“What do you mean you talked to a recruiter”, I asked my boyfriend Bill? I don’t even know what that means!
“He accidently called me”.
This was the summer of 1982 and I still didn’t know what to do with my life. I was working at Target as a cashier, but to me that was redundant, and boring; definitely not exciting, but tedious. I felt as though my ship had already sunk and life was just the turmoil churned up by the sea.
So after my boyfriend explained to me about joining the military I actually thought about it. He talked to a Marine Corps recruiter but I wanted to check out the Air Force and the Navy first. In my mind, I would never join the Army because you could be sent anywhere – even North Dakota which to me would have been beyond dreadful!
Walking into the Air Force recruiter I noticed a sense of calm in the air. The men were nice and we chatted about the Air Force. I like what they had to say but unfortunately there was about a 2-year waiting list to get in. I really didn’t want to wait 2 years. My life here in Minnesota had been aweful to this point and I loved the thought of belonging to an organization that didn’t even know me!
There was a sense of uncertainty as I walked into the Navy recruiter. I didn’t like the atmosphere. My gut was in turmoil as though it was speaking to me to get out of there, and it looked like they were wearing their pants inside out! I don’t want to look like that, I thought.
Next in line was the Marine Corps recruiter and let me tell you he was dressed sharp and looked professional and knew his job well. I decided to talk to him and learn more about the Marine Corps. He mentioned that he had a short video clip I could watch – “a bit outdated but still might help”. I agreed and was excited to see what the life of a woman marine would be like! I imagined scenes from boot camp where women were being trained physically. I thought of what it would be like to shoot a rifle and be in the field. Things I knew from watching TV and movies came to mind. My heart was pounding and my adrenaline was surging. This is so awesome, I thought, I can hardly wait to see what this will be like for me!
Then the video clip started and the first and only thing it showed was women sitting at a round table drinking tea. Say what??? “What’s that about?” I asked. The recruiter simply said, “oh that is somewhat antiquated. Women Marines don’t do that anymore.” “Well, what will I be doing?” I asked. “Bootcamp, training and you’ll be stationed most likely either on the west coast or east coast”. “But….. ok”. The thrill of finding out what my time in the Marine Corps could be like was crushed! “What next?” “Paperwork, a physical, and you’ll be all set.” “Sounds easy. Ok, let’s do this!”
This however did not turn out to be so easy. I was frightened, and skeptical every step of the way. My anxiety spiked as I went through each step. As the final exam approached, an eye exam to be exact, I froze. My mind shut down, I couldn’t think, my heart was pounding and I was sweating with my hands clenched. No one had been encouraging me. It was all pressure to get through this process. I was not liking this at all. The staff where I was having the eye exam literally had to drag me in there. Afterwards I broke down sobbing. I felt as though my life was over. I had a small taste of military life just going through the acceptance process and I didn’t think I could do it. My anxiety was so high that my stomach was in pain all of the time and I worried that I had an ulcer. I knew however my choice was to do this. I did not want to stay in Minnesota where my past haunted me. Where I felt like a loser and a failure! Besides I had scored high enough on the exam to do whatever I wanted!
So, in April of 1983 I wrapped up the final paperwork and headed off to boot camp. It was disturbing because I signed up to be an electrician but they put me in the freight department. Bootcamp however wasn’t so bad after all. Challenging yes, but I found out that I could do this and do it well!
Reflecting back, I am happy I was stationed at Camp Pendleton. I was happy I spent a year in Okinawa, Japan. Japan was especially interesting as it was my first foreign country to visit. I even took Japanese to learn to speak the language and did quite well.
I was NOT happy during my 4 year commitment. I thought leaving Minnesota meant leaving abuse behind. How gullible I was! The abuse started at my first duty station and almost immediately after arriving there. And the fact that I had married my boyfriend and I was suffering domestic violence did not help. I should say, the Marine Corps did not help. I reported the abuse yet it continued! I cannot even begin to tell you of the horrors I endured at the hands of my husband and my SSgt.
One day after being told I had to do something I could not bare to do, a meltdown finally hit me and hit me hard. The total loss of control and no hope and being put in an abusive situation ripped my heart open. My head swirled and down I went. I had collapsed under the pressure and could not fathom going on. The Chaplain was sent to talk to me. I was placed in a room where I sobbed for hours at the same time attempting to tell my story.
The trauma from that set me on a course of disfunction as I was barely able to work. I was sent “upstairs” to work and expected to act normal when my abusers were still right in my vicinity. My husband ended up getting kicked out. I didn’t hear from him until a couple years later after I had come back from Okinawa. I received a call from a Red Cross worker. Apparently, he had reported me for NOT providing for him while I was active duty and he was not. I told the woman I spoke to on the phone that he would use the money for drinking and drugs and said I would not send him any money. Fortunately, I never heard back from the Red Cross. About a year later he was served divorce papers. I was told he had just gotten out of jail and he was scared so didn’t plan to fight it. Although he continued to threaten me for a time, my ex has been out of my life for many, many years.
The SSgt offender was promoted and prosecuted in the same day. A day I thought would bring relief brought shame as I was told of his promotion. It felt as though a knife pierced through my chest. Cutting me through and letting me bleed out in public with people laughing all around me. All I could think was report an abuse and the abuser gets promoted!!!!! (Agony) Aaaagh! Sure, they had their reasons, but their reasons did not make sense to me!
I somehow muddled through my 4 years as a Woman Marine. I even got promoted to Corporal by studying hard and passing the exam (well, mostly because at the end when they asked me to sing the Marine Corps hymn, I froze! I don’t sing! And that’s that. No amount of coaxing could get me to open my mouth! Besides, I completely forget the hymn).
I could say so much more and maybe one day I will but for now it’s enough to know that that one door opened in way saved my life and almost destroyed it at the same time.