This is that post I may have mentioned was coming. This is an account of my daughter joining the Marines. I have been putting it off because I thought I might get a little emotional. It could happen and understandably so. I’m just going to push through it anyway.
My daughter Mandaline and I have always been very close. Many people have said we should enter a mother daughter look alike contest. I raised Mandaline by myself for the first two years of her life. It was basically Mandy and I against the world. I remember when I brought her home from the hospital thinking, “You are a brave girl. You really are a brave girl for choosing me as your mother.” I had a lot of self-doubt and I was very scared. We got through it though.
I later remarried and had 3 more children. My youngest daughter Ember was only four months old when I suddenly became a single mother again. As such, Mandaline and her baby sister have always been very close. Ember definitely took it the hardest when Mandaline joined the Marines. Once, Mandi surprised us all by coming home and we had Ember called to the office at her school. She had NO IDEA her sister was going to be there. We filmed the entire thing and you can truly see their bond here.
My daughter’s time as an enlisted Marine ended in September. So how did my daughter’s time in the Marines end? Well it ended right here:
This is Mandaline’s dog, Anikan Skywalker, or Ani for short. My daughter will still be tied to the Marines for some time, but it will now be as a military wife. Her husband Josh has been stationed in Hawaii. If you move to Hawaii, and you have a dog it has to be quarantined for a set amount of time. Anakin did not meet the deadline, so sadly, he is stuck in the states for a time.
Let’s face it. Military life can be hard on families but it can be hard on dogs too. I’ve allowed Ani to sleep on my bed because he’s been so sad. Okay, we’ve been mutually sad. It’s hard to watch your daughter go. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
In all actuality, my daughter’s story with the marines really ended with her marriage to Josh, and that makes me happy because I can clearly see that she is happy. We just recently spent some time in Wyoming together and have said our goodbye’s again. This came after all of the pomp and ceremony of saying goodbye to her time as an enlisted Marine in Nashville and fulfilling her final duties there. This is one of her last photos she took in Nashville with the caption: Two More Months at this Popsicle Stand. This has been a time of much reflection for us all.
By far, the hardest part of this journey was sending my daughter to boot camp. My daughter had been a part of the Marine poolee program which I think made the transition into the Marines somewhat easier for both of us. My daughter became “ensnared” by the Marines when a recruiter came to her U.S. Government class. Unbeknownst to me, my daughter went up to the recruiter afterward, to tell him that she was interested.
Of course, she was asked questions about her fitness level, her grades, if she’d even been on medication, or if she had ever got into any trouble. She was asked to do the flex arm hang, and I believe she scored some points because she was somewhat of a mathlete who had made it to calculus.
She had been meeting with recruiters privately at the recruiting station, and I was consulted about her taking the ASVAB. When she told me she wanted to be a marine I kind of laughed it off, but by the time she had taken the ASVAB I knew things were getting serious.
I know it should be every parents joy to have their child rock the ASVAB, but my heart kind of sunk. The heat was on. I was a single mother, my daughter was only seventeen. I did not feel like she was old enough to make the kind of a decision that would effect the next eight years of her life. (It’s a five year commitment with three years in the reserves). I called her father and said, “your daughter has this idea in her head about joining the marines, and she has been talking to recruiters behind my back. I think we need to get involved, meet with these recruiters, and ask some adult questions, the ones she is not asking.”
This is when I found myself with my daughter, my ex, and the recruiter at a local Olive Garden while people looked on. Some smiled at me, while others gave me a look of, “don’t do it.” I was made fun of in the course of the conversation I will not lie. I had such a huge distrust for the marines it was almost laughable but then again it wasn’t. After the men talked and my little “hiatus” with being “the irrational mother” came to a close we went our separate ways. Later that night, my daughter got a phone call from her father and he said, “I think you should do it.”
At this point, I knew I was losing. In a few months my daughter was going to be eighteen and I knew her well enough to know that her mind was SET. She was going to do this with or without me. Let’s just say, her father signed the military papers first and I signed them second. I would have never signed the poolee papers if I had any doubts that my daughter was going to change her mind about this at any point.
By the time I signed, I knew it was the only thing I could do. I wanted her to be as prepared as possible for something she was dead set on doing. It was a tough day for me. The only solace I got was that she was absolutely not going to go to boot camp until she was eighteen. When that finally happened, and my daughter was experiencing the heat, the sand fleas, and the humidity of the South for the first time in September she thanked me for it. By December, when she was doing the crucible in the biting cold, she cursed me for making her wait.
Note to other Military moms: don’t write the words Mumzy on a package unless you want your child to get heat for it. If your daughter asks for hand sanitizer, don’t send a bunch of the nice-smelling Christmas samples from Bath and Body for her to share with the other girls. Seriously, they all caught heat for smelling too good. Also, you will send a lot of throat lozenges because the girls are yelling all the time. Your child may only get one or two of them because they are a hot commodity.
The day I sent my daughter to boot camp was a stress and a relief. The whole process dragged on and on, and by that time, I was just like “Take her. I can’t stand this anymore!” Of course, it comes with the pride of watching your daughter swear in while cameras are flashing. There are lots of hugs and lots of tears.
My daughter swore in with two other girls from Utah who were also on their way to Parris Island. They had met the night before.That was the biggest comfort of all. Us mothers crowded around the girls and instructed them to take care of one another. They all nodded and promised that they would, and that was the only solace we had.
Once the girls walked off, me and another mother embraced again repeating their promise, “they’re going to take care of each other. They said they would. They will.” Then we all walked off. It was done, and it was on them now. I’d later come to hear through boot camp letters that Mandi and the other girl from Utah were branded as the “twin towers.” Mandi’s last name “Hatch” bestowed upon her the responsibility of being the Hatch holder and her “twin tower” sister was pulled into it with her. They were both tall girls.
They warn you that once your child leaves for boot camp, you will get a creepy scripted phone call within the next 48 hours. Hearing her voice, was all I needed to know, so I spent the entire minute just shouting out to her that I loved her. For the next few days, I automatically woke up with a start at the same time every morning for no known reason. When I later told Mandi the time, she said that it was the exact time she was woken up every day on Parris Island. I started trusting my mother instincts.
The day after my daughter went to bootcamp, I kid you not, I walked to my car and it was as if my car were parked in a procession. It was as if every other car had a marine sticker on it leading up to my car. I’d hear a song on the radio that brought me peace or read a bumper sticker that would tell me what I needed to hear. I knew then, that this was part of a plan. I did not know what kind of a plan this was, but I knew that everything was as it should be. I felt at peace.
I also did a life evaluation. Was it really all that surprising that my daughter ended up joining the Marines even though we were not necessarily a military family and the conversation had never come up? Not really. In hindsight, it really wasn’t. I don’t know how else to put this but my daughter was always my “yankee-doodle dandy.”
For starters, the fall of the twin towers made a HUGE impression on her. She was of that age, where it just got into her core. There are two distinct things that I remember about Mandaline growing up. In her child-like mind, she had only two wardrobe choices. Everything she wore had to be red, white, and blue, or she had to wear something with some kind of animal- print or any type of animal on it.
The fourth of July was always her favorite holiday. When we lived in Sevier County, Utah, The troop coming out of our area was called the triple deuces. (Troop 222) Everyone in town knew when they were deployed, and it was a big deal when they came back. As a child, Mandi kept tabs on them, and would come home so excited when they visited her school.
Once, my work had raised a large sum of money so that the triple deuces could have cooling devices for their helmets. I came home and told Mandaline about it and she cried. It kind of surprised me. I hadn’t expected her to take it so much to heart. “When September Ends” was her favorite song in junior high. My mother once did a red, white, and blue photo shoot of her because that was her personality. Anyway, all these things began to add up. It seems this course was set in motion long before my daughter talked to the recruiter. I’ve talked to many other parents and they have all said the same.
That thing about answering the call? I think that there is something to that. I don’t mean this in the sense of boundaries, borders or as a great source of nationalist pride. I just feel that some people are innately compelled to be soldiers. My daughter just happened to be one of them. How else would a child of a free-spirited hippy mother come to this? My other theory is that this could have been rebellion.
I did get a lot of heat for my daughter joining the marines. I lived in a conservative Mormon community. As a single mom, I always felt I had a target on my back. I knew what other women were saying. “How could she? How could she do this? I would have a hard time sending a son into the marines but a daughter? I would never allow my daughter to go into the marines!” The men were nicer about this than the women by far.
I asked my bishop if it was against god’s wishes for a woman to join the marines or if god would have a problem with it. He said he had to think on that, but he later came back to me and told me he didn’t think that god would have a problem with it. How strange that I needed that validation! I even did some soul searching on my own.
I don’t understand bloodshed. I never have. It has existed. It has always existed. I don’t get it. Bloodshed and sacrifice seem to be a large part of the human experience. One of the greatest blessings I have received since my daughter joined the Marines is that I have talked to A LOT of veterans. As fate would have it, I have worked in a field where I came into contact with a lot of them throughout her course in the marines. Many of them have opened up to me in ways they would not have if I had not been the mother of a marine.
I don’t have the answers, but I have come to one conclusion, and that is that blood is sacred. It is arguably one of the most sacred things on this earth and that “greater love hath no man that this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Most people can not fathom this, but a soldier can.
Mandaline’s letters home provided some insight into boot camp. She was a double rat, so she had to eat double portions. She wrote home about a girl who ate cheesecake who shouldn’t have and how she was always called “cheesecake” after that. She had made friends with her rack mate. She told me about the long hikes with packs and how she did them when she was really sick, had a fever, and could not stop coughing. I heard about swim week, and her fears with not meeting the standards for the firing range.
The last few weeks of letters had me worried. They were all about, “I’m going to get dropped. I just know I am going to get dropped.” To make it that far, and get dropped was everyone’s worse fear. It just seemed so unfathomable and everyone’s anxieties are high. I swear, I’ve talked to other military moms and it was the same for them. It seems almost every mom has a story about how their child thought they were going to be dropped in the last weeks.
One day, I got a letter saying that they were going to be doing “the gas chambers” and I was wishing I would have got the letter after the fact. On gas chamber day I kept wondering, “I wonder how Mandaline is doing in the gas chambers?” I remember thinking to myself that this was no thought that any mother should ever have. When the crucible came I heard nothing and then I got the happiest E-mail of my life. It said:
“Don’t worry about me, I’m seriously doing great. I got my eagle globe and anchor on Wednesday last week. We had a good thanksgiving even. The only big thing we have left is an inspection which is kind of stressful other than that I’m done! I made it! I’m so happy (: I am officially a United States Marine! I love you guys! see you soon!”
What followed after that was a trip to Parris Island. I had never been to the South, so I decided if I was going to visit the the South, we were going to experience the South. I splurged, and we ended up staying at the Beaufort Inn. Beaufort is gorgeous, and a lot of the history in the town has been preserved. I saw a dolphin from the pier and we would walk the gas lighted streets at night dubbing the cities charms as “creepy cozy.” The cemeteries were old and creepy, the fog was creepy. I felt as if I were lost under a canopy of Spanish Moss.
I can’t tell you how exciting it was when we went to Parris Island before Mandaline’s graduation, and we had our first “Mandi sighting.” This is a time period where the recruits can be seen outside marching in step over and over again. The morning run with the marines where they sing cadence and ring out the bells was so exciting to watch. I hardly recognized my daughter. Her hair seemed darker, and she looked more buff. All the hiking and double portions did change her physique some.
We attended a flag ceremony and a citizenship ceremony that was really touching, and then the new Marines were FINALLY released to their families for a brief while and the energy in the room the moment that happens is extraordinary.
Graduation day entails a splendid ceremony of marching around and everyone is in meticulous splendid formation. You finally get to meet your child and you know that they are yours for the next few weeks! My hair does not behave in the South, but I had little concerns about that. We had this picture taken:
This is where my blog post ends and Mandaline’s story really began. A part two post will be coming where I will share some of those experiences with you. I’ll fill you in on a mother’s perspective about some of her training exercises and deployments, and “that time in Nepal” that I may have mentioned in a previous post. Then I will ABSOLUTELY be moving onto Halloween. Recounting these events over the last five years feels like closure. I can’t think of a better time to put it all into words than just as September is coming to an end, or rather, “When September Ends.”