“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?