Sexual Harassment as a Junior Marine: My Personal Experience

I want to start off by saying, I love the Marine Corps.  Honestly, I do.  Some of the information I am sharing today will not convey this message.  I wrote the following journal entry back then in the midst of some degrading situations I encountered.  At times, I was greatly frustrated with my experiences as a Marine.  We are not without our problems as a military service branch, but I know throughout most of my experiences, the mentality of “taking care of one’s own” was drilled into us and I believe I’ve had a fair share of good leaders who valued their junior personnel.

I’ve also seen moments of downright poor leadership that I’ve talked privately about with friends and family through social media sites.  As the single female at my first unit, there were times inappropriate comments were made to or about me that never should have occurred.  Marines know better.  In fact, Americans in general know better.  Sexually harassment may not manifest itself on quite the same level or in quite the same ways as it did for past generations.  I think a significant part of that change involves equal opportunity in the workplace and also improved consequences for individuals who break the rules set in place.

In sharing my story, please pardon my language.  I’ve cut back on swearing, but back in 2006, I swore all the time.  I did leave out parts of my journal entry because the information I discussed was not relevant to the topic of sexual harassment.  I rambled on for a bit about my disappointment in American television shows, so I “cut out” the journal entry to focus more on the subject at hand.

~Cheryl

January 22, 2006

January 22, 2006 Continued

The Journey Home: A Decade Later

I’ve chosen the wrong space on campus to sit and reflect on the fact 10 years ago, I left Camp Blue Diamond, Iraq to begin my journey home.  The overhang of the building magnifies the sound of students surrounding me…

Ok, I left my space to find a slightly quieter one outside. I don’t know if the architects of the W.P. Carey building realized the overhang would reverberate sound as bad as it does, but the cacophony is unbearable.  To me, at least.

Getting back on topic, in ten years, so much as changed since I left Blue Diamond.  I got promoted.  I got married.  I went on a second tour to Iraq.  I returned home safely again.  I left active duty.  I started my college education again.   I moved to Wyoming.  I gave birth to my daughter.  I graduated college.  I left Wyoming and moved to Arizona.  I became employed.  I was unemployed.  I resumed employment again.  I became a graduate student.

I sit at this computer today a different woman than who I was ten years ago. Back then, I loved a different person than the man who became my husband.  We were an inseparable part of each other’s existence from basically the day we met.  We didn’t plan on being partners, but we quickly became each other’s best friend.  Before my deployment ended, we made plans on how life would be post-deployment.  Like others before us, we weren’t quite aware of how difficult the transition home could be.  Our respective individual burdens interfered with our ability to sustain that relationship.

In fact, I’ve never been so angry with one person in my entire life as I was with him during this transition.  It’s not entirely his fault.  My support system back home, which I expected him to be a part of, was quite broken. I let go of the relationship at the point where I was tired of living up to everyone else’s expectations of me.  I was tired of feeling like my voice was ignored.  I was sick of feeling like my needs as a person were less important.  The relationship was a casualty of so many other things gone wrong and it took me a long time to realize it was ok to let go.  That first year home, one of my favorite songs to ease my mind was Three Doors Down “Let Me Go.”

The following lines reminded me of how I felt:

I dream ahead to what I hope for

And I turn my back on loving you

How can this love be a good thing

When I know what I’m goin through

It took time to realize that I didn’t know what I was asking him to commit to back then.  In particular, I was asking him to make me a priority and move out to where I was when he had two kids who hadn’t seen him in months.  As a mother now, I cannot imagine someone making the same demands of me.  When my daughter hugs me in the morning after I drop her off at school, I feel like the most important person in the world.  It doesn’t matter that I don’t earn a lot of money, that my husband and I don’t own a home, or that I see her in the few hours of my day that I’m not working.  She loves me because I am her mom.  She doesn’t want anything other than some time with me, a hug and a kiss here and there, and the chance to show me things she finds important.

I don’t regret the short time Nathan was my boyfriend.  I did not seek out someone to share my life with when I was in Iraq.  I worked 10 am to 10 pm on day shift, which later transitioned to 10 pm to 10 am on night shift.  On several occasions on day shift, my crew also was tasked with filling sandbags.  Only near the end of the deployment when I switched to night shift did I have a partial workday once a week.  Sleep was a priority to me.  However, it was nice having simple routines like going to the gym with him or eating dinner together.  Only after hearing Jason Aldean’s “Tattoos on This Town” did I find a song that got to the heart of this experience together; the chorus below is just a small picture of the beauty within the song.

It sure left it’s mark on us, we sure left our mark on it
We let the world know we were here, with everything we did
We laid a lotta memories down, like tattoos on this town
Like tattoos on this town

Post resumed at home———————————————————————–

Originally, I didn’t see the music video.  Most times, I despise watching the videos, which often don’t do the songs justice in my mind.  This one just so happens to mirror in a way our experiences.

The last day I saw him was ten years ago today.  We visited each other four times that day, had dinner together in the chow hall with its newly built pizza oven, and I ran into a friend from MOS (military occupational school).  Below are the two photos from that day; do note as well, selfies weren’t the norm.  I was rocking it ‘old school’ having someone else take my photo. 🙂

Murphy and I outside the chow hall.
Murphy and I outside the chow hall.
Nathan and I outside the "frat house" (his unit's barracks).
Nathan and I outside the “frat house” (his unit’s barracks).

I didn’t write a journal entry that day as I was incredibly exhausted.  Although I was promised a liberal amount of free time to plan for the convoy, I was unfortunately tasked with random things like attending a ceremony.  I cannot recall who it was for because I honestly did not care one bit to be there.  Leaving the base that night via convoy, I was so exhausted that I kept falling asleep periodically even though my weapon was Condition 1.  Note, that’s an incredibly dangerous thing to do.  It’s where you have a magazine inserted and a round in the chamber.  It’s a horrible thing to admit as a Marine as well, but a Sergeant I knew stepped up as a leader and kindly told me it as ok to take my weapon to Condition 4 (chamber empty, magazine removed).  The last thing certainly anyone wants is to accidentally shot themselves with their own weapon or worst still, to shoot someone else by accident.  I can say that after I took my weapon out of Condition 1, it was easier to stay awake.  I was more nervous about something bad happening and not being prepared to respond.

Weapons Conditions

Condition 1-safety on,magazine inserted, round in the chamber, bolt forward, ejection port cover closed

Condition 2-Does not apply to the M-16 Service Rifle

Condition 3-safety on, magazine inserted, chamber empty, bolt forward, ejection port cover closed

Condition 4-safety on, magazine removed, chamber empty, bolt forward, ejection port cover closed

My husband didn’t know me when I returned from Iraq.  We didn’t met until a few months later; I think in May, but we only started to date in October of 2005.  Later this year, we will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.  In our 9 years of marriage, I’ve worried at times about how much we can love each other.  When I deployed to Iraq the second time, we were married less than a month.

It’s taken a lot of time to trust that we can work through anything.  I never experienced that commitment before; I didn’t know it would mean loving each other when we hated how each other was acting, or picking each up after setbacks or illness.  He is patient in the times where I am frustrated by a multitude of things, namely technology and my weight.  He reminds me that I am a good mother when I feel that I do not have enough time to devote to my daughter because I work more to provide financially for the future.  In these times, I am reminded that we choose to make a life together, we agreed to make decisions together, we signed up for the miserable and the mundane.  He is a partner I didn’t know would find me and love me for every flaw, every quirk, every bad mood, and every sly smile.  I do not have to be perfect to earn his love.  He makes me feel safe in ways I didn’t expect I would feel.  He will never understand the journey that existed prior to our meeting but in small ways, sharing this experience is important to where I am today.

i Rock the Boots & Lady Brigade: Shirts Celebrating Female Military Service

I promised you all not too long ago, I’d tell you about a special t-shirt company celebrating females in the military.  Turns out there is another company with a similar passion.  The first, i Rock the Boots, was started up by Arizona State University Army ROTC cadre Executive Officer Major Michelle Bravo.

Below are photos from the brand’s website so you get a quick peek at the designs:

i Rock the Boots image
i Rock the Boots image

Boots ShirtI found out about the second company, Lady Brigade, as my former USMC roommate, Sarah, shared it on Facebook.  This company is also established by a female veteran.  Nadine Noky started up her company last year.

Lady Brigade t-shirt (Image taken from their website)
Lady Brigade t-shirt (Image taken from their website)
Lady Brigade t-shirt (image taken from their website)
Lady Brigade t-shirt (image taken from their website)

While I was initially hesitant to look through the designs, I’m glad I did.  I want to create awareness t-shirts, but being aware of what’s out there also serves a purpose in ensuring my designs do not closely resemble other products.

I wish both these women success in their endeavors; being an entrepreneur is certainly not an easy adventure, but the potential to change the world is pretty exciting.  I understand there is negative feedback already brewing over Lady Brigade; you can see some of this animosity in comments listed on Buzzfeed.

Below are just a few of the comments being made; I don’t know if there would be such a negative response for a male veteran owned company.  Perhaps.  But I don’t think so.  And if nothing else, some of these comments only make me more eager to get my own products developed.

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Being a veteran is something to be proud of; I know I didn’t serve my country so I could get a ‘thank you’ at the end of four years.  I served because someone I loved previously was killed and couldn’t finish his dream.  I served because I didn’t want to be $80,000 in debt for college.  I served because my father served in the Navy and I believe in our nation’s military.  I served because I met veterans who impressed me.  I served because I had friends also willing to serve.  I served because there was no reason I couldn’t serve.

I am a veteran and I’m proud of my service.  I talk to people about my service not because I want a ‘kudos’ from people; I talk about my service so people can understand our nation’s military and the gendered experiences in recruitment, training, deployment, and transitioning out of the military.

As such, it’s important to also support women like Major Bravo and veteran Nadine Noky in their efforts to shed light as well on female military service.

Helen Benedict’s The Lonely Soldier–The Painting of Women’s Injustices as the Norm of Military Service

As a female veteran, I found this book to be an insulting representation of what life is like for women in the military in a time of war.
As a female veteran, I found this book to be an insulting representation of what life is like for women in the military in a time of war.

My voice is recovering.  I have laryngitis so it might take a week to fully sound like myself again,but it’s nice to know I’m not contagious.  I went back to work today and had class.  I’m not the kind of person who typically takes sick days.  Call it a bad habit from my Marine Corps service, but I am used to working through pretty much anything.  We [recruits, in general] get what’s dubbed the recruit crud; oddly enough, as I was looking for an explanation of it for you all, I came across this article from the Navy’s website.  I can’t recall ever getting the flu when I served.  I even had the misfortune of getting my smallpox vaccine in Iraq because the girl who was designated my roommate stateside came to Camp Pendleton pregnant from MOS (military occupational specialty) school.  Yes, I wasn’t allowed to get my smallpox vaccine pre-deployment because she was pregnant.  And in case you get the smallpox vaccine during pregnancy or inadvertently become pregnant, you can check http://www.smallpox.mil/event/pregnancy.asp.

My journal from back then is as follows:

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Today we were discussing Helen Benedict’s The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq.  Originally, I was ecstatic to have a book all about female service members deployed to Iraq as part of my reading material, but I grew pretty incessantly mad at the author’s repugnant use of ‘soldiers’ to describe all service members.  Time and time again, people refer back to the term, soldier, to describe all service members without taking into account it is not appropriate to call us all soldiers.  Trust me, if you are not a soldier, it gets old.  If you are a Marine, it is downright insulting.  

Here’s something for you to break it down:

Army=Soldiers

Air Force= Airmen

Navy=Sailors

Marine Corps=Marines

Coast Guard=Coasties

I do digress, but I will jump on my soapbox repeatedly to tell people I do not like being called a soldier.  I didn’t join the Army.  I became a United States Marine.

The author dabbles a bit into discussing several poignant soldier (truly soldier) stories with some vignettes tucked in throughout to represent the voices of other service members.  The main characters, however, are as follows:

Mickiela Montoya (Army National Guard)

Jennifer Spranger (Army Reservist)

Eli PaintedCrow (Army Reservist)

Terris Dewalt-Johnson (Army Reservist)

Abbie Pickett (Army National Guard)

Reading their stories was infuriating.  Not because some of what they say might very well be true, but because there was a sheer lack of depth on the author’s part to fully investigate the experiences of female service members.  Her main characters are National Guard and Reservist soldiers.  They are, as is mentioned in the book, part time service members.  They do not live, sleep, and breathe their service as active duty members do.  The disdain active duty members typically feel towards reservists/the National Guard is quite palpable.  However, that’s not to say that active duty members and their part time counterparts are always against one another.  There is a trust that must be built as in any relationship, work, friendship, or otherwise.

In attempting to get through this book, I found myself relying on listening to music to keep my anger in check.  Once again, I haven’t loved everything about my service and the ways I’ve been treated, but this book painted a poor picture that women can essentially expect to be raped, sexually assaulted, harassed, or put in harm’s way because their units don’t give a damn.

Yes, some women are raped.  Yes, some are sexually assaulted.  Yes, some are harassed.  Yes, some are put in harm’s way, but not typically because their units don’t care; typically being put in harm’s way happens because up and down the chain of command (the order of supervisors and their junior personnel) somewhere there are incompetent leaders.  Or sometimes, you are instructed to go into harm’s way.  If you join any branch and serve in any capacity (National Guard, Reservist, or Active Duty) you should have the wherewithal to assume you might serve in a combat zone.  I don’t care what your recruiter told you.  You are serving in a time of war.  

There are, like in the civilian world, bad people in the military.  Men who rape women because they like the power and harm they cause.  There are men who sexually assault women because they attempt to rape women and may not fulfill those attempts.  There are men who harass women because they feel it’s socially acceptable.  There are some men who put women in harm’s way, because there is a certain satisfaction they get from endangering others.  There are recruiters who lie because their careers are on the line and they have quotas to meet.  There are evil women just like these men.  Just remember that statement for a second.

However, there are also many other men [and women] who work as partners, peers, and supervisors that work to prevent such treatment and to empower women to seek justice for the harm they suffer or have suffered.  The women in this book, while they might not have felt comfortable, could have found resources outside their commands to address their concerns.  It is preferable that any service member work within his or her command to resolve issues, but if your command has that many flagrant problems, trust me, there is always a line of defense you can you utilize elsewhere.  There are many great men and women throughout the service branches that would not tolerate many of the behaviors mentioned in this book.

On another day, I will provide my thoughts as a veteran regarding some of the soldiers’ behaviors (unplanned pregnancies, drug use, and insubordination) shared in the book that is worthy of discussion as well.

A Marine’s Life: Deployment Photos

I’m home sick from work today.  I’m not throwing up or anything, but my voice is worn out and I’ve developed chest congestion overnight.  Today I can barely talk and being in a customer service line of work, there are numerous tasks I cannot effectively accomplish without speaking to people, either the VA, students, my peers, or my supervisors.  Days like today are difficult for me because I very much feel my voice is a significant part of who I am.  I’m not a brooding person in the corner who quietly learns and rarely speaks up to ask questions or provide insight for others.  I engage others at all different levels to speak on matters that interest me, to teach our work study students, to walk students through the benefits process, and as a general part of socialization.

To say I love talking is an understatement.  I remember learning the word ‘locqacious’ in the 5th or 6th grade and feeling empowered by this word.  My dad had joked before about me being a Chatty Cathy, but I feel like I can’t help myself.  Talking, for me, is a great way to know my presence is importance and I receive as much satisfaction listening to others, in most circumstances.  There are people I truly love to talk to; we talk about numerous issues we find socially relevant and even our day-to-day analysis of our goals, progress, and achievements is rewarding for me.

And as I’m desperately trying not to talk today to give my barely there voice a rest, I felt compelled to write.  Writing is but another way to talk and so my voice is still shared with others.

On March 1st, my 31st birthday by the way, I will be “celebrating” my ten year anniversary of returning home from my first Iraq deployment.  The cruel irony is that fighting continues to be a problem in that area and the news is reporting unconfirmed information that 45 individuals in Iraq were burned to death. The nearby base, Al Asad, is where I deployed on my second tour.  More information is coming out today that this new wave of violence might involve organ harvesting.

While I wasn’t meaning to delve into the recent horrors, I know it’s important to state the new wave of violence that has taken root in areas like Iraq, Libya, and other nations.  It is this spread of violence that makes me miss my military service.      Particularly, as Marines, we are taught to go out and fight battles.  We are honest in our assessments of hating garrison life and deployments that mimic that existence.  We like being war fighters.  We don’t expect others to understand that mentality.

Anyways, I did promise deployment photos per the subject heading of this blog entry.  It’s not that I’ve intentionally ignored sharing this part of my life, but thinking, when is the best time to invite you into that world.

An acquaintance and I flying to or either back from Qatar, December 2004.
An acquaintance and I flying to or either back from Qatar, December 2004.
I promise I'm not the only Marine who enjoyed getting their photo taken in front of huge piles of Iraq money.
I promise I’m not the only Marine who enjoyed getting their photo taken in front of huge piles of Iraq money.
Getting ready to convoy over to Camp Ramadi.
Getting ready to convoy over to Camp Ramadi.
This photo was taken during my day trip to Camp Ramadi for our Humvee driving test.
This photo was taken during my day trip to Camp Ramadi for our Humvee driving test.
Myself and the rest of the day crew shift.
Myself and the rest of the day crew shift.
Myself and two Marine acquaintances I knew back then; this photo was taken in Qatar.
Myself and two Marine acquaintances I knew back then; this photo was taken in Qatar.

cheryl_night02

As I look back, there are a lot more smiling photos of me from this time period despite the fact this deployment was more dangerous than the second.
As I look back, there are a lot more smiling photos of me from this time period despite the fact this deployment was more dangerous than the second.
Nathan and myself
Nathan and myself
Myself at the mall in Qatar (December 2004)
Myself at the mall in Qatar (December 2004)

Marisol Salgado: From Enlisted Marine to Marine Corps Officer

It’s almost ten at night here, but I am working through some homework. One of my upcoming objectives is to write a paper on female recruiting for our nation’s military after 9/11. Tonight, I decided to scout around the Marines website and to my shock and pure joy, I found out one of the recruits from my platoon is now a Marine officer.

I highly doubt she would remember me. I was much more timid back then than I am now, but that’s something we can talk about another time. I wouldn’t say I socialized much with many of the women in my platoon; you run through a lot of skill sets during training and my downtime was spent mostly writing letters to family and friends back home. I would also clean my rifle, but there were girls that were more dedicated than I was at their training. They would practice drill and knowledge in their free time and their efforts paid off immensely. Back then, I was not as diligent in my studies as I am now. I was more captivated by the thought of just finishing boot camp. However, it was always interesting to watch how other recruits interacted with each other. There were a couple who just seemed to be a perfect fit for the Marine Corps.

Platoon 4030, Oscar Company...We had some incredible drill instructors!
Platoon 4030, Oscar Company…we had some incredible drill instructors!
Marisol was one of the 12 recruits in our platoon who dared to smile for her boot camp yearbook photo.
Marisol was one of the 12 recruits in our platoon who dared to smile for her boot camp yearbook photo.

Please note that in this photo from the Marine Corps Facebook page, she is wearing a different cover [hat]. I had heard about changes to authorize the formerly male cover and dress blues jacket for women and it’s interesting to see that changes are taking place during my lifetime. I’ve always thought the male version of the cover and jacket looked much better than our “flight attendant” looking uniform items. I found the MARADMIN (Marine Administrative Message) about the cover change, if anyone wants to check it out.

Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/marinecorps
Photo courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/marinecorps

Please check out her story; it’s so exciting to know she made the transition from enlisted to officer. I hope this career path is something she enjoys for many years to come and many others can be inspired by her chosen profession.

National Geographic February 2015: Controversy and Insights

My mother-in-law subscribes to National Geographic and I always try to sneak a peek at what National Geographic is covering when I go to her home. It was quite a surprise recently when I found their February 2015 edition, which showcases a veteran on the cover for their “Healing Our Soldiers” article.

It’s an interesting read about traumatic brain injury. I don’t want to delve too much on the article as I feel everyone who reads this blog should read it for themselves. Each person will have his or her own interpretation regarding what’s presented–shock, disgust regarding this sort of trauma, intrigue,etc. Please read the article. It’s fascinating as everything else I typically find in National Geographic.

What I wish to speak to you all about today is the cover and imagery presented. I’ve already highlighted information I found interesting.

The alterations are mine (made on PicMonkey).
The alterations are mine (made on PicMonkey).

The biggest frustration of mine with the article is the statement: Healing Our Soldiers.

An organization such as National Geographic should be well aware that we are not all soldiers, especially when it takes the time to portray a Marine on the cover. The generic term of ‘soldiers’ is an antiquated way to look at veterans and service members as a homogenous group. We are not all soldiers. I, in particular, get ticked when people call me a soldier. I am a Marine. I earned my title of Marine. I don’t make this statement to downgrade a Soldier’s service. He or she worked to become a Soldier. I worked to become a Marine.

If National Geographic wants to look collectively at us [all persons who have served this nation’s military] as a group, ‘veterans’ works well for those who left the armed forces or ‘service members’ to look at the group including those actively serving.

My coursework reminds me to look at what is being done right in the article as well. National Geographic decided to show two non-Caucasian men, retired Marine Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Tam and Army First Sergeant David Griego, and one female, Marine Gunnery Sergeant Tiffany H. I don’t know whether the average American realizes the lack of true front lines exposed female service members and non-infantry males to many of the same dangers typically encountered by infantry service members. Improvised explosive devices, a cheap weapon to manufacture, were a common problem on the supply routes and a frequent danger for individuals on convoy operations. With this information in mind, consider the fact individuals who are motor transport, supply, combat camera, and the band [at least speaking for the Marine Corps, because they are augmented to units or fill security roles] fill roles both on and off base. Some female service members, as well, served at entry control points and or as part of female engagement teams in villages. Much of the press I’ve seen focuses almost exclusively on the experiences of young, Caucasian infantry males, by comparison. The individuals in the article seem to be particularly older, probably mid 30’s to early 40’s guessing based on their appearances and respective ranks.

This article is not without controversy though. When I discussed the article with my peers, I was informed one of the service members has had allegations made against him. This information made me give the magazine a second look. I must admit I’m embarrassed I didn’t realize one of the Marines had a goatee in uniform. I had completely overlooked all the service members’ small photos and instead focused on the ones of them in their masks. Corporal Chris McNair, retired (per the article’s description), is pictured in close up below [picture from National Geographic’s website]:

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However, this controversy is not what my peer was referring to in our discussion. I didn’t see an article with background information but quite an inflammatory response as follows when I typed in search terms looking for further information. Please bear in mind, the language is not mine and I cannot verify the accuracy of the information provided. However, the reaction is worth noting. I don’t think someone would post this sort of response to the ‘Stolen Valor’ Facebook page without there being at least some level of truth based on how disrespectful it is for anyone to claim certain service experiences (Brian Williams’ current debacle comes to mind) or fake military/veteran status.

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