Janet Mallen enlisted in the Marines as a reporter during her senior year of high school. Mallen excelled as a sportswriter and editor, and was promoted to Community Relations Chief and earned the rank of sergeant. At the end of her service, Mallen had received the Navy Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Sharpshooter badge and many meritorious masts.
While in the reserves, Mallen realized she is a lesbian. She enlisted before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” a policy which allowed gay men and women to serve so long as they did not reveal their sexual orientation, was in place. If a Marine was discovered to be homosexual, he or she was discharged with bad conduct, without military benefits and sometimes was incarcerated or charged with a felony.