The decision to join the Marine Corps was not an easy one. I was in a tight spot in life. I was unable to fund my college education, find a job in our dwindling economy, and I was lost on the path through adulthood. I was over weight, had just gotten out of a relationship, and was really starting to feel down on myself and feel like a complete failure.
Once I made the decision to enlist, I began focusing on the immediate goal. I had to drop 40-50 pounds! I was the heaviest I had ever been in my life and working out was something I definitely didn’t enjoy. I couldn’t remember the last time I made an honest effort to exercise or start eating healthier. Since I had nowhere to be, I decided to dive headfirst into an exercise routine. My [first] weight-loss journey started in February of 2010. I went slow and focused on building strength and endurance first. I made EVERY Physical Training (PT) day at the recruiting station and did more on my own as well. I would get up at 4 a.m. to join my parents with their running group and I was eventually able to run 5-7 miles without any problems. As I focused on my health and fitness, the weight started coming off, and it felt amazing. By July I had made weight and was sworn in to the delayed entry program as I waited for a “boat space” to open up for boot camp.
By August 2010, however, I started to get scared, unsure, nervous, and doubted my decision. I contemplated backing out, but what would I do then? This was the only thing I could do to ensure I was able to finish college, get out on my own, and to be financially independent AGAIN! Just as my fears and nerves were getting the best of me, I got a call one October afternoon and was informed that a spot had opened up and that it was up to me if I wanted to leave early, or wait until my scheduled date of January 18, 2011. I knew if I didn’t leave then, I may never go…or it would get harder and harder for me to say my goodbyes and follow through with the commitment I had made.
On November 28, 2010, I tearfully said goodbye to my parents as my recruiter picked me up. It was that morning that I started the BLIND journey to Parris Island, South Carolina. I left with only a small backpack that contained just the essentials to get me through the night and onto the plane in the morning.
The next time I would hear my mom’s voice would be in the wee hours of the morning 2 days later. I had finally arrived at the Recruit Depot and our first order was to call home to let our families know that we had arrived safely. This wasn’t a joyous event. We had a script in front of us that told us what we were to say, nothing more, and hang up. It was probably midnight their time. I heard my mom’s half asleep voice say “Hello?” as I started saying “my lines”. I was interrupted by the drill instructors and told I had to scream them out. I barely kept it together and I said what was needed and hang up. It took all my strength not to cry. I was 24 years old. I was homesick and scared, and the only thing I wanted was my mom.
Boot camp had its ups and downs. We never knew what to expect from hour to hour. because once we got the routine down everything would get change to keep up on our toes and always guessing. But that’s all part of the training process. It is a never ending cycle of lessons and pushing you beyond your limits.
I remember the first mail call, which was about a week later. I was heartbroken. I didn’t get anything. I really needed something from home that day. Finally, the next day I heard my name called and I couldn’t have been more relieved. All I wanted was a letter from my mom, but that’s not what I got. To my surprise it was a letter from my dad. We hadn’t gotten along in….years by this point. So needless to say, I was very disappointed that it was HIS letter I received first. The feeling faded quickly as I opened and read that FIRST letter. I enjoyed all of my letters from my mom, grandma, cousins, and friends, but to my surprise, it was my dad’s letters that I needed the most. It was like we were finally getting to know each other. All the tension, tears, and fights of the past were just washed away. We built a strong father-daughter relationship the old fashioned way, through letters. It was like he really knew who I was and I finally realized just how alike we are, which is probably why we butted heads so often – and still do.
Fast forward to Family Day, February 2011. On this morning, my company started off with our “Moto Run,” our families watching from the bleachers. I was surprised that morning by being selected to hold our Company Colors. I was excited, but now also very disappointed. I had made sure that my parents would know my exact spot in formation so they could pick me out. Being selected to carry the Colors meant that they wouldn’t be able to find me.
When we got to the parade deck I immediately began scanning the crowd looking for someone…anyone. The first person I saw was my dad. Tears immediately filled my eyes as I knew he saw me too. We stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. After completing our run we were sent back to our squad bay to clean up and then we were released to spend the day on base with our families. The day passed quickly. I showed them around base, ran errands to pick up my pictures and Marine Corps ring, showed my family other platoons from various Companies in various stages of training. My dad got a real kick out of watching a male recruit continuously recite the “report” as he stood on”rifle watch” for his series.
The next day was graduation, which actually got rained out about halfway through the ceremony. I was disappointed at first because we spent so much time practicing and worked our butts off for weeks. That feeling faded quickly when I realized that only meant I could leave the base and reunite with my family NOW. We gathered all my belongings from my squad bay and hit the road! We spent the day in Savannah, Georgia, where I got to enjoy my first off-base meal!!! – which was a big deal after eating like a rabbit for 13 weeks…
My flight back home wasn’t uneventful though. Once we were at the airport I realized I left my garment bag, with every uniform item inside, in our hotel room closet! Luckily my sister and brother-in-law had an adjoining room and we left the door to theirs unlocked. My brother-in-law was going to try to make it to the airport in time, but he would have missed us. So instead they immediately shipped it home and I received it in just enough time to prep my uniforms for recruiting duty!
After two weeks at home I left for another month of training, Marine Combat Training (MCT), or what we like to call 4th Phase. MCT was a lot more fun than I had anticipated. We were actually treated like human beings. Those 4 weeks of training passed quickly and then I was on my way to Newport, Rhode Island, for my Marine Occupational Specialty (MOS) school. The 3 months I spent in Newport were some of the best and hardest months yet. I have so many fond memories of the people I met while being there and all the adventures we had. Newport will always have a very special place in my heart. It’s where I really got to know the girl who would become my BEST FRIEND – my sister from another mister. It’s the place where we met our “Uncle Tom,” and where I truly fell in love for the first time.
My story doesn’t end here, not even close. I’m just warming up. Things are about to get very interesting….very complicated…and very REAL.