Seven years ago, just months prior to the 9/11 attacks, I made a decision that surprised all I knew and loved; including, on some occasions during my service, myself. I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. My husband at the time did not know what to make of this since I had always expressed an interest in law and journalism but never military service. But in time, I came to realize that God wanted us there, for the both of us. There were many lessons to be learned as well as taught, people who needed us and others we learned to count on.
Although I held aspirations toward a civil service career as well as a deep love for my country, my motives for serving the Marine Corps were not entirely patriotic. As an honor student at Liberty University in Virginia, I burned out and left school as a result of financial pressures. As I saw military recruiters around campus quite frequently, I considered trying a military career as a professional foundation for civil service opportunities, an avenue to finish college, and a means to build a stable economic foundation. I chose the Marine Corps because I believed it to be the most challenging and hard-core of the service branches.
It was not until after the “thirteen weeks of hell” we call basic training, however, that I truly grasped what being a Marine meant to me: to be responsible for and ready to sacrifice for your fellow Marines at all times. To me, this was the ultimate in living for the sake of others. It is the standard I continually strive to apply in my present life as a wife and full-time mother of three vibrant and energetic sons. In retrospect, I see my four-year term of service in the Marine Corps not so much as a duty fulfilled but as a period of basic training for life as parent and more.
Throughout my service, I experienced several major challenges that, when overcome, helped me grow in ways that I could not have accomplished outside the military. One such challenge was the Corps’s emphasis on self-confidence, especially the ability to act quickly when ordered and issue quick judgment calls regardless of whether or not you knew what you were doing. As a college student, I was used to taking time to think and consider every angle prior to making a decision, and then double- and triple checking the results to ensure correctness.
In the Marine Corps, however, decisiveness and confidence matter more than confirming and reconfirming the right answers. This, I learned the hard way. As my occupation specialty (MOS), I was assigned to train as a computer network administrator, which was a field I wanted to learn but had no real confidence in. My talents lay elsewhere. Although I trained very hard to master complex technical applications, it seemed difficult to keep up with what seemed to come naturally to others. It was difficult, if not demoralizing, to ward off snarky comments from more tech-savvy coworkers when trying my hardest to develop my skills for the mission. Pride also kept me from reaching out to others for help. Instead, I sought to preserve what was left of my ego and try to learn on my own, and then I beat myself up in silence for not being fast enough.
I eventually came to realize that as a part of a team, I needed to let go of my stubborn pride and reach out to my fellow Marines for help instead of trying to prove that I did not need them. Once I started to humble myself, which was not easy because I thought I had been “humbled” enough, I learned the importance of being patient with myself as well as with others. It turned out that the more patience I displayed toward learning, the more patient my coworkers became with me and the more I was able to progress as an “information warrior” with their help. In short, by letting go of my false confidence (the belief that I can and should do it all myself), I was able to develop true self-confidence through teamwork. By allowing myself to be taught, I was eventually able to offer consultation to others, including senior officers, regarding the internal applications of their computer systems. I was later awarded a Certificate of Commendation for improved efforts and results.
Some time later, when the computer specializations were contracted out to civilian companies, I was put in charge of the battalion secure vault, which harbored some of the most sensitive classified materials and computer network terminals on base. My team and I then assumed information security detail, which included monitoring secure network traffic and performing background investigations to determine security clearance levels and need-to-know status prior to issuing access documentation of classified information to personnel, among other things.
This new billet, due to its sublime nature and sporadic task list, challenged me to find ways to keep myself and four subordinates busy and alert without getting too complacent. Between deployment embarkations, we often experienced lengthy periods of downtime, during which I, or a delegated teammate, would conduct study sessions on mission-specific rules and policies, inventories, and personal sharing discussions to keep us from goofing off on the Internet and help us stay on track in case of surprise inspections and/or work orders.
As a somewhat older Marine for my rank bracket of Sergeant and below, I often faced social challenges with the hierarchical fraternization rule, as most personnel in my age group and maturity level were of senior enlisted or officer ranks. I enjoyed conversing with them about college, raising children, and so forth at work but could never freely socialize with them outside of work. The Marines I was “permitted” to socialize with (mostly younger males) often had differing interests, such as gaming, car parts, and poster girls, which often left me feeling isolated.
However, I ended up becoming an elder sister, and in some cases, a mother figure to some of these junior Marines—especially those who got into trouble with the law, their bank, their women, and so forth. In these situations, I was able to offer guidance based not only on the experience of my years but also on the premise that I had made many of the same mistakes (traffic tickets, occasional bounced checks, maxed-out credit cards, etc.) myself during my college years. This, in a sense, prepared me well for parenthood.
I also faced my fair share of idiosyncrasies being a female Marine married to a civilian man, when the reverse is more often the norm. On many occasions, I was asked to provide my husband’s information when filling out paperwork, it being assumed that I was the civilian “dependent” and my husband was the Service member. It was both amusing and annoying to have to point out the reverse case each and every time. And then there were the wisecracks about who the “stronger” one in our couple must be. In any case, these incidents added spice to our whole experience as a family serving and supporting one another while learning and assimilating with Marine Corps customs and courtesies.
In short, my experience serving in the United States Marine Corps has indeed been an honor and will forever shape my perspective on life and future endeavors. Though I was not deployed overseas, as God had other plans for me, I truly value the everyday adventures and learning experiences that service on the home front provided for me. I will never forget the people I met and grew to love and treasure. And not one day goes by that I ever take for granted the service and sacrifice of my brothers and sisters serving in combat missions overseas.
I will never forget the day I went out, seven months pregnant at the time, to see off deploying members of my battalion. As the buses rolled away, I tried the best I could to stand composed and resolute as I watched the tear-stained faces of my coworkers’ children being comforted by brave mothers and family members as they walked back to their cars. Then I did what my deploying teammates could not; I wept and held my toddler son tight. Soon after, I went right back to work to support those who were sacrificing their families so that I could be there for mine.
To this day, I strive to do my absolute best to honor their service and sacrifice, as well as my own, by teaching my children to value their country and its original ideals founded by God and all that is worth serving and protecting. Thank you, and Semper Fidelis (Latin for “Always faithful”, used to voice loyalty and commitment by U.S Marines).
Written by Cpl. Chiofa T. Sakuwa, USMC (ret.)