Saturday, August 27, 2016

Thoughts About My Life As A US Marine




I've been participating in a challenge that's been going around on Instagram and other social media and it's got me thinking about my own time spent in the USMC. The challenge is to do 22 push ups for 22 days to raise awareness for veteran's suffering from PTSD. Among our nation's veterans there are, on average, 22 suicides a day. Mental injuries are real.

Thankfully, I was spared being deployed during war time. I was called back for Desert Storm but spent my time "re-training" in North Carolina. By the time I was done the conflict was over. It wasn't easy being pulled away from my son, who was only 9 months old at the time, but I am grateful that I never made it into a combat area. I can't imagine how my 21 year old self would have handled a situation like that.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps because I was looking for a place in the world where I felt a sense of belonging. The idea of the camaraderie that comes with being in the military was very attractive to me at the time. Also, my family has a history of it's men being Marine's and I was most likely looking for approval and acceptance from them, as well.

Not fully knowing what I was getting into, I signed up for the 6 year plan. The advantages this gave me was the option to actually choose my MOS (my job) and I was guaranteed to graduate basic training as an E-2. I choose to be a basic diesel mechanic and after doing so well in basic training, I began my military career in the fleet as an E-3, a Lance Corporal. As a matter of fact, I graduated basic training as the #1 graduate out of about 100 women, or two platoons. That is the one thing I am most proud of in this experience.

I was one of those weird people who actually enjoyed boot camp. Well, after the anxiety and nerves cleared away, of course, which took a little bit. Getting used to being screamed at almost constantly is a bit of a challenge but at some point I finally saw the big picture and just started rolling with it. I am an observer and this was the trait that helped me the most because I would watch others make mistakes and I learned quickly from them.

That camaraderie I was looking for happened for me in boot camp. We were a team. All 50 of us worked together, helped each other, motivated each other and looked after each other. It was one of the most challenging and awesome experiences I've ever had in my life and I don't regret one single moment of it.

Sadly for me, the camaraderie ended when boot camp ended. When I got out into the fleet it was every Marine for her/himself. I attended basic mechanics school in North Carolina. It was myself and about 49 other guys. I worked hard, understood it all fairly easily and graduated #3 in that class. From there, I was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California.

I was sent to the First Maintenance Battalion and looked forward to getting my hands dirty and driving some Humvees. Those things are beasts. I loved learning to drive them through the muck, the mud and the water. Yes, the water. There was about 6 inches of water on the floor board of the one I drove at one point and it didn't even hiccup. Beasts. I loved these machines and couldn't wait to work on them.

Unfortunately, I would never get that chance. As soon as I arrived at the offices of the First Maintenance Battalion to check in, I was directed to a desk with a phone and a computer. Thinking it was just a matter of time before I got to the motor pool, I did what I was told. Several months later, which included several weeks of KP duty (kitchen prep/cleaning at the chow hall) I asked my CO for a meeting. In that meeting I told him about my desire to actually be in the motor pool working on the trucks, in my MOS. I explained how well I did in training and that I was ready.

What he said to me has stuck in my mind all these years. It was the first big disappointment with the military and I was clearly shown where my place was in it. His response to me was, "You don't want to work in the motor pool with all of those guys." I told him that with all due respect if I didn't I wouldn't have trained for it. It went in one ear and out the other.

My idea of the military was shattered. I gave up inside and just did what I needed to do. I ended up choosing to be honorably discharged when I became pregnant with my son. At that point, the thought of leaving him to do a year long tour overseas was just too unbearable and that's exactly what I was facing.

The month spent apart from him when he was 9 months old was heart wrenching. I remember calling home and talking to my then husband (nope, I'm not a gold star), listening to him tell me about my son waiting for me at the front window, clutching my robe. The tears poured down my cheeks. I hated every moment of it. But, I did it.

I'm thankful I had this experience in life. It taught me a lot of things not only about life but about myself. I'm also thankful I didn't have to endure any combat or dangerous situations. I have family members that have. My Grandfather served in World War II and Korea. He was a Marine paratrooper. My other Grandfather was a cook in the Marines. My uncle served 3 tours in Vietnam. I can't even begin to, nor would I want to even try to, understand what it was like for them. Growing up, I watched them try to deal with the aftermath. I heard stories of attempted suicide. One of them involved my toddler self walking in on one of them holding a gun to themselves. Thankfully, I have no recollection of it.

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome is a real thing. Mental injuries are real and our veterans suffer from them day in and day out. Not only are our veterans suffering from it, their families and communities are suffering. It's only been recently that the US Government has finally begun to accept this fact. I wish they could have done it sooner before so many lives were lost.

Please, go check out the challenge and the program that started it all go to 22kill.com. Join in on the challenge, as well.

Semper Fi.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, Wendi. I remember your disappointment while in the Military (as well as your experience in the Base Dentist chair - Yikes!), and how I felt it was a sad example of discrimination in our military. I've seen you take gasoline engines apart and put them back together. They (the military) have no idea what they turned their back on. I'm so proud of you taking part in raising awareness about PTSD. You rock.

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    1. Oh man! Yeah. Dental extractions while in boot camp are not fun. Specially when you don't know about them until you're sitting in the dental chair! Also, thank you. I was a damn good mechanic and they did miss out.

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