10 years ago I found myself in a combat zone, my choice. Being the only female on my team was not my choice but that reality reflects the demographic nature of the Marine Corps; according to the Women Marines Association, women made up 7.11% of the Marine Corps in 2012. Several significant and tragic, while not all, milestones regarding female Marines are available here for viewing.
During the course of my deployment, I met someone who would become my best friend and also, boyfriend. Let me preface by saying, relationships are not condoned in a combat environment and I received my fair share of flak for having a significant other overseas. More so, I received negative attention for being a female in a relationship.
The only outside person whose opinion on the matter that mattered to me was that of my Master Sergeant, MSgt Macaulay. He and I had the closest thing one could describe as a heart-to-heart about my relationship and in that moment, he was both a superior and a father figure. Our conversation was, and will, remain private. He was tactful, honest, and direct in his approach, but also respectful of the fact I am my own person. As a Marine, I admired his leadership style then and now.
Although I’ve shared my deployment experiences with friends and family over the years, I’ve always been a little hesitant to share publicly about the relationship aspect because I open myself up to criticism. What made the matter trickier is that the relationship eroded rather quickly upon returning stateside and there’s this lingering sentiment by others that well obviously it wasn’t going to work out.
I am the first to admit we had numerous obstacles in the way of the relationship including the fact that although Nathan and his ex were legally separated for 2 years, the divorce process took much longer than we anticipated. (By the way, take a breath. I know you want to now that I’ve divulged more information than you were expecting.) I do not consider myself a “home wrecker” or anything of the sort for dating an individual going through the divorce process. Others would disagree, but my story is what it is and there’s no changing the variables involved.
Coming home from Iraq did not live up to my expectations not only because Nathan and I struggled with not only our failing relationship but our own individual post deployment issues. I came home early because my grandmother’s cancer was no longer in remission and on top of seeing her in failing health, I also got news shortly after returning home that my student loans were sent to collections. Fun times, I tell you.
I spent five years not talking to Nathan after the relationship ended, which still surprises me given the fact I remained friends with two other ex-boyfriends post-split. In the meantime, I got married in 2006 and welcomed a baby girl in 2010. Around the same time, Nathan sent an unexpected email regarding our combat deployment. In return, I submitted a curt response back to Nathan (and had a conversation with my husband regarding the matter) and we went back to our separate existences.
My position at ASU brought me back to veteran issues and confronting my two tours in Iraq. An opportunity to meet Professor Mark Von Hagen, who is now the Director of the Office of Veteran and Military Academic Engagement, gave me the opportunity to share my story in a way that felt safe and nonjudgmental; although he was teaching a class “Oral History: America’s Most Recent Wars”, I was more comfortable sharing with him the three years’ worth of journal entries chronicling my Marine Corps experience.
Nathan is mentioned in roughly a year’s worth of entries in one form or another, so it was important to discuss the matter with him directly. 3 years had passed since the last email communication and I didn’t expect a warm response.
That was late last year.
In roughly the year since then, quite the transformation has occurred. We honestly discussed for the first time the stress we were under upon returning home from Iraq. We talked about what it meant to be each other’s best friend in a place where being mortared was a common occurrence. We talked about our relationships and for me, I could understand the burden he went through being separated from his children. There’s a lot of freedom I got back in my life by being “reunited” with Nathan and it’s really helped my ability to explain why and how I get frustrated by things others might find trivial.
We last saw each other in person when I left Iraq on February 25, 2005, but taking the chance to resuscitate our lost friendship has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.