You’ve Got Mail: Point of Contention

You may recall from my blog post “You’ve Got Mail: Initial Feedback” me saying:  Much like there is competition and healthy banter between members of the different Services, there is even more “contention” between Special Forces Units and Navy SEALs.

Well…you can’t have an exchange between an Army Ranger and a U.S. Marine without running into some points of contention either. Thankfully, both AG and I are officers.  Besides the trash talking between services, the no love lost between the SOF communities and SEALs, the differences between women and men, nothing gets more lines drawn in the sand like discussing the differences between enlisted and officers.

Anyway, AG has interacted with and admits liking Marines, but he is definitely proud of being an Army Officer (West Point Grad) and especially of being a Ranger. He started out as an infantry officer before going to Ranger school.  I respect his background, although I don’t completely understand how strenuous and difficult his training was or what he has done so far in his career.  He has made some separations between his reality as a Ranger and what he puts it as “Big Army.” Meaning, Rangers aren’t like Big Army…but to me, at the end of the day, he’s part of the big green Army machine, and has to claim them as his own, as much as his elite section of the bigger monster.

Last week, I saw a post on Facebook that said “God Made Marines.  So Soldiers Would Have Heroes.”  I sent it to AG. Thought it would get a much deserved snide comment back that would give me a good laugh.  However, what I did is clearly hit a nerve. One I was recommended not to hit again.  I was taken back, but I apologized, and promised to not poke the bear again (as tempting as it might be)

No harm done.  The Ranger and Marine could go on collaborating. Our exchanges continued.

But then two nights ago, AG hit one of my nerves…or two. I was having a hard time with the conversation between Josh and Ava.  I couldn’t get them into any sort of small talk (see yesterday’s post) so I asked him what he thought about it. Part of his comment, rubbed a sore spot:

…the one thing that’s challenging about this is she is signal, correct? That creates some challenges. There’s definitely a difference in mindset between combat and support troops… I know marines are supposed to be marines first… yeah yeah ok. Believe it or not, officers of every branch went through a course designed to teach basic combat skills before they went to branch specific training. It didn’t matter… the signal dudes were still bitches and the infantry guys ran shit. It’s the mindset that’s different. I (and guys like me, and I guess Josh) chose this work because we’re willing to close with and destroy the enemy to get the job done. That doesn’t apply to a guy who picked logistics as a career path.

And there lies the biggest difference between the Army and Marines.  Every Marine joins with the mindset to close with and destroy the enemy. I didn’t join to play with radios, and setup communication networks, I joined to fight and win battles.  That’s what Marines do, we make Marines and win our Nation’s battles.  We’re war fighters, it’s our history, our ethos, it just is who we are. Sure, Marine Infantry talk trash about Marines in other MOS, and all Marines talk trash about Marines in the Wing, but we’re allowed.  No one outside the family can say, a Marine isn’t designed to ultimately close with and destroy the enemy.

Ava just as much, as Josh, is trained as a war fighter and would hold up her own in any conversations about combat…especially with the experiences I’m putting in her background. I definitely have a close with and destroy the enemy mindset…I don’t recommend putting that to the test.

I went all Marine and replied to AG, and pointed out that he’s forgetting the Marine Corp is much smaller and a lean fighting force – all members, are designed to either be infantry or in direct support of the infantry, but we all have the same mindset.  I went on to say much more about the difference between a signal officer in the Army and a Marine Corps Communication Officer (CommO). The challenges of being a CommO compared to a straight line infantry platoon commander – another touchy subject for me.

He replied in his annoyingly, on point, accurate way (I really have the highest of regards for him):

First by saying “hahaha I knew that would get you going” Got it, a little pay back, well done.

(omitting initial part due to nature of language)…if there’s one thing the soldiers are good at it’s finding the army’s faults. Sometimes I think marines look at the corps with rose-tinted glasses. I went to airborne school with a few marines… as usual, some were good and some needed to be reminded of their place. I don’t want to continue to needle you, but think about possibility including it as a discussion… Josh is obviously going to see the corps differently than Ava. That’s not to say he doesn’t respect it (or that I don’t), but being on the outside typically reduces the attribution bias inherent in being a proud part of an organization.

His point is exactly why while there are lots of Marines I could bring on this project to help me, and many of them will get enlisted to help down the road, none would bring the kind of perspective AG brings. They too, are cut from the same familiar cloth of being Marines, and we do sometimes wear rose-tinted glasses. The perspective AG offers is unique and priceless.

Our discourse continued for a bit…more about the difference between communication (support MOS) and infantry officers – but that’s a conversation/contention I’ve had with Marines as well!

So we found some kinks in each others armors…some sore subjects best left alone.  I’m sure we’re not done with finding those…

The Journey of this Book

I love the twist and turns of life, the journey is indeed what it’s all about! This book is one of most powerful thing to come into my life for so many incredible reasons, it’s opening up more about who and where I’ve been, and who I am today and where I’m heading.

Ava and Josh have arrived to the first village of their journey, Castelnau de Montmirail, and for the last few days, they’ve been sitting down to have lunch, while I wrestled to figure out what they would say to each other.  Their initial conversation on the way there hit some deep topics, so I figured it was best to lighten up the mood…except I just couldn’t switch gear.  Small talk just didn’t seem at all appropriate for intense, complex characters like Ava and Josh, as they are first getting to know each other.

Imagine how this plays out in my head, my two characters are sitting at an outdoor cafe in a dormant authentic medieval town with both of them carrying the wounds of imperfect childhoods, battle scars of fighting in multiple wars, and unexplainable feelings for each other. Just can’t see them chatting it up about the weather. I had to keep digging into the heavy burden they carry, and the things they share in common.

Ava  once more became a barrier for me. I created Ava with the Marine Corps experiences and background I wanted for myself but never had. Now that it was time for her to share some of those experiences with Josh, I hit a wall.  There is so much I didn’t get to do in the Marine Corps because I was a female and those opportunities didn’t exist for me.  It’s so different now, and Ava found herself in Iraq as a young Corporal/Sergeant, not as a Captain who had to beg and threaten resignation to go.  She was able to partake in the Lioness Program, and do things I only dreamt of doing.  But in order to more realistically write about that, it was time for me to read more into them.

I’m proud of what Women Marines (and women in other services) have achieved over the past decade in combat and elsewhere, but I haven’t been fully following it.  I’ve been too envious and jealous.  Every time I see a headline like the one of PFCs. Katie Gorz, Julia Carroll, Christina Fuentes Montenegro making it through the School of Infantry (SOI), I want to badly turn back the clock, and get my shot at breaking the barriers waiting to be shattered. I never got to be the Marine I imagined in my head, and joined the Marine Corps to be.  Ava gets to be that Marine. She’s once again messing with me, and revived these burning desires I thought I had finally put to bed.

At 38, with an already aching body, I have no illusions that I could grab a pack, rifle, and full combat load, and do any of the things I could have done 15 years ago, but I’m still stronger, faster, and more motivated than most women, and many men my age, and I can lead the way, in many ways. I have to accept the role I can now play.  A supportive, encouraging and exemplary role.

My renewed love for the Marine Corps that was kindled the last two years, is on fire now, and I know I have to become more active in seeking out opportunities to make a difference, and I have to do whatever it takes to make getting Command a reality.

I downloaded Band of Sisters:  American Women at War in Iraq by Kirsten Holmstedt and Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon on my kindle. I must fully immerse myself in the incredible achievements of women in combat across the different services so I can make Ava as realistic as possible. It’s hard to read, I keep having to swallow my jealousy, but absolutely worthwhile.

The times keep changing for women, especially in the military, and instead of wishing things had been different for me, I’m going to use this book to make a statement and share my beliefs.

My stepmom remembers being at event many years ago where I made a speech and spoke out about how it was crap females weren’t allowed in combat, I don’t remember this – but it definitely sounds like me!

Twenty Years Ago on this Day

It was 20 years ago on this day that I stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, South Carolina and began my journey as a U.S. Marine. I was 17, and only 2 months into my summer as a high school graduate. I had enlisted on my 17th birthday, but the decision to become a Marine had been made a few years before then. I wanted a challenge and adventure. I wanted out of the small town U.S. I was living in and my home life. I didn’t think college was going to be all that different from High School, nor did I actually know what I wanted to be. I graduated top 10 in my class, I was class President and had plenty of other accolades and accomplishments for a well-padded college application…I was just not interested in college.

The Marine Corps offered opportunities to travel to distant lands, to push me to my limits, and to fast forward me into full adulthood. Boot camp proved to be a disappointment, and the follow-on years, less than exciting. My biggest challenge was overcoming being bored to death by my mindless job…working in an office, on a computer, at a desk. Of course, I made the best of it by setting goals for myself, making the best impact I could, and getting myself commissioned.

In October of 1999, I found myself once again doing a sea bag drag while getting screamed at, but this time it was at Officer Candidate School, in Quantico. I entered a whole new world on December 10th, 1999, when I pinned 2ndlt on my collar. A world that would challenge me immensely and reward me with the opportunity to lead some incredible Marines. However, in July of 2005, after returning from Iraq…I took off the uniform. After a hard but incredible tour in Okinawa, I was not able to adjust to what was next in my career. As a mid-level Captain, I was told it was time to learn how to become a good staff officer which interested me – not at all. I escaped to Iraq, but came back and got out to embark on the next phase of my life, and a whole new set of challenges.

Almost three years went by during which I had nothing to do with the Marine Corps. I was struggling to make it as an entrepreneur; I was hooking and jabbing in whole new ways. I overcame so much in my time in the Corps, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. I only had to try harder and be more persistent. Turns out, that wasn’t enough. My business failures lead me to losing everything. So in 2008, I turned back to the family and organization that had taken me in at 17. It took no time at all for me to get snapped back in. I considered my return to the Marine Corps a temporary solution to get back on my feet. For the Lord, it was part of the plan to bring me to my knees and to finish what He’d started.

Now, seven years later, with the last three years spent back on Active Duty, and experiencing a complete change of heart about my future in the Corps, I celebrate my 20 years anniversary, knowing I am committed to giving it a few more years.

The older I get, the more significant milestones have become in my life. They’re a reflection on what I figured I would have accomplished at this point, and who I would have become. I didn’t join the Marine Corps with the intentions of making a career out of it. I believed in the saying “If it’s not fun anymore, it’s time to get out”. When it stopped being fun, I got out. I left the Marine Corps with no intentions of coming back. I had entrepreneurial blood in my veins, so I figured by now I would have been a successful entrepreneur, living a completely different life.

Not so, instead, I kept finding myself back to the Marine Corps. Each time I came back, I was reminded why I go out. But each time I came back, I was also embraced by amazing Marines and friends…by my second family. Each time I came back, I returned to a place where I knew I felt at home. God ensured each time I came back, I was in an environment that continued to help me grow, prosper and provided me reassurance I make a difference in the world.

In 51 days, I will get on a plane, return to the States and no longer get up at 0535 to get ready to go to work to lead and serve Marines. I will endure an emotional tsunami of leaving my Marine Corps family and a place (Germany) I have absolutely loved calling home. I will leave with 20 years under my belt and with some tough tasks I need to accomplish in order to reach my next set of goals in the Marine Corps. I will leave still knowing getting off active duty was the right decision, but knowing being a Marine, leading Marines and being part of the Marine Corps has been and will continue to be a very large part of my life. It took almost 20 years for me to get it – being a Marine and leading Marines has always been part of God’s plan for my life.

Long Overdue Answered Prayer

I woke up this morning in tears from a dream. I can’t remember the last time this happened. The dream came from the heavy emotions of yesterday; BGen Cooling’s last day.

I prayed for years to be blessed with the opportunity to be under the leadership of someone I respected, and admired…someone who inspired me. I’d pretty much given up on it though, especially, after arriving to MARFOREUR/AF in October 2013, and walking into the worst environment yet of my Marine Corps career. After a horrible year, I none the less agreed to stay for another year. I couldn’t bear the thought of not being there for the amazing Marines and civilians in the G-6 to provide them whatever level of buffering I could. Little did I know, staying another year was going to give me the opportunity to witness and benefit from what true leadership has to offer.

BGen Cooling is a demanding, genuine, caring and effective leader. He had a lot to tackle when he took command and a disgruntled, exhausted, and beat up staff to heal, rejuvenate, and motivate to perform. He achieved it all and within a year! It was inspiring to watch and learn from him.

At his “going away” yesterday, he reminded us all that he had slim to none chances of getting selected to General when he was selected. He was selected on his FIFTH time on the selection board, while on the verge of retirement. God’s hand was at play because he was undoubtedly the right man to come, and make the difference he made.

But the thing is, it’s not just the difference he made in the Command, but the huge difference he made in my life.

Remember when he brought me in to his office to discuss my future plans in the Marine Corps? At the time, I was basically ready to call it a day. The decision relied on whether or not the Lord planned to see me selected to LtCol…only to find out I was in fact in the below zone. Hate reliving this embarrassment. Anyway, something else happened instead that I never could have predicted. The Lord works in mysterious ways. His leadership example made me realize I owe it to the Marines to continue on and do what it takes to get promoted and get selected for Command.

His kind of leadership is what I’d been praying and waiting for

It took almost 20 years for me to experience great leadership. His kind of leadership is what I’d been praying and waiting for, I lead the way he does; I wanted to know what it was like to be under that kind of leadership. Being under the leadership of someone who truly cares, demands the best of his people, and exercises patience to mentor, correct and teach. He’s a genuine leader, unafraid to admit his shortcomings, weaknesses, and flaws; a man of integrity and faith.

There are way too many Marines out there who call themselves leaders, who aren’t, and who make the lives of the Marines under their charge miserable. I’ve always known this, but now that I’ve experienced real leadership; I know I have to pursue greater leadership opportunities because good leadership is the best thing I have to offer. Caring for Marines is as natural to me as breathing, so why would I let someone who doesn’t care as much lead Marines that could be under my charge?

In my dream, I let BGen Cooling down. The tears were from the heart break of letting someone I respect down, I woke up and my tears became tears of gratitude to have someone I respect at that level finally come into my life, and the sadness of having him leave. BGen Cooling showed me part of God’s will for my life, and I need to make sure I don’t let Him down.

It’s unbelievable how long God sometimes waits to answer a prayer, but how powerful the answer can turn out to be.

Finally getting to experience the leadership I’d ached for the last 20 years has shaped a huge decision in my life and furthered my commitment to the Marine Corps.

The New Job in the Big Easy

Until I can close a seed round I have to maintain a day job.  I thought when I left my last billet (job) that it would finally be it, but I came to realize a few things which required me to look into a steady paycheck option again.

When I started looking for another opportunity in the Marine Corps – the Marine Corps provides me ideal work, pay and benefits.  For 6 months at a time, I get to juggle being a Marine Officer and entrepreneur.  Anyway, when I was looking for a new opportunity, a very good friend sent me information about an opening at Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans.

I applied for the position and got it!  I checked-in to MarForRes 4 days ago and so far so good!!  I am truly already enjoying and loving New Orleans.  On the Marine Corps side of things…MarForRes is a weird animal, but from my point of view; it’s much better than Quantico.  I’ve been running into Marines I know and meeting new ones.

I have my own office (no cubicle) and my job is that of a Task Order Manager.  I’m here to provide oversight into a contract that involves all the contractors that Marine Forces Reserve hire.  I’m here to bring order, standardization, ensure compliance and verify the government is getting what it should be getting.

It’s not in the social media alley, but I’ve already told the Public Affairs Office that I would offer them help with Blogger X.  They were really happy to know my background so I look forward to working my magic there.

Currently I’m staying in the Navy barracks on the West Bank and working on the East Bank.  This morning I took the Navy ran ferry across the Mississippi river.  The sun was raising, the weather was gorgeous and I really appreciated the uniqueness of my commute.

I found an amazing condo in the French Quarter…unfortunately, I’m facing some issues right now with closing the lease, so I’ll wait till I know it’s mine to really talk about it.

I’m going to do some exploring this weekend and start looking into the New Orleans tech/startup scene.  I’m also going to get back into blogging over at the Yut Media blog.  I’m sure I’ll be able to find some fabulous entertainers to interview and talk social media with.