Its all I’ve known for the past 16 years. I enlisted right out of high school in May 2001 and didn’t look back. I wanted to travel the world and get a degree. What I got was something way more.
I was a loner most of my life but at the same time very comfortable in social situations. From the age of about 8 to 17, I moved about 10 times. With that, I moved to several different schools so never had the opportunity to have real friends. My immediate family was all I had and frankly in my teens, I wanted to be far, far away. I didn’t realize what an effect it had on me until I went to bootcamp. You see, female Marines train all in one location; The Island. We roll into what seems to be the middle of no where at 2am and are greeted by some gorilla looking savages yelling so hard and so loud, I instantly got nauseous. Ill never forget that I was listening to Cold Play’s “Yellow” to help calm my nerves and it was swiftly interrupted with high intensity yelling from another planet. You get bum rushed out the bus and step on the steps….you know which ones…
Parris Island was the day that I realized that my upbringing although lonely gave me a strength that I am very thankful for and didn’t know I had; resiliency. I learned to cope with anger, solitude and difficult life situations at a very young age and in bootcamp I realized that that is what it was going to take to essentially survive. I didn’t have anyone that I knew personally that served in the military so didn’t have anyone that I could rely on to know what I was getting myself into. Then on September 11, 2001…then I REALLY had no idea what I was getting myself into.
“There are two kinds of Marines; One’s that are Marines, and one’s that pass bootcamp. Which one are you going to be?”
My Senior Drill Instructor told us that on our last day before completing the infamous Crucible and it is something that has resonated with me my entire career. We do everything with the left foot. Start our marches, kick off formation runs, and its a symbol of starting everything off “on the right foot.” Lets just say it took me a year to figure out my left from right and that military authority is just that. After having a rough break-in, I understood what said Senior Drill Instructor meant. Marine Corps is not something you do, its a way of life. Its humbling to know that I have been in this cloth mostly because of how as an individual, you must now think about the institution and most times they are one of the same.
I completed my first tour of active duty in 2005 and due to the stop loss I was not able to stay in. Its a bunch of military policies and jargon that I will spare you the details on, but in the end I was thanked for my service and told to move on; So I did. I went off to pursue my passion for food and earn a culinary degree while living in San Diego, CA. Not even a week after completing school I received what I like to call the “Semper Fidelis Package.” So quick history lesson, in 2003, crap was hitting the fan hard with a new type of war that our ranks were not used to overseas. Every year was a new and different battle and in July 26, 2006, President Bush signed a Presidential Recall Order that pulled personnel from the inactive reserves in order to support the war. Guess which badass they said they needed back…AHA! You guessed it. Your girl over here.
SO I went through Dr Ross’ 7 Stages of Grief within a month and then next thing I knew, I was back in uniform and checking in to 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, Camp Pendleton Ca. for a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I cant really explain enough what I was feeling, but lets just say every junior Marine in my charge suffered because of my uncontainable rage for being there in the first place. Horrible for me as a person, but apparently deemed the scariest Sergeant of Marines most had experienced. At this point in my life I was at the lowest of lows with my relationship with my family, so I didn’t have any support there. Since I was so focused on being the next big thing in the culinary world, I immersed myself in garde manger and making the most perfect petit fours, so I didn’t have a social life; no friends to lean on…just me, myself, and I. So what does an emotional wreck do when they are about to deploy to the most hostile environment ever? You liquidate your accounts and party in Miami, thats what! So happens to be my birthday week too so good times. Mostly me taking shots and screaming “WHY ME?!” in the middle of the dance floor like a blubbering hot mess, but thats besides the point. I was deploying overseas for the first time and was trying to make the best of it.
Yes, you may laugh now.
I never grew up in a home where faith was present or practiced any sort of religion. However, I do believe I am aware of my values and such and didn’t realize it then, but have always had God with me. It took years later to realize that there was a moment that changed the course of life as I knew it and its nothing short of divine intervention. When I checked into 7thESB, I was told that they had no idea why I was there as they didn’t need my job speciality of weapons technician, but did need assistance with their ammunition section. Otherwise I would’ve been thrown in with military police and forced to guard gates forever. No thanks. SO off to being an untrained ammo tech I went. Knocked out redeployment training and felt like I was going to die because all of the new hiking gear was just being used and I was definitely in no shape to carry any of it.
The moment I stepped foot in Al Taqquadum, Iraq in Feb 2008, it became very real. The smells. The weird orange skies. My goodness the dust. The feeling that all the training received at any given time may need to be used. By the 3rd day I was there, I experienced my first sandstorm (shitty and terrifying), had to take “Navy Showers” with water bottles because thats just the way It was, and learned that my Marines and I were responsible for cleaning up the ASP (Ammo Supply Point) which I really cant describe what a state of disarray it was in but it was bad. Im talking like we opened up a container and there were hundreds of delinked .50 caliber rounds thrown all over the place like a damn confetti balloon popped off. Then as if though I needed anymore “fun” surprises, I was instantly snatched up for the Lioness Program and really thought I was going to lose it.
This was a nasty war of cowards and insurgents that planted bombs on children just to harm us in uniform. I was mortified. But again, it does what its told and there I was learning Combat Lifesaver skills, brushing up on my MC Ninja skills every damn day, and waking up every morning wondering if this was all just a bad dream…
I remember when I called my mother when I received my package in the mail about needing to reenter the service, she was about as distraught as I was. She wasn’t understanding how it was possible after being out of the service for so long that they could just grab you again. She was just with me the week before for my Culinary School graduation so it was all shocking. The last thing she said to me before I got on the plane to head overseas was that she was praying for mine all of the Marines’ safety and that hopefully I wouldn’t have to be there long. After being in Iraq for several weeks and dying from all the additional training I was receiving, one morning I woke up and felt like I was stabbed in the gut. So random and out of nowhere and I literally could not walk. It was beyond me on what was going on. After a slew of frenzy, I was pumped up with meds and flown to Baghdad where the medical facilities could further see what was happening.
In 2008, Baghdad was not in a good place. Things were heating up again as intelligence was documenting the path of some heavy hitting enemies within the city and just days before I arrived, there were two massive bombings that killed over 50 and injured over 100 so I would urge you to try and understand my mental state when being told that I was going to be flying right into a hot zone. Im literally getting goose bumps just writing this…I remember hearing distant shooting and pops of what sounded like fireworks and remember asking the soldier who was in the Black Hawk with me on what the hell was that and never forget how calmly he responded that those were RPG’s (rocket propelled grenades) shooting all around us. I remember instantly getting nauseous.
Blur, blur, blur, and next thing I knew I was in a room with massive glass windows and so many noises. It was a mixture of aircrafts, people screaming, medical personnel running around and machines beeping. The beeping bothered me the most. I had some tests ran and turns out that while I was training with the lionesses, I strained tendons and muscles in my abdominals and caused several ovarian cysts to rupture. “Im sorry, what?” All of this because my ovaries wanted to act a fool. Apparently they ruptured days before and I was suffering from an internal infection and bleeding….oh, ok, now it makes more sense. I remember being so mad. I was surrounded by actual wounded military personnel; Im talking like blown off limbs, missing faces and appendages and here I was laid out from a dumb infection…lame. Then instantly went into panic mode because I wasn’t sure if this was going to affect me being able to have kids or not. It was all pretty blurry from that point on because of the meds. I needed more of what was in short supply, so after a week there, I was told that I would have to be shipped out to Germany for further care. Germany?! The hell….You know what though? For the week that I was there, I was woken up by the sound of “INCOMING, INCOMING” at LEAST 30 times. Its a sound I try to bury in the back of my mind because its the stuff movies are made of. The poor docs and Corpsman have to run into each and every room, grab every single person in these rooms that have massive glass windows and scoot everyone into the hallways. Then you hear it, the lingering silence, the whistling and then the crash; BOOM! There were some that were so close that the walls shook. It’ll make you pucker up real fast.
Then theres the extraction point…smh.
As if I wasn’t having a hard enough time dealing with the constant bombing outside these walls, as another Hawk flew in to grab me and a couple of other wounded guys, I remember being strapped down claustrophobically tight and was told to hold on. Hold on to what…why? “INCOMING, INCOMING…” Out the damn door we went. WHAT THE?! Why are we running outside when we all clearly heard incoming…I remember being so uncomfortable and getting dizzy. We all got thrown in the plane and off we were in the most spinning and combat maneuvering of ways that you couldn’t even imagine. At that point…that exact point I remember the door was open and the whole plane was dodging a rain of RPG’s. I passed out.
I briefly landed in Balad Airforce base to finalize some clearance stuffs and then off I was to Landstuhl Germany at an Army Medical Center. Talk about a change of scenery. Went from dust and chaos to quiet and a bathroom to myself. I remember that I took a real shower for the first time in weeks…best 1 hour shower to this day. Ill spare the details but there was some damage done to the ovary that the cysts had ruptured from so was told that I would have to go back stateside as I was not going to continue to fulfill my tour overseas. I remember just laughing and the doctor giving me the funniest look.
I was told to get out the first time I served although I wanted to continue and asked to conduct an embassy duty tour. I swallowed that moment and moved on with life and embarked on a passion of mine, only to be called back nearly 3 years later to deploy overseas, doing a job that is not my specialty because the unit I was sent to didn’t need me. I get boots on the ground for 5 minutes, break an ovary, and thats it? All done? The crap Doc.
This moment is what I refer to as “The Rage.” Although I was no longer deployable, I still had to fulfill my obligation to the year long orders, so I finished them off back in California. It was so bad, I was showing up to work drinking because I just wanted to be comatose. I started to question everything at that point. Oh, I forgot to mention…this is 2008. Crash of the real estate era, remember that? I was living in San Diego when I was recalled and was working at a dream job in La Jolla for the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Your girl was going places. I was 2 months away from a spectacular apprenticeship overseas to learn the cuisine of the area I would work at. It was all going the way it should have. But no. Along with this recall, all goes to hell in the real estate market causing me to not be able to afford living in SoCal any longer. I lost my job and with that my sense of self and purpose. I was in a very bad place. Like needed therapy bad place. I was lonely. I was pissed. I was lost. Oooof.
Oh, one last thing. My boyfriend of 3 years dumped me just before I took off to Iraq…I got the full jackpot of hot mess situation for sure. 2008 was a rough year. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so out of sorts. The job market for my career field was about impossible, especially since I’ve been out of the kitchen for over a year due to my recall, so where do I go from here? There was about two solid months of self loathing and couch crashing until I came to the realization that getting back in uniform and being in it to win it was my only adulting option. So there I was right back into prior service recruiter’s office, signing my life away one more time… It hurts every time.
So putting a little sprinkle of salt in the wound after it’s already been saturated by a bunch a lemon juice, my original specialty of weapon’s technician was not available so if I wanted to come back in I had to completely change my job. At this point I was already a mid-level supervisor so it was a huge gamble for me to have to somewhat start at the bottom with a new job, yet leadership position wise, be the one to mentor and guide through proficiency. I dove right into becoming an administrator and never looked back. For about a solid year I went to every workshop, conference, school, and training event to immerse myself.
I wanted to ensure that I could be the best administrator and Marine that I could be in a short period of time. At that point I had a huge appreciation for what administrators went through because in the military, we’re always the butt end of a joke. I tell everybody who wants to come in my office and make jokes that it’s all funny until you’re not getting paid! I wasn’t in the standard active duty, but served in the Active Reserves which has the sole purpose of serving at reserve units as a supporting element. On top of learning a new job, I had to understand the mission of all of these independent duty locations I rotated to, which was always a task within itself. And it never failed that we were always understaffed, dealing with a bunch of bullshit, became experts at legal because we were constantly separating Marines, and still have all the mandated requirements to uphold that makes us Marines. It honestly turned into an unhealthy relationship for me because my strongest suit is also my biggest flaw: I give a shit.
By the way, I met my husband who is a former Marine, so lucky for me he understood what it meant to work hard and strive to be the best everyday. We moved in together when I started back up with the Marines so lots of new things going on at once. The military lifestyle was easy when it was just us, but then life happens and perspectives change and unfortunately for the Marine Corps, after 16 years of boom boom pow, I decided to take a step back and no longer continue my service. Theres more to it but no point in getting into the details. I may return, I may not. I haven’t found it in my heart to make that decision at this time.
The Marine Corps has always and will forever be mission accomplishment before troop welfare, and as you can see the cards didn’t work out in my favor multiple times, so why not one more…smh. I feel everything at once, but mostly I feel that God has taken the reigns and letting me know that its time to go. Im choosing my family over my family in green and though some seem to not understand that its what’s right for me. As I peel back the layers of my own skin I will be more open to expressing the challenges and struggles, but for now, just know that I gave it my all everyday, and for that I am truly proud.