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A United States Marine Homecoming
The Day he Leaves for the United States Marine Corps
It was Mother’s Day in 2008. When I woke up that morning I immediately knew this day wasn’t going to be good. Today was the day my only son was going to be taken to Parris Island for basic training in the U.S. Marine Corps. I knew he would do well since he was an athlete his whole life and in great shape. My concern was his psychological well being. He was, after all, stubborn and strong willed.
At the recruiting office, the Recruiting Sergeant explained to us that our son would never be the same. He was leaving a boy, but would come back as a man. That was absolutely true. He told us that they (the Drill Instructors) would get into his head, break him down, and build him back up to be not only a man, but a Marine. That was absolutely true.
Three long months went by and the letters I received went from terrifying to encouraging to pride. Finally, on August 8, 2008, my son graduated from boot camp.
Graduating Boot Camp
The day before graduation is called Family Day. This is the first time we were able to see my son. The second I laid eyes on him I could see how different he was. The expressions on his face were extremely serious. This was so disheartening since my son has always had a terrific sense of humor. I cried for so many reasons. I cried because he was grown, responsible, independent, and I was so proud of him. I cried because he was no longer my baby boy. I also cried because his innocence was gone and he had been exposed to some of the most brutal training in the world. I worried about his psychological well being.
Graduation was quite a spectacular event. All of us in the stands were overjoyed with pride. On that day, being an American meant so much more than it used to. We watched our boys and girls become Marines, marching back and forth, following orders and looking sharp. The Marine Corps band played and cannons were shot in celebration. It was one of the most memorable events I’ve ever been to. However, one thing stuck out in my mind. When we were touring the barracks, my son’s Drill Instructor told us that boot camp was the easy part, and now the real work began. I hadn’t let myself go beyond boot camp in my thinking process. I could barely survive the not knowing of boot camp itself, but there I stood; faced with the reality of my child going off to war.
Where do you fit in?
Fighting a War Overseas
Several times throughout my son’s tour of duty he was told that he would be deploying, but didn’t go. For one reason or another he didn’t leave for any overseas country to work or fight. But then the day came. It was near Christmastime. We had plenty of warning, but I didn’t truly believe he was really going. He went.
Because of modern day technology, my son was able to communicate with us by phone and by computer. Emails and Facebook chatting were fairly often unless he was actually in the field. There wasn’t much he could tell us, however. He could tell us what he ate, if he received packages, the games and recreational time he and the other Marines had, and other minor day to day activities. He couldn’t tell us much about when he would and wouldn’t be in the field or about any of his missions, understandably so.
The days dragged on so slowly. Hours turned into days, days into weeks, weeks into months, and finally we were sent an email from the Family Coordinator telling us not to send anymore letters or packages because our Marine was coming home soon!
The Thrill of the Return
Families were notified about a month in advance and given a 5-6 day window determining when our Marines were coming back to the country. About a week before, we were all notified of the exact date our Warriors would be returning. The time of arrival changed several times throughout the day, however.
The Marine Corps attempted to ease the anticipation by providing food, music, games, and lots of fun activities for all to participate in while awaiting our loved ones. It was like a huge family reunion. Many of us were sharing stories and bonding with others in our exact situation. We were supporting each other, just as a family does. Finally, after several delays, a semi-truck pulls up with our Marines’ gear. At that moment we knew our sons and daughters were in North Carolina, U-S-A!
However exciting it was to see the duffle bags owned by our Marines, time seemed to be moving so slowly in the anticipation of seeing him or her face to face. We knew it was coming though, and we knew it was going to be soon! Shortly thereafter, an announcement blared over the P.A. system telling us that the busses carrying our loved ones were coming down the street! The excitement, fear, nervousness, relief, sadness for those who should be on one of those busses and aren’t, and many other emotions flooded over all of us as we saw those busses pulling up. There was a short period of time where mad chaos ensued since Marines were mixing with the crowd who were mixing with Marines all trying to find their families.
Then I saw him! He looked really big. He looked really tall. He looked really confident, and he looked extremely tired. We all had our turn giving my only son his hugs and kisses, and as each of us did so, I noticed something. He was constantly looking around. He didn’t look at any of us for more than a split second at a time. I can only assume he was still in survival mode and continued to feel the need to constantly scan the area for threats.
My son and the others who served in the returning unit were given post deployment leave time so we were ready to take our Marine home. There wasn’t much talk about what happened in Afghanistan with the exception of minor day to day stories, and there still isn’t. Eventually, my son got his sense of humor back. However, I still worry about his psychological well being, and probably always will. It isn’t everyday that a person experiences fighting for his or her life knowing that the enemy’s mission is to kill you.
After years of anxiety not knowing what was happening to my child, I can say that my faith got me through along with wonderful support from others in the same situation, and trusting my son will use his God given stamina, intelligence, ambition, and most importantly, his impeccable judgement. He has since moved on in his life, leaving the Marine Corps in May of 2012.
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Thank you so much for your interest in my work. I am hopeful the read was informative and encouraging. Please feel free to share your opinion or personal story in the comments section below. Your feedback is always appreciated.
"Be kind to one another" ~ Ellen
God Bless You ~ Margaret Sullivan