Why I Don’t Want My Kids to Join the Military


“Mom, I want to join the Marine Corps. I want to be a COMBAT MARINE.”

Imagine my surprise and delight when my (then) 14-year-old daughter sprung this on me three years ago.

That day, her history teacher told the class about his experience as a survivor of the 1983 Beirut Barracks Bombings–the deadliest single-day death toll for the Marine Corps since the Battle of Iwo Jima. Her teacher tells this story every year prior to Memorial Day break to help his 8th grade students try to grasp the true meaning of Memorial Day and what it means to make the ultimate sacrifice. It was all my daughter talked about the whole way home from school.

She was motivated, and not just momentarily. When filling out her high school schedule, she decided to enroll in Marine Corps JROTC. She informed me that if she did this through high school, she could pick up ‘advanced rank’ when she enlists.

But she didn’t just want to be a Marine. She wanted to be a COMBAT Marine. All of this was just prior to the Marine Corps’ policy change allowing females to serve in combat roles. She was hopeful that by the time she graduated high school, combat occupations would be open to all Marines, as long as they met the standards.

I was so proud of her for wanting to strive to be the best Marine she could be. But even though I was proud of her, I wanted to stop her. I wanted to say PLEASE DON’T.

I didn’t, but I wanted to.

I had her speak to female Marines in several occupations. I asked them all to give her the good, the bad, and the ugly. They all gave her the good and the bad, but were afraid to divulge the ugly because of her age. At 15, they didn’t think she could handle talking about the very reason I didn’t want her to join.

I’m talking about sexual assault in the military. I know it happens to men, too, and I realize there are protocols in place to prevent sexual assault and protect the victims. I’ve also seen those protocols fail firsthand. My daughter has always been compliant, complicit, and she goes to great lengths to stay out of the spotlight. In many ways, this would make her the perfect Marine. As it pertains to sexual assault, I believe this would also make her the perfect target.

She received a diagnosis not too long ago that will disqualify her from serving in the military. This broke her heart, and it was a tough time for everyone, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was relieved.

Fast forward a few years later, and it was my son’s turn to hear the history teacher’s Memorial Day lesson. Déjà vu anyone? He made his decision then and there that the military would be his career. We relocated to the DC area and he became a Navy JROTC cadet. He just completed his 2nd year in.

You would think that I’d have no problem with my son, a 6” tall, 195 lb football player, joining the Marine Corps. I’ve never told him, but I do have a problem with it…but for a different reason.

My son may look all big, bad, and tough. At 15, he has a deeper voice than his father and is just as tall and strong. But he’s a teddy-bear…a softy. He’s a sensitive guy. Does that mean he wouldn’t fare well in the Marine Corps? NO.

He’d make a fine Marine and he’d physically excel and whatever mission they put in front of him. That’s not where my apprehension lies. He’s extremely empathetic, and internalizes everything. If he gets made fun of (which is rare because of his size) he takes it so personally that it bothers him for weeks. If he gets yelled at by anyone, he’ll cry. I’m not certain he’d make it through boot camp without breaking down.

He doesn’t have emotional problems, and he’s by no means a ‘wuss.’ But the sustained psychological stress associated with a career in the military, and the stigma regarding mental health that still exists in military culture, might not bode well for my boy. I’m not saying this as a scared mama bear. I’m saying this because I know my son. I’m sure he could do it. I’m sure he could prove me wrong. I’m just not sure I want him to take that chance.

I’ve made it a point to never discourage my kids from planning their future or limiting their potential based on my own fears as a parent. I know when to gut-check myself, which is why I haven’t said any of this to them. I love the Marine Corps and I love military life. I love that my kids have grown up as military brats and that they both have considered the service an option for their future. But even though the military has improved a bit over time in how sexual assault and mental health is handled, it still doesn’t fly 100% with me. And with Congress always using military benefits as their political ping-pong, I won’t be the only parent not wanting my kids to join. 

What are your thoughts? How do you feel about your kids joining the military?

14 Comments

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  1. 1
    Sherry Miller

    I was in the Air Force for almost 10 years. Being a female in a predominately male job, Vehicle Ops, was challenging at times but I made it. Not without some traumatic instances. And no, I didn’t tell my boss all of them for fear of reprisal. So, I get it. But if we all felt like this, there would be no one enlisting. We just have to teach our kids to stand up for themselves
    And PRAY, always PRAY!!!

  2. 2
    Veronica

    Both our son and daughter are currently serving active duty. I had the same fears as you and whenever one of them is deployed I stress. But like you, we encouraged them to do what they want. Our daughter is in a predominantly male area, missile ordinance and our I don’t get to know where until he returns. As Sherry said, pray pray pray.

  3. 3
    Julie

    My family has always served from my grandparents; to my dad who did 30 years in the AF, my brother is in the Army. My spouse just retired from the AF. My father in law in the NAVY, my brother in law in the Navy. Enough.
    Enough is enough. “Not a chance in Hell” do I want my kids to join. Do I say this out loud? No. But truth be told I know what happens to families and those who serve and it’s not something I want my children to have to live with the rest of their lives. PTSD, multiple deployments and so much more. Thanks but we have given enough.

  4. 6
    Richard

    Did 6 years in the Corps. It’s an experience I’ll never forget , I loved it . If you raised your kids to be well balanced, respectful and loving they’ll be fine.
    Sgt. USMC

  5. 8
    Joseph A CuvoJr

    Thank God every one doesn’t thinks like you we would be in a terrible state.We have an all volunteer military.U.S.M.C. 1960-1964 Semper Fi.
    .

  6. 9
    Sonja

    My son wants to join the Marines and I am totally freaked out. I support our military (but not necessarily how the executive branch of both parties choose to use them) and I simply don’t understand with the enormous defense budget that we have (largest in the entire world), why more money inst used to help our returning vets, But I hadn’t planned on supporting the military with the body of my son. He understands that there is a possibility of getting physically and/or psychologically damage, or getting killed, but he still wants to do this. I’m simply devastated.

  7. 10
    Michael

    My name is Mike Brown first of all sorry to hear about your daughter not being able to earn the title United States Marine and not being able to achieve that title is hard. I joined in 1997 and got out after 17 years as an 0331. I read your concern about the possibility of sexual assault and you were and are correct that it could happen to males as much as females. I am a survivor of MST Male sexual assault. I was a new private on my first deployment. I was assaulted by my squad leader team leader and my A Gunner. So when you mentioned that it could happen to males also I was surprised because not to many people realize that it can happen to men also. The sad thing is the military and the Veterans Administration still to this day have a hard time believing it could happen. I go through counseling every week and drive 5 hours round trip to receive the counseling I need. Its something that i would never wish on anyone. Granted it is more common against females and to see and have a family member that goes through the pain is something else I would never wish on anyone. I am luck to have a wife that supports my self she has seen me on my knees at my most vulnerable she has seen me at my worst with anger and has seen me and been there for me with all my ups and my downs. Parents that have cried with me when I finally told them about it 20 years later after it happened. I am currently fighting to become normal and heal from the MST. In the past I have thought about and almost took my own life because I couldn’t deal with the pain of thinking about it all the time. If anything it has made me stronger and the man and husband I am today. I could go on and tell more about this but I’m not. What I am going to say is this I hope this doesn’t happen to your son when he gets to his first duty station or any other place he goes. I am not trying to take away from your story of your daughter, what I am doing is thanking you for mentioning that it doesn’t only happen to women in the military. It happening to men as well not Your color, you religious beliefs, your sex. It could happen to anyone. If it just so happens to happen you your son be there for him dont let him think he’s less of a man, damaged, or any other feeling of shame support him love him and tell him all the time he is loved and it’s not his fault. Dont let him be one of the statistics of Suicide like I almost did. Thank you for your concerns about sexual assault. Because it needs to be acknowledged and something needs to be done about it. It needs to stop. Thank you for the acknowledgement.

  8. 11
    ronjanwilson@yahoo.com

    My father, brother, sister, brother and sister inlaws, uncles and cousins have all served. Mostly Marines, but Army, Navy and Air Force. Some made Career’s of it, and have been better off for it, and would do it again. Some of us would like to have done it again and made Career’s of our service.
    Bottom line of this is, every parent dreads that their children will get hurt, be it physically or emotionally, but it’s Life. Military Service generally makes Better Citizens. If you and every other parent kept influencing their children out of serving, we’d have no Military.
    Some of your finest Leaders in Civilian Life, are Veterans. Don’t ever forget that.
    .

  9. 12
    Keith Smith

    Of my 5 children, one became a Marine having “grown up” in the Corps during my 20 year career. Great young man, athletic and tough, hated school. Served 5 years with 3 combat tours and was combat meritoriously promoted to Sgt. Got out, focused and graduated with honors from CSU Fullerton. God bless the Marine Corps! While not for everyone, it changes everyone who serves…..usually for the better!

  10. 13
    Pharaoh McQueen

    I just found this scrolling down the google feed but as a 15 year old young man i decided that i was going to join the Marines after a cousin came back from Afghanistan with mild ptsd. This sounds like a reason not to want to join and my mom certainly aint happy, but im from a military family and after seeing him, a 5’7” 165lb guy handle this with such strength i had such an emmense sense of fear and pride. Its really hard to explain why i want to join but it feels like something i have to do. I am 5’10” and 181lbs and have been physically preparing for this as i plan to join right out of high
    school, but this did give me things to think about.

  11. 14
    Mom of two

    It’s sad you didn’t have enough confidence in your son that he could be a tough man. Both of my sons are Air Force. Twins at that. One is a tough cookie and the other sweet and on the softer side. Turns out, the soft one excelled and BMT was a breeze. His twin, the tough one, was scared to death if his female report. Never underestimate your children! If you are strong (which I am) they are even stronger. ##USAFMOMX2

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