First Marine Mom chooses to leave Corps

Today, we’re meeting Lisa Wilson. For extremely personal reasons she doesn’t regret, Lisa made the decision to leave the Marines after she discovered her pregnancy.

Read Lisa’s story here:

What’s your hometown, and when did you join the Marines? Can you tell us a little about why you joined, what MOS you held, and when and why you left the Marines?

Lisa Wilson, today, poses with her niece and grandniece.

Glad to share. I live in Whitewater, Wis. I joind in 1978 on the buddy system with my best friend. I lived in Whitewater then, also. I only joined because of my friend. I had held down 13 jobs in a year after high school. My dad was a professor at the local university, and I hated school. I hated most of the jobs I had, too. My friend said she joined, and I told her she was nuts. I went to the recruiting station in Janesville with her, and next thing I knew, I had joined up. When I got to the weigh-in before boot camp, I was underweight. They said I would have to gain weight and try later. I told them the only way I was going was with my friend: either now or never. Ha! They got me in under a waiver. I ended up in the MOS 3043.

When were you pregnant and where were you stationed during your pregnancy?

I was pregnant in Okinawa, Japan.

What was your greatest struggle while being pregnant as a Marine? Were you given any special consideration for your condition? For example, were you dismissed from standing in formation for inspections?

I had to actually stand overnight non-sleeping watches when I was very pregnant. I was married and lived off  base. The woman in charge of the WM barracks made me do it. I even had to tie my cammies because back then you were not issued maternity uniforms if you planned on getting out. My doctor placed me in civies, and ordered no barracks duty.

Also, after just leaving sick bay where I found out I was pregnant, I was still required to go into the gas chamber for a full drill. I told them I was pregnant. Their answer was that it didn’t matter.

As a Marine mom, what were your greatest challenges during that era of being a “first Marine mom”? Do you feel moms today, Marines or civilians, have the same problems? Have it better?

I got out when my son was born. I’m glad I did because I was told if the Corps wanted me to have a family, they would have issued it to me. I married a Marine and even had to get permission to get married. My first child was born with Down Syndrome. I don’t know if I could have handled trying to juggle the Corps and him. 

If the woman you are today could speak in the ear of the woman Marine she was, what would you whisper to her?

My whisper? Wow that’s a hard one. I guess I would say, “Don’t give up. It gets easier.”

Do you find certain skills you gained as a Marine helpful today? Can you share a little about this?

I must credit the Marines for giving me the discipline to hold a job. They also helped me to realize that I am a strong woman. I dealt with a lot of crap while in. I learned how to be a better person because of it.

Thank you, Lisa, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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Call to duty forces Marine mom to leave behind sick infant

Today, we’re meeting Diana Cox Matienzo, a woman who has overcome many challenges — a rape by a fellow Marine, for one. Diana, as I’m sure you’ll sense, is a survivor to be admired.

This is her story.

What’s your hometown? When did you join the Marines? Can you tell us a little about why you joined, what MOS you held, how long you intend to stay in the Marines?

I hail from Kansas City, Kansas, home of America’s Best BBQ, but that’s my opinion. The reason I joined is on my blog, www.marinechickvet.com under Preface, February 2.  I was an 0121/0131 (MOS).

Diana, receiving a commendation.

When were you pregnant and where were you stationed during your pregnancy?

I got married in 2000 and got pregnant on my wedding night.

I will mention that I love the Marine Corps with all my heart, even though some experiences were not ones I wanted. I was raped when I was in MOS school (this was before her marriage), and it affected me mentally. When the Marine was about to go to trial, my “lawyer” advised me not to press charges, because by this time, I was pregnant with my first child and he said that it would look poorly against the Corps for a married woman with child to bring up rape charges. I allowed him to convince me of this, allowing me to never get closure. To this day, I am still affected by this, but I don’t allow it to control my life, just thought I would mention this.

What has been your greatest struggle while being pregnant as a Marine? Were you given any special consideration for your condition? For example, were you dismissed from standing in formation for inspections?

I was stationed with I&I Staff Kansas City/24th Marine Regiment. I was the only woman on the staff, so I was treated more like a daughter than a Marine. It did irritate me at times because they wouldn’t allow me to stand in formations, even though I wasn’t showing, and wouldn’t allow me to wear my normal uniform once my pregnancy was confirmed, even though I could still wear and fit into my cammies. I was told to wear the maternity uniform, even though it fell down on me.

Although they babied me, my OIC forced me to take a PFT when I could barely do sit ups and when I was on light duty. During the PFT, I was throwing up the whole time because of morning sickness. I failed the run part of the PFT, never finishing because I couldn’t stop throwing up. My CWO made sure my pro/cons reflected it, too, but, thankfully, my CO raised them.

What do you think of the maternity uniform? What modifications would you like to suggest?

The maternity uniform then was a joke, especially since I wasn’t showing that much. When the wind would blow, the blouse would blow up like a balloon, and I looked like a globe. It was hard at times to wear the boots because of swelling. I had a 10-pound baby, so I was pretty big by the time I delivered. The uniforms are as good as they could get, but I would have loved to have seen a blues maternity skirt so that I could have at least worn Alpha Charlies or Deltas to work.

Did you decide to breastfeed, or did you decide not to breastfeed because of the need to return to Marine Corps duty in six weeks? If you continued to breastfe
ed, were there particular challenges to the process because you were a Marine?

While on maternity leave, I lived in Base Housing, so they called me often to ask me questions about things. I went into the office to help out. I came in my sweats, had my son in his car seat or on a blanket on the floor, and entered 214, ran diaries and did SRB audits. Although I was on my six-weeks leave, I still worked, but it really didn’t bother me. I had five male Marines who enjoyed having the baby in the office.

I didn’t breastfeed much because my son was so big and ate all the time, causing my nipples to bleed, and it was too painful. Plus, I couldn’t handle the thought of pumping milk in a unit that was all men, regardless if I did it in the bathroom or not.

Diana with her son, Micah.

As a Marine mom, what were your greatest challenges? Do you feel moms today, Marines or civilians, have the same problems? Do women Marines have it better today than those of us in the 1980s, during that era of being one of the first Marine moms?

My greatest challenge was my second time around. I was discharged in December 2001, and was two months pregnant. I had my son in June 2002, and he had a lot of breathing issues due to RSV. He was in and out of the hospital for about six months. I was recalled back onto active duty in February 2003 because of the war in Iraq. Since I’d just had a baby and was no longer on active duty, I wasn’t really trying to lose the baby weight.

When I was recalled in 03, it hurt to leave my sick baby with my husband and leave them to go to Yuma, Ariz., where I was ordered by a reserve recall. It took an emotional toll on me because I was leaving my kids and family behind after very little notice. At least those on active duty or even reserve duty have more than one week to get their affairs in order and to drive across country. I was about 10 pounds over my weight max, but lost the weight plus more, thanks to depression related to the mandatory recall.

When I checked into Yuma, I wasn’t given the 30 days to acclimatize to the weather, so going from 20 degrees in Kansas City to 90 + in Yuma was hard, especially when I hadn’t run in over a year and half. I was an emotional wreck. It bothered me because it made me feel like “half of a Marine” because it was just hard for me to keep up in runs with the other active duty Marines.

The greatest challenge, though, was making the time to be a mother. Sometimes you felt the Marine Corps came first, so I missed a lot. First steps, first words, etc., just so that I could attend a Toys for Tots event or go in for Drill Weekend. I was active duty, but trained the Reservists. Guard duty was hard on me because I was away from a newborn who I thought needed me.

I believe women now in the military may have more privileges than those during the 80s, and more respect. But unlike the 80s, today’s mothers are being called to go overseas and separate from their families. Luckily, the ladies today are not forced out because of pregnancy. But they know that if they do get pregnant now, at a given point, they may have to leave their family behind.

Diana, today.

Try to imagine yourself older, about 60. What do you hope that woman will know about herself by then? What do you think she’d like to tell the woman you are today?

At the age of 60, I think she would still have the pride of the Corps running through her veins and will still stand up and defend the Corps. She would let those younger ladies know that if you put your mind to anything, you can achieve almost anything. When things get tough, don’t give up. If someone brings you down, bring them up to your level, and show them what respectable is. I lacked confidence prior to joining the Marines, and now I am full of it and believe I always will be.

Do you find certain skills you’ve gained as a Marine helpful in your parenting? Can you elaborate?

Working in the title industry, I find that I am more assertive than others, and I understand structure more than most women, thanks to what I learned in the Marines. I don’t cry when I am stressed. I just suck it up. The Corps made me this way, and thank God that it did. I wouldn’t be where I am in this industry if not for my Marine Corps experience.  Also, I am not a quitter, which is ingrained in my head.

Thank you, Diana, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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First Marine Mom thankful she drove a real Hummer, shot a rifle, and more…

Today, we’re meeting Debbi Branch — a First Marine Mom who’s thankful for, of all things, the chance to drive a real Hummer, shoot a rifle, drive a tank, and so much more. Here’s Debbie’s story…

What’s your hometown, and when did you join the Marines? Can you tell us a little about why you joined, what MOS you held, when you left the Marines and why?

I was born in Manchester, Conn. I joined the Marines in 1984. My oldest brother was also a Marine, but he joined when I was just a one-year-old. My other brother was in the Army, and both are Vietnam Vets. I had no discipline in college, and did not like my major, so I dropped out. I had been working in a store for four years as a department manager when a female soldier came in. It peaked my interest so I started talking to recruiters, and the Marines were the best salesmen, or they would not take no for an answer. I wanted to grow up since I was the baby, and everyone still treated me that way even at 24. I wanted a new career, but it is hard to get one as a civilian without experience. The Marines would give me both. My MOS was 3043 – Supply Administration. I was medically discharged from the Corps in 1995.

Staff Sgt. Debra Fales Branch poses with her son.

When were you pregnant and where were you stationed during your pregnancy?

I was actually pregnant twice while I was in. First time, I was a corporal at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, in 1989. I miscarried at 3 1/2 months. I did not know I was pregnant right away because I had false alarms before, so I kept running – once with my unit and once trying to see if I could run home to our apartment out in town, six miles. Both times, I had cramps, but did not think anything about it. Once I knew I was pregnant, then I went on light duty. So whether the miscarriage was from the running or something else, I will never know. The second time I was pregnant, I was a sergeant in 1991, and I was stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

What was your greatest struggle while being pregnant as a Marine? Were you given any special consideration for your condition? For example, were you dismissed from standing in formation for inspections?

After my miscarriage, I was given one week of bed rest and then back to work at full duty. I realize now I should have been given some light duty once I went back to work to completely recover. I remember a male Marine being shocked to see me right back out running with the unit.

When I was pregnant the second time, I worked in a small office, with just a major, staff sergeant, corporal, and me. It was during the first Gulf War and we did TAD (temporary additional duty) for the Marines coming and going for a Marine Air Group. Of course the squadrons would have had more formations than our tiny office. In my experience, once you had a blood test to prove you were pregnant, they put you on light duty. I worked right through Thursday, November 21, 1991, and my son was born the next day.

What did you think of the new maternity uniform?

After having a miscarriage, I did not want everyone to know I was pregnant the second time until I passed four months, so I wore cammies until then. The day I walked in with my maternity uniform and proud happy baby bump, someone said “Where did that come from?”

Did you decide to breastfeed, or did you decide not to breastfeed because of the need to return to Marine Corps duty in six weeks? If you continued to breastfeed, were there particular challenges to the process because you were a Marine?

I did breastfeed, but only during my time off. It was partly due to having to return to work, but also because my son was a big eater, being born at 9 pounds.

As a Marine mom, what were your greatest challenges during that era of being a “first Marine mom”? Do you feel moms today, Marines or civilians, have the same  problems?

Twenty-four-hour duty and not being able to see your baby. Finding a babysitter when I took my 6-month-old son to Okinawa, Japan. Daycare was mainly for families staying for three years and I had orders for one. Working moms—civilian or military—all have issues and challenges. Military moms have to deal with getting orders to ship out to a war zone. After my divorce, a staff sergeant in the admin office threatened to put me out in 48 hours if I did not come up with an emergency plan for my son in case of deployment because he was friends with my ex-husband, who was also a Marine.

If the woman you are today could speak in the ear of the woman she was in the 1980s, what would you whisper to her?

Enjoy it! Make as many memories as you can as a Marine, woman and mom. See more, do more, accomplish more, and value myself more as a person. Get divorced in 1992, instead of 1994. LOL!

Debbi, today.

I understand you’re in the mortgage business. As a former Marine, do you find certain skills you gained as a Marine helpful in your business? Can you share a little about this?

Supply Admin usually goes hand in hand with fiscal or budget admin because the supply officer usually wears both hats. I had an amazing major, Major Williams, who made me his fiscal clerk. I found out I had a love for working with numbers and was good at it. It got my foot in the door at a bank to start my career in Mortgage Banking that is going on 15 years. My present bosses say they love my discipline and ability to follow orders.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about being a “first Marine mom”?

I am glad that my son and I are part of Marine history. He was born at Camp Pendleton, got to live in Okinawa for a year, and we drove cross-country to start our new life in Florida after I was discharged. I can tell my grandkids I drove a real hummer, shot a rifle, and tried to drive a tank. If I had not walked into a recruiting station to change my life, where would I be today?

Thank you, Debbi, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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First Marine Mom, 8 months pregnant, ordered to run PFT…

Today, we’re meeting Mary-Julia Hill, a retired Marine and a first Marine mom now grandmother. When I first heard the details of Mary-Julia’s account of being a first Marine mom, I was actually moved to tears. Angry tears.

Mary-Julia Hill with her son, Christopher, at Marine Barracks 8th & I in Washington, D.C.

I pleaded for permission to publish her story. Here it is:

What’s your hometown, and when did you join the Marines? Can you tell us a little about why you joined, what MOS you held, and when you left the Marines?

The granddaughter of Irish Catholic immigrants, I grew up in Baltimore, Md. For 12 years, I was educated by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, graduating from IND (Institute of Notre Dame of Maryland) in the footsteps of both my mother and her mother. By the time I was a freshman at, you guessed it, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, there was nothing in this world I wanted more than to “Boldly go where no IND graduate had ever dreamed of going before.” When the opportunity to enlist in the Corps presented itself, I took off like JATO (jet assisted take-off) rockets on a C-130! My enlistment, aka love affair with the Unites States Marine Corps, began on Valentine’s Day, 1977.

Guaranteed a photography MOS by my recruiter, I, according to the convoluted story presented to me by my DIs (drill instructors), was ordered to electronics school in 29 Palms as a “gift” for scoring outrageously high on the ASVAB and earning a meritorious promotion out of boot camp. Although I was not exactly giddy about the loss of my combat photographer MOS, I had earned my Eagle, Globe & Anchor and was going to California. My attitude was, I’ll take it! Now my future had a few more options than either marriage or the convent after college. Halfway through BEC (Basic Electronics Course), in an odd set of circumstances that could only be characterized as extreme divine providence, I was given the opportunity to work OJT (on the job training) at the base PAO (Public Affairs Office) as a writer and photographer. Score!  A few months later, I was sent to DINFOS (Defense Information School) and spent the rest of my career accumulating each and every PAO MOS: 4311(photo journalist), 4312 (print journalist), 4313(broadcast journalist) & 4302 (Public Affairs Officer).

When were you pregnant and where were you stationed during your pregnancy? Tell us about facing that decision to remain a Marine. Did others attempt to persuade you one way or the other? Hubby? Peers? Parents?

One frostbitten morning, while standing in formation at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis during one of the worst blizzards to hit that area in recorded history, I passed out…cold. About an hour later, I was presented with the diagnosis: acute pregnancy. I was thrilled! But then, I was born with rose colored glasses and the attention span of a light switch.  So with a “thank you so much for that happy news,” I was off to class, fearing I might have missed something important… Later that afternoon, I was sent to see the senior Marine Liaison Officer. Instantly, I knew something was amiss. When the door opened I saw both the major and the Catholic Chaplain. They remained standing yet gently petitioned me to sit down. To this very day I haven’t a clue what their introductory remarks were because I thought I waiting to be told that someone in my family had died.

One talked. The other talked. They both talked. Eventually, they stopped talking and asked if I had any questions.  “Just tell me who died!” was not the response either of them had anticipated. However, what they had been trying to tell me was devastating. Pregnant Marines were immediately processed for discharge. Perhaps I watched way too much Star Trek as a child, but Captain Kirk often said, “There is always an alternative.” And I BELIEVED him. I imagined that I felt like Cinderella at the ball staring up at the clock and hoping that time would stand still. Well, by God, I was not ready to leave this party. I was going to stop the hands of time if I had to scale the clock and hold back the hands myself. Which, figuratively speaking, is exactly what I did. Although Requests for Retention were rarely approved, and as a student I was not even eligible to apply, I applied anyway. Got the form, filled it out, begged endorsements out of every instructor at the school, and topped it off with a glowing cover letter from the DINFOS Commandant. My mind was made up and if anyone did try to talk me out of it, I didn’t hear a word they were saying. By the time I graduated, the request had been approved and I was on my way to Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. Lucky me!

What was your greatest struggle while being pregnant as a Marine?

Not puking in public. Of course that may have been an issue for me in any occupation. But back then, every indoor space aboard Marine installations reeked of burnt coffee and cigarette smoke. Barf!  Not to worry, after just a few “accidents” on my way to the only ladies room in the entire Headquarters building, smoking was banned in that wing of the building. Coffee remained problematic, so the urn and I were given as much physical separation as functionally possible.

Were you given any special consideration for your condition? For example, were you dismissed from standing in formation for inspections? Were you actually treated harshly because you were pregnant?

Did I receive any special consideration for my condition? Why yes, I did! As a matter of fact, I’d have to say that once my squadron CO (Commanding Officer) discovered the fact that I was pregnant, he devoted the remainder of his tenure at Cherry Point to considering ways to make me feel special…and not in a good way. You see, when I checked into Cherry Point, no one realized that I was pregnant. It wasn’t until June (Christopher was due on August 18), that I became completely unable to wear any uniform. There were NO maternity uniforms in 1978. Our WM (Woman Marine) summer uniform had a jacket, over a skirt which I altered as much as humanly possible while keeping the integrity of the design. But alas, one day my OIC (officer in charge) had his wife pull me aside and recommend I break out my maternity wardrobe. In retrospect, had I not chosen to debut my maternity wardrobe with an outfit that later became known as my “Banana Suit,” things may have gone a tad more smoothly…or not. That day went rather well aside from being assailed with non-stop exclamations of the same two sentences:

1. “Oh my God, you are pregnant!”

2. “How on earth do you get all that hair up into that tiny bun on your head?”

“Practice,” I told them, “lots and lots of practice.”

The following day was not so good and things got worse…much, much worse. The CO called me in and told me to pack my bags because I was going home. Handing me over to the admin officer for discharge processing, he stood smugly, watching as she pulled out my record book. Immediately after opening it, she informed the CO that my request for retention had been processed and approved before I ever checked in. “That’s not possible!” he roared over and over before huffing off to call HQMC (Headquarters Marine Corps).

He then turned his attention to my attire and grooming. First, I had to wear my hair in accordance with the uniform grooming regulations. No problem. I had already started doing that as it’s damn hot in eastern North Carolina in June. Also, it was the easiest, fastest way to contain my mane anyway.  Second, I could only wear skirts. The hemline must be in keeping with uniform guidelines. Third, only uniform shoes were allowed. Fourth, I had to wear my dog tags on the outside of my clothing, then I couldn’t wear my dog tags. On and on this went until he had admin draft up “maternity attire guidance” in accordance with the uniform regulations. What a nightmare.

The crushing blow came when the CO refused to promote me as I was “out of uniform.”  When I took issue with his decision, he noticed that I hadn’t taken my semi-annual PFT (physical fitness test). He then ordered me to take the PFT at eight months pregnant. It was Black Flag conditions that day. Somehow, I managed to pass both the arm hang and the sit-ups, but failed the run. So I was assigned to remedial PT. This was on a Friday.  My son was born the following day, four weeks early. Two weeks after giving birth, I went to my scheduled check up at the naval hospital and was given a chit for an additional two weeks. When I delivered the chit to the squadron office, the CO informed me that a chit from the naval hospital was a recommendation and, as my commanding officer, he deemed me fit for duty. If I wasn’t in uniform and at work the following morning, he said, he was going to have me put in the brig for being UA (unauthorized absence).

Miraculously, I was able to squeeze myself into the uniform I had altered and did indeed show up for work the following morning. That afternoon, I was told to report to the squadron office to run a PFT. Again, I passed the sit-ups and hang, but collapsed halfway through the run. I was already in an ambulance when I awoke. While I was being rushed to the naval hospital, my husband was shipping off on a six-month deployment aboard the USS Mount Whitney. The hospital admitted me and kept me for four weeks to prevent my CO from “killing you out right,” the doctor told me.  After returning to duty this time, I First Classed the PFT and was almost twenty pounds under my maximum weight. However, because I had already failed the PFT twice, the CO still assigned remedial PT (physical training) twice. Each record book entry postponed my promotion eligibility six months. That meant no hope of promotion for at least a year. At the end of that, he awarded me Weight Control because I had been over my maximum weight when I reported for duty at the two week mark. Again, that record book entry meant no promotion for another six more months.

His next tactic, after the completion of those promotion-holders, was to accuse me of avoiding “fam firing” (familiarization firing) the service rifle. At that time, WMs were not allowed to qualify and fam firing was strictly optional. However, until that was accomplished, he said, “I cannot, in good conscience, promote you.” What a surprise. I don’t think he knew what a conscience was. He had to know that I had requested a slot, many times. Rifle range slots were hard to come by, and it was common knowledge that in my squadron, slots weren’t wasted on WMs.

So, I volunteered to cover a story about WMs fam firing the M-16 in another squadron just so I could go through the training myself. I shot high expert. Of course the actual score could not be counted, but it did authorize me to wear the marksman badge on my uniform. When he saw that badge on my chest, he ordered it removed at once while demanding that the admin officer delete the training entry from my SRB (service record book). Thankfully, the admin officer only pretended to comply, but I did remove the badge. I wanted to wear the badge. I’d earned Expert.

Infuriated, the CO pulled me out of the PAO and reassignd me as the Police Sergeant for the WM barracks. This was the billet equivalent of being banished to the castle dungeon. However, I was hoping that as the billet was over my pay-grade, he was giving me the opportunity to prove myself in a senior billet. Surprisingly, insanity does not run in my family.

When the base C/S (Chief of Staff) recommended me for Marine of the Month, a review of my SRB left the C/S and new CO horrified. Yes, I could have Requested Mast. Many, many Marines recommended doing so, but it was a “last resort” course of action. I just knew things had to get better! And at this point, things did get better…much, much better.

In 1986, I became pregnant with my second child. By this point, I was working for a different CO. Immediately, I was issued a maternity uniform and given a copy of all the pertinent orders, policies, and procedures. Shocking! Light duty from day one, half days during the 3rd trimester, SIX WEEKS convalescent leave, six MONTHS to get back in shape after the birth, plus you could wear your maternity uniform after  returning to duty so you didn’t have to go out and buy a whole new set of uniforms until you lost the weight…. Certainly a far cry from the document that Col Crazy (not his real name) had drafted.

The coup de grace for me occurred when I showed up to take my PFT a few months after my daughter was born. Arriving at the PT field, I was informed that the CO and sergeant major were there to escort me on my run. Disappointed, I asked the sergeant major, “So you don’t think I can do this?” Laughing, the CO responded, “Oh, I know you can do this! We’re proud of you! We’re here to make sure you don’t OVER do it.”

What did you think of the new maternity uniform?

Loved it!  Thank God…and the Marine Corps Uniform Board!

Did you decide to breastfeed, or did you decide not to breastfeed because of the need to return to Marine Corps duty in six weeks? If you continued to breastfeed, were there particular challenges to the process because you were a Marine?  

YES, I certainly did breastfeed all three of the children I had while on active duty. Additionally, armed with my Oster Kitchen Center, I made all their baby food, too. The Marine Corps was my career. My children are my life!

As a first Marine mom and a member of the we-can-have-it-all generation, what were your greatest challenges?

Logistics. To the best of my knowledge, the we-can-do/have-it-all generation never ascertained the secret of multi-presence. I, along with many others, remain battle scarred from the quest.

Do you feel moms today, Marines or civilians, have the same problems?

There is a MASSIVE difference between military mothers and every other mother on the planet! Nowhere else that I know of can you get jail time because you stayed home to care for a sick child.

Can you tell us why you left the Marines?

I left active duty because there was no place for me to go. PAO warrant officers were going away, completely. To stay on active duty I would have to leave the job I loved, and move to another MOS. Although there were options and alternatives, I had finally come to the foot of THE hill I was unwilling to die on. So, on my 43rd birthday, I released the hands of the tower clock. The clock struck midnight. My beloved blues faded away…

What was your last day as a Marine like?  What was your first day as a civilian like?

At first, it was just like being on leave or a PCS move. Then I felt as though I had been sucked into a parallel universe, sideways. My baby sister diagnosed it a depressive episode. Note: she’s a legal analyst not a mental health professional. One night I was stunned to witness a BFO (blinding flash of the obvious) light up the night sky over Little Rock. I heard my own voice screaming, “IMPROVISE, ADAPT AND OVERCOME YOU IDIOT!” It was time for me to follow the very advice I had been dispensing for twenty plus years.

As a former Marine, do you find certain skills you gained as a Marine helpful in your civilian life? Can you share a little about this?

Mary-Julia holds her granddaughter and poses with family on Mother's Day 2011.

The most important thing I came away with was advice from a Commandant who once told reporters that there were no women in his Marine Corps, “Only Warriors!”  General Al Gray’s advice to me, along with each and every one of his 197,000 warriors was always the same: “Take care of yourself and take care of each other.” He lived those words, and I aspire to do the same.

If the woman you are today could speak in the ear of the woman she was in the 1980s, what would you whisper to her?

For once in my life I would keep my mouth shut. Even if I had to gag myself to do it. I was often accused of believing I was “bullet proof.” The truth is they were right. And it’s a damn good thing, too! It wasn’t until the very end of my career that I even began to entertain the notion that a strategically placed amour-piercing round could, possibly, have any effect on me. No, there is nothing I could say to her. She wouldn’t listen anyway.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about being a “first Marine mom”?

Please know that I never did anything with the intention of blazing a trail for others to follow. Everything I did was only because I wanted to do it. I had no altruistic motives about helping out future generations. It makes me crazy to read that crap. How on earth could I know what other women would want to do? I have always been a present moment kind of girl. As I said, my attention span isn’t long enough to be anywhere but right here, right now.

Thank you, Mary Julia, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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Pregnant? You’re outta here!

Meet Nancy Sumner: former Marine, mother of a daughter and two sons, grandmother of a granddaughter and two grandsons.

Nancy, returning home after boot camp in June 1967.

When Nancy joined the Marines in 1967, regulations stipulated that if a woman became pregnant, she was immediately discharged. Nancy is one of those many women who didn’t want to leave the Corps. This is her story.

What is your hometown, and when did you join? How old were you? Can you tell us a little about why you wanted to join the Marines? Your MOS, and what being a Marine meant to you?

My hometown is Elwood, Ind., and I was 18 when I enlisted in 1967. The reason I joined the Marines was because my hometown boyfriend had joined the Marines about nine months earlier right out of high school. And I had no aspirations of going to college because lack of interest and, financially, I knew my mom couldn’t afford that expense. My boyfriend was going to be gone for four years and I decided that I could join and “see the world” while he was gone, too!

At the time, I was working at a little hamburger place in Elwood called Mr. Happy Burger. A couple of times during the month, the service recruiters would come to that little place and recruit the guys. I never thought too much about it until one day this Marine Gunnery Sgt. made a comment that I should join, too! The seed was planted, and I think with his next visit I was talking and making a commitment! Two years would be the plan, get out and “see the world”! My boyfriend had a fit. How could I do such a thing? My mom thought it was a great idea! She understood as she was an Army WAC in WWII. My father was in the Navy in WWII. So of course I HAD to be a Marine! (A few years later my brother would join the Air Force!)

I don’t remember what my MOS# was except that I was in company supply and learned to keypunch. As the computer came into being, that training helped me excel at different office jobs.

I loved being a Marine. Still do! The Marine Corps instilled confidence and strength within me. When I have a difficult time, the Marine kicks in with the attitude, I can do this! I’ve had quite a life of ups and downs, but I was always able to see it through because I’m a Marine! I even have a front license plate that says Lady Marine. I am very proud of that.

Did you always know you wanted children at some point? In other words, when you enlisted, did anyone explain you’d have to choose one day between motherhood and the Corps? If a recruiter had told you this, would you still have enlisted?

When I joined, I was still just a kid, and having children was the furtherest thing in my mind. I had growing to do and places to see and experiences to remember. Having a child was not even considered. I don’t ever recall a conversation with the recruiter about children and the Corps.

When did you become pregnant? Tell us a little about being forced to leave the Corps. How did this make you feel?

I enlisted in April, and the following February, the boyfriend and I married. We were never stationed together but came home on leave at the same time and decided to get married. Then we hoped that I could get transferred to be with him. That didn’t happen. I was on the East Coast and the new husband was on the West Coast. We came home on leave again right before he was sent to Vietnam. This must have been the end of July. After the leave, I go east and he goes off to Vietnam. About the last week of August, I find out that I’m pregnant. By the end of the first week of September, I’m out of the Corps. I didn’t want to get out! What was I going to do, go back home? The main thing in the eyes of the Marine Corps was that I was to be discharged immediately. Poof, pack your things, goodbye.

How did you spend your last day as a Marine?

The final few days spent in the Corps were very quiet. I wasn’t allowed to do anything! I couldn’t go to work. I was to stay pretty much in the barracks. During this time there was a field inspection. That was the only good thing… I didn’t have to participate! I said my goodbyes to my friends and the people I worked with and sold some of my stuff to friends so I wouldn’t have to have shipped home. One thing I regret selling now was my uniforms. I saved my chevrons and pins and tags, but the rest was gone, except one uniform to travel home in. In hindsight, I could just kick myself for doing that!

How did you spend your first day as a civilian?

I don’t remember much of my first day as a civilian except traveling home on the plane and having family meet me at the airport. I felt like I disappointed my family and myself for not completing my enlistment. I was still healthy and feeling good and received an honorable discharge, but was still disappointed.

If the woman you are today could speak in the ear of the woman she was back then, what would you whisper to her?

Nancy Sumner, nearly 44 years to the day since returning from boot camp.

I’d tell her not to go to the doctor! Suck it up, buttercup, and enjoy as much as you can!

Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience as a Marine? About being a mother?

I loved being a Marine. I loved meeting others from across the United States. Coming from a small town, I would never have had an opportunity like that. I just wish I would have kept in contact with more of my friends then. I’ve been able to reconnect with three others from my platoon, but there are many others I’d like to find again.

As for being a mother… our baby died at two weeks, and my husband was called home from the war. But after a month’s leave he had to go back. Eighteen months after we were married we finally were able to set up housekeeping and live together. In the ensuing years, we would have three more children. Two were sons who also enlisted in the service. One a Marine and one in the Army National Guard.

I guess being a Marine, and then a Marine wife, you have this toughness or strength in knowing that whatever may be laid at your feet, you can handle. I always tell everyone that I served two years when actually that wasn’t the case. It just seems easier not to have to explain why I got out and answer subsequent questions. It has been a long time, but I still have wonderful memories of my time spent in the Corps. I’m very proud of what I have accomplished in my life and very proud that I am a Marine.

Thank you, Nancy, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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Meet CJ Scarlet, a First Marine Mom

Today, we’re meeting CJ Scarlet: former Marine, mother of two sons, and co-founder of Roving Coach International.

CJ Scarlet, co-founder of Roving Coach International

CJ, what’s your hometown, and when did you join the Marines? Can you tell us a little about why you joined, what MOS you held, and when you left the Marines?

My hometown was Mena, Ark., although I was born on a Marine Base (Camp Pendleton). I joined the Corps in 1981 and left for boot camp on my 20th birthday. I grew up surrounded by Marines—my father, twin brother, brother-in-law were all Marines. It was natural for me to join. My MOS was 4321—Photojournalist. I was medically discharged from the Corps in January 1986.

When were you pregnant and where were you stationed during your pregnancy?

I was a corporal at Camp Pendleton, Calif., when I became pregnant in July 1983 with my first son. My second son was born after I was discharged.

What was your greatest struggle while being pregnant as a Marine? Were you given any special consideration for your condition? For example, were you dismissed from standing in formation for inspections?

My greatest struggle was being taken seriously, i.e., that I could still do my job effectively. I don’t believe I was given special consideration, with the exception of the time off I was granted prior to and following the birth of my son.

What did you think of the new maternity uniform?

I loved it and wanted to wear it right away, so I stuck my relatively flat stomach out as far as it would go so they would issue it to me! It was humongous on me at first; I’m sure I looked quite ridiculous.

Did you decide to breastfeed, or did you decide not to breastfeed because of the need to return to Marine Corps duty in six weeks? If you continued to breastfeed, were there particular challenges to the process because you were a Marine?

I did decide to breastfeed at first, but found it difficult. In addition, a captain (Sarah Fry) in our office tried to breastfeed and found that she leaked in her uniform, a problem that led her to be remonstrated by Lt. Col. {Gale} Stienon. That made me fearful and wary of the experience.

What were your greatest challenges during that era of being a First Marine Mom? Do you feel moms today, Marines or civilians, have the same  problems?

My greatest challenge was the pull of my duties versus my desire to be an involved mom. I do feel that moms today carry an even heavier burden, now that they can be deployed without their children, which was not the case when I was in the Corps.

CJ with her boys during the 1980s

If the woman you are today could speak in the ear of the woman she was in the 1980s, what would you whisper to her?

GREAT question!!! I would tell myself not to take flak from anyone! In a way I felt like I had to apologize for being a woman in a predominantly male field, and I was given some special considerations (like not being allowed to deploy to combat zones) that caused my male counterparts to express disapproval. I actually felt a little guilty as a result. I would advise my younger self to be bold and confident and remind her that she is perfect just as she is!

Can you tell us a little about Roving Coach International? As a former Marine, do you find certain skills you gained as a Marine helpful in your business? Can you share a little about this?

Roving Coach International is a multi-national company that makes coaching available to employees at all levels—not just to the big dogs! I chose to become a coach and start this company for a number of reasons, but one that stands out is my recognition, first gained in the Marine Corps, that young future leaders need more support. I was promoted early and often, putting me in a position where I had more responsibilities and expectations than I was prepared for. I wish I had had a coach when I was a corporal. I think it would have made me a better, more assertive and confident Marine. The leadership skills I gained while in the Marines have absolutely served me as CEO of this company. With six staff members and 50 coaches under my “command,” I find myself relying on old skills, combined with the wisdom I have gained since, to lead my team.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about being a First Marine Mom?

That’s all I can think of for now. Thank you so much for the opportunity to tell part of my story. You rock!

Thank you, CJ, for your service, and for sharing your story.

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Thank you, Mary Sue League!

Introducing Mary Sue League, the woman who lobbied for the regulation change that allowed pregnant Marines to stay Marines. Thank you, Mary Sue, for your indelible mark on Marine Corps history.

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