Boot Camp Letters Home: July 2003

I’m procrastinating like any good college student as my class enters its last week today. As such, I figured I’d do something else equally valuable and share some things from boot camp with you all today.

I truly enjoy sharing old stories and photos so that they can serve a purpose to someone else and I think it’s good for people to see some transparency regarding recruit training. My experience is not like the movie “Ears Open, Eyeballs Click” but if you get a chance to watch the movie, please do so. I find it utterly hilarious. It’s a good reminder boot camp has some ridiculous moments and I laughed so hard at some points in the movie I had tears streaming down my face.

Moving on….

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The nerd that I am, I kept a journal during my preparation for boot camp and asked my family to hold onto my boot camp letters. My stepmom had the responsibility to keep these in order and she did a great job not decorating my journal, as I feared, in my absence.

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I imagine a lot of people are better prepared for boot camp than I was, but some of my high school athleticism worked out in my favor. Running, a constant PT activity in the Marine Corps, is something I was used to but the flexed arm hang was one of my weak areas from the very beginning.

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I’ve always been that awkward introverted nerd and I won’t say the Marine Corps beat it out of me. Over time, I just found people I got along with, but I felt like a fish out of water at boot camp. There’s a lot of stepping outside one’s comfort zone. Personal space is not really a thing and for someone as private about their body as I am, it’s awkward to shower in a communal setting.

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I don’t mind admitting I’m an average person who decided to become a United States Marine. There are other people who run with the idea and become the best in different areas of Marine Corps life like the person who always rocks a high 1st class PFT (physical fitness test); the person who always shoots expert; the person who always knows everything. I was never one of those. I decided to serve in honor of my late friend, Lance Corporal Barton J. Carroll, and it didn’t take long to figure out, I had no idea what I signed up for but I committed to it and I was going to complete that obligation.

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I am not surprised I barely spent any time writing to my family about what boot camp was like, but more so on what I didn’t care for and the things I appreciated. These simple things remind me that I love focusing on relationships rather than achievements. I’ve never enjoyed being the center of attention and it’s kind of comical to see how much I tried to hide in the background of boot camp as well.

I was quite content to try to not be noticed. I wanted to observe and learn, but mostly to pass under the radar.

I don’t remember the process of receiving all that much but bits and pieces. The drill instructors took away a lot of things individuals brought with them like makeup and hair appliances (Why someone thought they could bring that to boot camp is beyond me as is the makeup. Our need for feminine hygiene products didn’t last very long and most of us only had one cycle through the three months of training. Our civilian clothes were placed into brown paper grocery size bags and returned to us at the end of our training. I still remember the fact I wore a short sleeve baby pink color t-shirt and jeans. My recruiter did a good job reminding us to take as little as possible with us and to dress comfortably.

The new clothes we received, and purchased with our own money, required marking. We had stencils and marking tape to mark all sorts of items we wore: sports bras, underwear, socks, shirts, shorts, camouflage tops and bottoms, and boots. I can’t remember my thoughts on clothing issue for our dress uniform items other than being grateful one set of trousers was left a bit loose; it really helped out when I decided to eat a lot of junk food at Marine Corps Combat Training (MCT) although it was a pretty poor decision to undo my mostly healthy eating habits from boot camp. The other uniform items were marked as well once in our possession.

Basically, you need to mark your sh#t. It’s a requirement. Drill instructors will notice it if it’s not marked or that marking tape starts falling off. I got pretty lazy about marking my stuff later in the fleet with the exception of Corporals Course since there was an inspection.

Last thoughts though before I end here for the day. I never shot expert on the rifle at boot camp, or any other part of my Marine Corps career. I was a sad little marksman the whole time, but at least I learned a new skill. One of these days my husband and I need a trip back to the rifle range; I haven’t shot in years, and it would be nice to pick up a rifle and shoot better than I did in the Marine Corps. If anyone will help me get there, it will be my husband. I shoot the rifle left-handed and he’s the only left-handed rifle coach I’ve ever met; it’s a real shame he wasn’t on the rifle range with me in the Marine Corps.

(Sorry for the serious detour towards the end of this entry; can you tell I really don’t want to do homework right now?)

 

 

 

Journey Through “The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan”

Hello, readers.

I am taking a short break from homework to check back in. I cannot recall if I’ve told you all before I love reading for pleasure, and one of the hardest things about working full-time and completing my collegiate classes is losing a substantial amount of free time for personal reading. I grew up reading a lot in my free time; it was a perfect hobby for an introverted child. Although I’ve shed some of my shyness, reading is still one of my favorite hobbies.

While I don’t plan to go into detail about all the war-related books I started to help me determine how to write my own memoir, there is one I want to talk about today.

My local public library has a small section of books covering the history of different wars. Originally, I hoped to find Shoot Like A Girl: One Woman’s Dramatic Fight in Afghanistan and on the Home Front. I looked for Shoot Like a Girl on several trips to Barnes and Noble, but it was never on the shelf. When I couldn’t find the book at my public library either, I decided to look through the other titles. (I don’t like leaving the public library empty-handed.)

There wasn’t much that stuck out to me except for one title, The Mirror Test. It’s the lengthy book I’ve picked up in a while: 585 pages. I haven’t finished it yet. I hope that doesn’t deter anyone from picking it up. This blog entry is not meant to serve as a book review. I could probably give you that perspective later, but I’m only on Chapter 9 at this point. (I slowed down my reading pace with this book in order to not fall behind in my class.)

I quickly fell in love with the author’s writing style and wanted to share my sentiments on Instagram.

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Dotting the landscape of his personal narrative, I found direct information about service member casualties. It was unexpected, but almost like coming home. Someone encountered the casualty information, not necessarily the same way I had, and he recognized them as people. He was making sure they were not simply forgotten in a world where Americans drift from one new thing to the next and have grown tired of hearing about our protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On top of it, too, he gave more recognition to the marring of Iraq and the brutal toll the war’s taken on its people. When I worked on my graduate applied project, I found access to Iraqi casualty information difficult to recover. I used details I could gather from Iraq Body Count but again, The Mirror Test drew me in with the sensitivity and openness regarding interactions with Iraqis.

I didn’t expect to come across something more simple that hit a nerve.

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Anger, bordering on rage, hit me. I felt like the author immediately dismissed the value and burden of my deployment responsibility. My rant could not be contained. In fact, I hit the word limit Instagram has and to finish my rant, I needed a comment.Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 6.33.11 PM.pngScreen Shot 2018-05-17 at 6.34.09 PM.png

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I try to keep tirades like this out of public view, but the sting that my work was not really seen as a war experience wasn’t easing up. It’s been awhile since I found someone’s written words tearing me up this way.

I put the book down for a bit to refocus. I did not want to discount the entire book based on this one piece, but I needed a breather.

After taking some space, I realized an opportunity existed. The author had valuable casualty information and might be able to help me find a way to finish reconstructing the casualty information from my own deployment. I had to ask. The worst he could say was “No.”

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The Mirror Test

In my email request, I discussed the intersection of our time in Iraq and my work with the activity reports. I explained my interest in how he came to share the casualty information, whether he took good notes or if he acquired the details through Freedom of Information Act. I did not ask the author to do the research for me and this detail is important. I implore anyone looking to reconstruct their past be mindful to do the same with any person you reach out to for assistance. Do not ask someone to do work you yourself are not willing to do. If you have the capability to do your own research, do it. In this case, I have the ability to continue my research, but it helps to know where to look.

Thankfully, my request was well-received and the email I received in return, exceptionally courteous. He offered ideas to help me find the pieces of information I’m looking for to include checking out Brown University’s “Cost of War.”

I am happy with our correspondence so far and hopefully, he appreciates the feedback I have regarding his book.

More to follow.