What’s a gal like you doing in a place like this? It sounds facetious, but I get asked this all the time. When I enlisted in the Marine Corps three and a half years ago, I was 26, a newlywed, and had been living pretty well. A full-time product and portrait photographer, working and performing with other artists and musicians, living in a house by the sea…I had it pretty good and I was a total bohemian. Unbelievably to many, a conservative bohemian. I was living in New York after photography school when the Towers were attacked. I knew immediately that this meant war. I believe in fighting the violent jihadists that want to dominate the world. But it was another couple of years before I joined the Marines. By the time I joined I was tired of my own crowd of anti-war liberals, the bulk of my compatriots in the art and music worlds. I wanted to be a part of a truly diverse organization, one that doesn’t have to use quotas to get people of every color, creed, and background (although, being an arm of the government, they do have some imposed quotas). I wanted to use more than just a modicum of my capabilities on a given day and I wanted to stretch my limits. Most of all, I wanted to contribute to the world around me, and be a part of what I see as an institution that makes a difference for the better. What I got was that and more.
I chose the Marines because it was by well-deserved reputation the most difficult. I wanted a place where more was demanded of me, more was expected of me. I wanted to be around other people who wanted the same challenges. I wanted to deploy and see the war in Iraq with my own eyes, to help the women and children there who enjoy so little freedom and prosperity compared to us in free countries. I enlisted rather than becoming an officer because I thought it would make me a more well-rounded leader.
I’ve met people I never would have had reason to meet, been to places I wouldn’t have been able to go, worked through situations I would not have thought possible, and benefited in ways I could not have anticipated. It has humbled and strengthened me.
My deployment to Fallujah in 2005 was the most rewarding experience I’ve had. I’m a data dink, 0651, and we supported communications out there, but I was also assigned to stand female checkpoint duty on the outskirts of the city with several other females from different units. I was able to have basic conversation with the Iraqis with the rudimentary Arabic class offered by the Marine Corps. Some women were timid, others indifferent, many delightful. Those who know some English are very proud of the fact. At first, not knowing what to expect I was stunned by those who would say, “You are our sister, please be careful,” or “We are glad you’re here,” or simply “God bless you,” kissing our cheeks. Some children, seeing us in all our very alien-looking gear would cry at the site of us. Others would ask us for things, or proudly hold out their hands and brandish the one English phrase they knew: “Mista! Mista! Chocolate!”
Working with the Infantry Marines was also a big part of this duty. These men truly have the toughest job and the toughest living conditions. They are dedicated to each other and to their families, and bear the difficulties with a great strength that often goes unrecognized by the majority. In addition to their regular duties at the checkpoints, they made sure we had everything we needed. They were even our big-brothers-on-call around the the Iraqi Police and Army with whom we worked daily – all of whom want to marry us. It didn’t seem to matter how many stories I made up (in my novice Arabic) about having a gaggle children, two of whom were red-headed, blue-eyed twin boys. No amount of detail convinced them I was unavailable.
It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The Marine Corps is not for the faint of heart. It is hard on the body, it’s challenging for the will and the ego, and it’s very hard on marriage and relationships. Joining up is an easy decision to make, but not as easy to live with.
I’m blessed with a strong and loving family, and a wonderful husband who’s just as stubborn as I am.