”

Mariner served at Naval Air Station Point Mugu from 1988 to 1991, living in Camarillo with her husband, Tommy Mariner, also a Navy officer. She led a tactical electronic warfare squadron that, according to The Times, was used in fleet training to simulate foreign planes and missiles. Her role as a commander was another first, maybe the most important one.

“It’s a huge deal,” Landdeck said. “It showed that women could do it. She was good at it, which is important.”

Her name will mark a clinic that has also overcome barriers. Long demanded by veterans, it is more than twice as big as the Oxnard site it replaced and, unlike its predecessors, is run by the VA and not a contracted company.

The clinic’s women’s health unit is the first standalone program of its kind in the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System with a separate entrance and waiting room. The program, and the clinic’s new name, are testament to the importance of women veterans, said U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village. She led the drive for the clinic and wrote the bill naming it for Mariner.

“Women are the largest growing cohort within the military and within the veteran community,” Brownley said. “Thousands of VA facilities are named after men. It’s a cultural shift.” 

Shawn Terris helped pick Mariner’s name as part of an advisory panel put together by Brownley. She’s a veteran who joined the Marines in 1978 and faced harassment every day.

“You had all that to deal with on top of doing your job. It’s like there are men who don’t want you there,” she said.

Women in the military remain undervalued, Terris said. Mariner’s name is an attempt to change that.

“It lets people know that women are heroes and patriots also,” she said

Tommy Mariner, a retired commander who now has a cattle farm in Tennessee, worked with Brownley’s staff to get the clinic named for his late wife for more than a year. He will attend the dedication with his daughter.

Rosemary Mariner was always a leader, her husband said. If she could be at the dedication, she would be focused on the services the clinic provides to the veterans she once led at Point Mugu.

“She would like to see her sailors cared for in that place,” Tommy Mariner said.

This story was originally published by the Ventura County Star on October 21, 2022.

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