When a woman decides to enter into the world of a male-dominated, heavily-armed force, she needs to double or even triple her effort to belong. For Bery Bacolcol, she dared to lead.
This is the story of the first woman Commanding Officer of the Assault Amphibian Company, a new unit of Philippine Marine Corps.
Since she was a young girl, Beryl held high regard to our country’s defenders that she secretly aspired to become a soldier. It’s unlikely for a girl growing up in the Philippines to set her sight on joining the military. This dream came as a surprise to her mother.
Out of fear, Beryl’s mother opposed this idea. She encouraged Beryl to finish a college degree first then later decide if she would still pursue the idea.
With a desire to honor her mother’s wishes, Beryl enrolled at our country’s premier university, the University of the Philippines in Mindanao (UP Min). It was in UP Min that I met Beryl, who we, her classmates, fondly call as “Bechai”, the nickname she introduced to us.
It was easy to spot Beryl when she strode across the campus grounds. She was taller than the average Filipina. Her long strides, loose shirts, and pants showed she cannot be labeled as a typical college girl. She enjoyed being with friends. She cheered people with her jokes. The cute dimples on the side of her chin adorned her beautiful face when she smiles.
After our freshmen year, Beryl announced that she planned to enroll in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), the top-tier training school for aspiring cadets to join the armed forces of the Philippines. PMA began accepting female cadets in 1993. Beryl’s persistence finally overcame her mother's resistance.
Beryl was bold enough to believe in herself that she can fulfill the call of duty. She passed the highly competitive application process. Prior to her entry to the military school in 2004, she prepared herself physically and psychologically for the rigorous training ahead.
There is no special treatment in the academy. Only the tough survive. For her, the running, climbing, sit-ups, push-ups and the rest of the physical training was bearable. Her toughest challenge was the cold weather in Northern Philippines where the academy is located.
But she persevered.
On 2007, she was among the 23 female cadets out of 282 who graduated in PMA Class Maragtas short for Marangal na Tagapagligtas (Honorable Saviors).
Thinking that the Navy is the safest armed force, Beryl’s mother encouraged her to serve there. As an obedient daughter, Beryl granted her mother’s wishes. She joined the Philippine Marine Corps, a naval infantry force under the command of the Philippine Navy. She and a fellow female cadet were the only women who were added to the division that year. They wanted to prove that they are as competent as the male cadets. Beryl took this advantage to become a female officer in the Marines.
Through her years of military service, Beryl has been assigned to the different areas in the Philippines mostly in the dangerous conflict areas in the Southern Philippines. As a woman, she was often discouraged to go to field assignments because “hindi kakayanin ng babae doon” (a woman cannot survive there). However, these warnings left Beryl undaunted. She shared the moment she signed up for the Marines, she already expected the risks and dangers of her field deployments. Wherever help is needed, she is there.
Her determination, gallantry, and discipline did not go unnoticed. She rose from one military rank to another. From a cadet, she got to promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, then 1st Lieutenant, then Captain, and now Beryl is ranked as Major. For a woman to lead in this service, she needs to pass (or even exceed) the training and qualifications required and possess qualities expected from Army leaders. This earned her respect from military men.
The Philippine Marines recently acquired new ship-to-shore tanks. Together with this development, Major Beryl Bacolcol was appointed as the First Female Commanding Officer to the Assault Amphibian Company. The mission of the Assault Amphibian Company is to bring food and supplies from the ship to the engagement area or operational area in support of the soldiers deployed in the field. It also serves as fire support in case of insurgency.
Major Beryl Bacolcol oversees twenty-eight (28) enlisted personnel and two (2) officers and manages eight (8) Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) under her care. An AAV has a speed of eight (8) knots on the ocean surface, and forty-two (42) kilometers per hour at land. It has an endurance of eight (8) hours at sea, while four-hundred-eighty (480) kilometers by land with two built-in weapons: calibre50 Heavy Machine Gun and 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher. It has a capacity of 21 personnel with three crews: the crew chief (most senior enlisted personnel), driver, and crewman (most junior enlisted personnel). Major Beryl Bacolcol is a tank commander.
She said, “This shows that our command sees male and female as equals. They acknowledge that women are capable of doing what men can do or even greater.”
Major Bacolcol received a Military Merit Medal due to a heroic act during one of their missions. She displayed exceptional bravery when she and her troops saved a child that was abducted by the rebels. It was also her first time to fire a shot from the tank. This recognition is an addition to the numerous awards given to her for her remarkable military service, including the US Commendation Medal.
To add a new feather in her cap, this year, Major Bacolcol completed her Masters in Management at the University of the Philippines Manila.
As a woman, I am inspired by how Major Beryl Bacolcol defies the odds by taking an active role in the security sector. It is already a common occurrence that women leaders are beginning to arise in businesses, in government positions, in the academe and other fields. But it is still rare to see women soldiers performing combat, combat support or combat service support roles to soldiers deployed in the field
Beryl exemplifies that there are women who maximize their full potential in the security sector. She brings a strong message that society cannot limit a woman’s ability nor box us as fragile, weak, or indecisive.
Beryl’s story shows that A WOMAN CAN! And if challenged, she shows how it is done.
As a Filipina, I am grateful and proud of Major Bacolcol’s selfless commitment and love for her country. She chose the path of service, a road where even the brave dare not go.
It could have been understandable that as a young girl hailing from Mindanao, the Philippines’ second-largest island where war and conflict usually take place, she would choose to flee and search for greener pasture elsewhere. Instead, she moves closer towards the dangerous zones to ensure safety for all. Here is a woman who puts her life at risk every single breathing day of her life so families can sleep soundly at night.
As a friend, I am blessed to be given a chance to know her at a personal level. I’m grateful that God used her obedience to her mother so we can meet each other. She has a cabinet filled with plaques, medals, trophies, and badges. It is truly admirable that with all those recognitions and promotions, she remained humble, grounded, and approachable. She is still “Bechai” to us. We pray for her protection as she protects our country.
To Major Beryl Charity Bacolcol, a snappy salute to you from all the women in the world who fight battles in different forms (large or small)! Thank you for being an inspiration. You are worthy to be celebrated and honored. We are proud of you!
Thank you for your selfless service!