2018: Personal and Professional Growth

OIF 5-7
Operation Iraqi Freedom 5-7 (Camp Al Asad)

I think one of the best things I did during my time in the Marine Corps was chronicling my journey for family and friends.  Looking back, I see so much about my personality that I’m embarrassed to admit right now and my growing frustration with people who I would not naturally pick as coworkers. I had frustrating situations both at 1st Marine Division and 3rd MarDiv when I worked with MAG-16, but I was more disgruntled with my assignment at MAG-16.  We had a particularly difficult guy in our shop who grated on me for the duration of the deployment.

While I won’t say my feedback on the situation (demonstrated below) is how we should talk about work problems, I was 23 years old at the time and not skilled in communicating my work issues in an effective problem solving matter. I take ownership of this reality and share my vulnerabilities because it was a crucial point in my Marine Corps career.  As I neared my end of active service (EAS) for that enlistment period, I was  more critical of the personal interactions that marred my feelings about the Marine Corps.

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 9.25.20 AM.png

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 9.25.34 AM.png

Prior to the deployment, my husband and I discussed the possibility of me enlisting one more time to establish financial security for our family.  At that point, we didn’t foresee the economic downfall in 2008.  If you want to read something interesting about this time period check out The Great Recession by Robert Rich (November 22, 2013).  When we were reunited in 2007, my husband and I saw the benefits of a downturned economy, not the flaws of the situation. As newlyweds, we explored the housing market in southern California (particularly the Oceanside area) that previously would have been out of our reach. I ultimately decided to not reenlist at one of the worst time periods possibly because I knew I didn’t want  another four years when I might be stuck with another (or multiple) like-minded person(s) to the man I described above.

The Marine Corps is a smaller organization compared to our sister service branches.  I knew in my last year with the Marine Corps my ability to find a better workgroup would ultimately be limited.  My Military Occupational Specialty field (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense) is not a particularly large job field.  I also made the bad career decision to move from 1st Marine Division to 3rd Marine Division under the assumption of re-enlisting.  When I returned stateside, I don’t think an opportunity to change units again would have been available.  Each unit is only permitted a certain number of personnel for each respective EAS; of additional concern, my husband and I were dual military couple.  He re-enlisted during his deployment and was staying in California.

After much discussion, I had his support our family would be better served if I left the Marine Corps.  My ability to attend school using the Montgomery GI Bill supplemented by additional payments from the Buy Up Program and the Marine Corps College Fund provided a means to leave the Marine Corps without much (immediate) financial regret.  For a full month of school attendance, I received $1,739.89 to pay for school and living expenses.  We managed our finances without a significant drop in our quality of life by my decision to also attend a community college.  I supplemented our income by also working part-time where I was paid $10.50 an hour and worked approximately 30 hours a week.

I share these details of my life because personal and professional growth occurs more “behind the scenes” than upfront in a glamorous fashion.  My particular transition required working with a partner.  I could not feel satisfied making a decision about my professional trajectory without also communicating with him about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to make those changes in my life because those decisions ultimately affected him as well.  Not all partnerships look like mine, but I also didn’t want someone to suddenly have a change a heart about our relationship because I needed a change of direction in my professional life.

A former coworker of mine once told me we spend more time with our work counterparts than we do with our own families, and it’s true.  When we are able to work full-time, we devote typically 40 hours a week on tasks and work connections that takes time away from our significant other, children, parents, siblings, and friends (in no particular order of priority because these relationships vary by our situations).  We have 168 hours a week to split up among our relationships, responsibilities, and self-care interests.  For my most of my first deployment, I spent 84 hours a week working; half of my weekly hours were devoted to a mission and placed many burdens on my personal life.  I am grateful the second deployment was not the same level of commitment, but the work environment taught me I didn’t want to serve the Marine Corps anymore.

My personal and professional lives were suffering.  I was unhappy beyond belief.  I had a string of unsuccessful relationships because the demands of Marine Corps life meant making unpopular decisions.  Not all friends and romantic partners wanted to be on this journey with me.  I also felt strained by the pressure to work on my academic goals.  The Marine Corps, like other service branches, offered tuition assistance and I jumped into a short-lived journey with American Military University without fully considering my work demands.  During my second deployment, I found it was unrealistic to continue my online coursework as I did not have reliably consistent access to computer time.

I don’t seek your pity in sharing these seemingly small trials.  We all have them.  I didn’t know who I could become in this world.  My 2007 self reveals a lot of anger, frustration, confusion, and self-doubt.  I am happy here in early 2018 to see how much I’ve changed, the confidence I’ve developed as a result of many mistakes. I have a better focus on financial investments I want to make over time.  I challenged myself to complete a graduate degree. The 2007 me was barely confident to complete a bachelor’s degree!  I no longer seek self-help materials because I think there is a flaw with me fitting in this world.  Instead, I look to mentors who show how to interpret positive and negative situations.  They help me see how to minimize negative consequences.  They also remind me to appreciate my blessings.

I’m learning to see each day as an opportunity for “do overs” when things don’t go my way and as baby steps towards my desired goals.  There is a lot of uncertainty in my future this year as to whether the VA will approve my disability claim regarding my chest pains.There is also uncertainty in my work life as we await the introduction of two new team members.  There is also uncertainty as I explore the additional steps needed if my husband and I decide to bring a second child into this world next year (or even the year after). There is less uncertainty regarding my additional coursework this year for my second graduate program.   There is less uncertainty for me regarding what I want in my next home.  There is less uncertainty in how I feel about my public role in educating others about modern service and veteran experiences.

My life will never be 100% balanced, but I now feel more confident about my personal and professional growth. I look back on where I was and how I felt about uncontrollable circumstances and how little I invested in controllable variables.  I often stepped in my own way of progress. I ignored my intuition.  I let my lack of confidence encourage me to stay in unhealthy situations because I didn’t believe I deserved better.  Now, I say “no” to the things that don’t require my attention or for which I am not interested.  I seek help for those matters I cannot fully control on my own (like the chest pains).  I ask others for their advice when I know they are stronger in an area I want to develop my skills.  These are not weaknesses.  They are signs I value my time, relationships, and opportunities.

2018 is waiting for all of us.  Find what makes you happy, allows you to live out your purpose, and teaches you to be a better human being.

~Cheryl

January 2018
At home in Gilbert, AZ (January 14, 2018)

 

 

 

2018: Looking Forward and Backward

Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 6.05.58 PM.png

Fireworks “season” is over and I couldn’t be happier.

This year’s festivities haven’t been as traumatic for me as years past, but there are a lot of behind the scenes work this year to get through 24 December to 3 January when fireworks are permitted here.  It doesn’t matter to (many) fellow Arizonans the mortar tube style fireworks with report are illegal, and those are the ones I must contend with this time of year and from 24 June to July 6th.

Don’t mind the fact I will probably complain about these two timeframes for as long as it takes for my brain to adapt to these circumstances.

Aside from this seasonal frustration, things are looking up lately.  I have some changes going on at work, but this change represents an opportunity to take on more responsibility.  Hello, extra responsibility always looks good on a resume.  Not that I’m changing careers anytime soon. I like working with veterans and I like where I am working. This opportunity is a chance to grow and explore.

The VA recently received my Notice of Disagreement as well.  Yes, I’m nervous about traveling down the road with the VA again, as it often leads to disappointment.  The first time I submitted medical documentation to the VA in 2007, I thought the process would be somewhat smooth.  I felt the VA could make a connection between my service in Iraq and the chest pains I developed in March 2005.  (Joke’s on you “2005” me…the VA isn’t that great at making natural connections.  They need LOTS and LOTS of documentation to have that “aha” moment.)

Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 6.20.25 PM

Screen Shot 2018-01-05 at 6.20.53 PM

The funny thing is when I saw a civilian care provider in late 2007 or early 2008 who told me my chest pains were stress induced, I did not believe her.  It sounded like the craziest thing someone ever told me, more so because I didn’t experience them on my first deployment. They developed shortly after returning stateside.  For many years, I figured there must have been some environmental exposure (chemical/substance/etc.) that caused me this significant discomfort, but I was unwilling to open up to other medical care providers other than to indicate the issue was part of my medical history.  No one pushed me to step outside my comfort zone and these pains persisted.

These pains continue however my willingness to work with care providers now to address anxiety-related chest pains and the triggers in my life is making a difference.  I do not know if I would have been willing prior to 2015, but losing a friend to suicide became my impetus to change.  Losing him was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced. Losing him reminded me of the personal guilt I felt on deployment not being able to prevent our forces from losing service members.  After knowing him as long as I did, I felt I should have seen something and I didn’t.  The first semester after losing him was the hardest because everywhere I walked on ASU’s Tempe campus reminded me of where we would run into each other.  I don’t know if I have enough words to convey the high level of stress I felt going to work each day knowing he wasn’t there and would never be back.  There is no way I could have successfully dealt with my grief without support from the medical community and to do so meant opening up about a lot of my personal struggles after serving in Iraq from August 2004 to February 2005.

In the last few months of 2017, I took a somewhat unconventional approach to share my personal struggles with the VA. My military medical record was insufficient for the VA to make the connection in 2007.  Instead, I’ve drawn a picture for the VA through a personal narrative because classified work is not an easy thing to document in the military.  This area of my life was far from black and white when I served. I knew the rules between who had a “need to know” on deployment but it was quite unclear for care-related purposes how to communicate what I experienced and why it impacted my life the way it did.  I am just as much to blame as the military medical community I worked with during that part of my life.

At this point, I can only wait for the VA’s answer.  I might terrify them a bit with all the casualty information I presented.  The VA might terrify me a bit and ask for an in-person meeting, requiring me to speak about this difficult life experience.  It’s all a waiting game so I am working on my positive aspects of my life.

I am shedding my hesitance to write a memoir.  There’s a lot for society to learn about digesting war on a social and personal level.  I don’t have much to share on my progress right now, but it’s a lot of free writing and getting emotion on the paper.  My goal is to complete a few pages during the weeks I’m in class.  When I’m not in school, nightly writing is my assignment.  If I can spend the first six months of this year tackling this project, I will be happy.  I spent far too much time worrying that others would criticize me for having a voice and sharing those sentiments.  Now it’s time to be serious and maintain momentum.

It may take a few years to publish, and I’m ok with that reality.  I’m not in a rush for that part of  the project.  I am devoted to another representation of war to be publicly visible and I can only do so if I find the right partners for the job.

Here’s to 2018.

~Cheryl