Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Succeeding in the Marine Corps

I am what we call in recruiting a “proof source.”  Proof to other women that female Marines exist and can be successful in the 94 percent male Marine Corps.  When I was commissioned at the end of Officer Candidates School (OCS), I prayed each night that I would find the strength to be an effective leader of Marines.  It never occurred to me that I already had that strength and had demonstrated it at OCS which was why the Marine Corps had offered to commission me.

Eight years later, after six years of active duty service, I speak frequently with women who are preparing for OCS or recruit training by phone and using a Facebook group that I helped to create.  I am now confident that I have much to share with them about how to be successful in the Marine Corps. 

These women worry about the same things as their male counterparts, things like how to get in shape for recruit training, whether or not they will have to dye their hair back to its original color, and what kind of food will be served to them at the chow hall.  But they have a worry that is unique to women; they wonder:  if I work hard and earn the title of Marine, will I be accepted and treated equally by my male counterparts?  They want to know if the Marine Corps is really a place where women can succeed.  
The answer is yes, and no.  I was recently very impressed with an article in the New York Times about the Female Engagement Team (FET) in Afghanistan.  This article really showcased the work of female Marines and the difficulties for females within the Marine Corps.  The truth is that women are needed for challenging assignments that only they can perform.  Once they demonstrate their proficiency as warriors, as the women of the FET teams have repeatedly done, their male commanders look at them as an asset, but commanders never forget that they are female Marines and therefore different from their male counterparts.
But maybe that is as it should be.  Although I want equal pay for equal work, equal respect for a job well done, I am not a man and I do not believe pretending to be one is required for success.  I am proud to be a female Marine and the Marines with whom I work appreciate the different perspective that I bring, just as commanders in Afghanistan appreciate the unique skills of the women on the FET teams. 

For Women’s History Month in 2009, we interviewed eight female Marines of different ranks, military occupational specialties, races, and family backgrounds.  We asked each of them the question “What is Your Advice to Women Looking to be Successful in the Marine Corps?”  They all said the same thing in their own way:  “be yourself.”  For women who want to be accepted in the Marine Corps I tell you this:  it is as easy as believing in yourself, which for many of us is one of our greatest challenges.  

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Time off is the best time to get back on track

Today marks the first of 10 days I won’t have to wake up at 0445 if I don’t want to.

Leave is one of the most underrated benefits to being in the Marine Corps, and you really only really appreciate it when you haven’t taken a chunk of it in a while. Sure, I’ve taken a few days here and there, but that was always to go visit the wife’s family. And while I love her family, the process of driving 8 hours (with a crabby 2-year old) only to be constantly on the go does not exactly constitute a vacation to me.

So this time, I’m taking time off for myself. I have a few things I’d like to get done, but I don’t have a rigid schedule, and if I want to just veg out in front of the TV for a few hours, I can do it with no distractions or regrets.

My stack of “must read” books has grown over the last couple months to the point I can’t keep up. Hopefully, I can knock out at least a couple to bring the pile down to a manageable level.

One thing I don’t like about this area of Wisconsin is the general lack of public shooting ranges. There are quite a few private shooting clubs that require some kind of huge annual dues payment in addition to “volunteering” a set number of hours each year, and that’s after you’ve made it through the “vetting process” and moved up the usually long waiting list.

In south eastern Wisconsin, there’s one public outdoor shooting range (McMiller Sports Center in Eagle, Wis.), so that’s where I’ll be headed at least one of the days I’m on leave. I have a Mossberg model 500 rifled slug barrel shotgun to sight in for Illinois’ deer season next month; a Savage .30-06 to continue breaking in; a new Ruger 10/22 to try out and a new-to-me Springfield Mil-Spec 1911 to put through its paces before going to the ’smith for some work.

I think I’ll probably take a motorcycle day trip somewhere. It’s going to start getting mighty cold here in the next month or two, so I want to get as much riding in as possible before putting the KLR650 up for the winter. Speaking of which, there’s some work to be done on the bike.

And of course, there’s work around the humble abode that needs to get done. The wife wants to rearrange furniture (yet again), so that’ll get added to the honey-do list.

When all is said and done, I think this will be some of the best leave I’ve taken if for no other reason than I’m operating solely on my own agenda.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Youth unprepared for Marine Corps

I really feel like an old man when I start thinking about how things were when I was 18 or 19 years old. My wife has, for a couple years now, been pointing out grey hairs, and until recently, I never noticed them. I now try to joke about them and call them an indication of wisdom …

What got me to start thinking back about 15 years was a conversation I had with a MCMAP instructor whereby we seemed to agree the vast majority of young Marines have never been in a fight. Instead, they're brought up with the "zero tolerance" policy of absolutely positively never fighting; when confronted by someone who means to do you physical harm, you either give them what they want or cower in fear. Remember, there are some people who actually advocate would-be victims of rape shouldn’t fight back, and I'm sure these same people advocate never defending yourself when confronted by someone who means to do you harm.

So these "social nonconfrontationists" (that's my phrase since "social pacifist" is already taken) I'm sure also advocate the complete abolition of personally owned pots, pans, forks, knives, toasters, screwdrivers, hammers, machetes, firearms, and any other tool that could be used by one person to do harm to another.

These same "social nonconfrontationists" seem to believe the military does more harm than good, that it should be a peace corps of sorts frolicking into foreign lands just to spread good will and cheer and love.

So what does all this have to do with anything? Well, what I'm getting at is simply that today's young men and women - who I see as victims of these so-called "social nonconfrontationists" - have been turned into “sheep” and are not very well prepared for life in the Marine Corps.

(An aside is in order here - my usage here of the word “sheep” refers to the now-famous account by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book On Combat. In short, the “sheep” are the average citizens who rely on others for their protection; then there are the “wolves” who prey upon the sheep without mercy. Finally, there are the “sheepdogs” who protect the flock from the wolves, and it is in this group I classify myself and most other Marines.)

Since 1775, the Marine Corps has been known as an elite fighting force, and most of us firmly believe America needs her Corps of Marines to be the ass-kicking "rough men ready to do violence on [her] behalf" as George Orwell put it.

I'm just afraid it's taking more and more to get today's youth up to that elite level than it did in times past. If we look to the first half of last century, boys often hunted on their way in to school and stored their trusty .22 rimfire or shotgun at school while they did the day's learning, not giving the firearm a second thought. Today, that act would get them arrested or possibly killed no matter what their actual intent. At the end of their day, boys of years past went home, often hunting along the way, to do their chores and homework. They didn't "veg out" in front of the TV, computer or video game console. They learned responsibility at an early age; they were given a set of expectations and held to them.

Parents need to stop coddling their children and let them get a little dirty sometimes.

I'm not saying we should all turn our kids into bullies or create an Underage UFC with kindergartners … but at the same time, there absolutely positively IS a time and a place for physical violence, and it's incumbent upon all of us to teach our children the moral compass required to discern when it's appropriate and when it's not.

In closing, I’d like to quote Grossman: “If you have no capacity for violence, then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath--a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”