Written by: Melinda Flores
I wanted to be something more than I was raised to be; I wanted something different. I wanted to be seen as an equal; I knew I had more to offer. All my life, I had been fighting to ensure I could care for myself and whatever else came my way. I lived with constant criticism and other verbal abuse. I was labeled disgusting and selfish for wanting a better life. I was dissatisfied with my substandard existence and decided it was time for a significant change in my life. I had no idea that the change would come from volunteering for the U.S. Marine Corps.
It was not my intention to join the Marines; I had zero knowledge about the Corps. At the time, my first choice was the Air Force. I was denied. I returned a few days later, trying to decide between the Army and the Navy. I was at a loss. I wanted to avoid joining either one. I remember standing in the Recruiter’s building, trying to decide. Enlist or become homeless. I stood at a four-way intersection, Army, Navy, Airforce, or Marines. Coming around the corner, a smartly dressed man approached, stopped, and asked if I needed help.
“No, I’m fine. I’m trying to make a decision.”
“Have you knocked on a door yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well then, what about the Marine Corps?”
I remember laughing at him for suggesting the Marine Corps. Being a Marine never crossed my mind. I was unaware that women could join the Corps. I followed him to his desk, where he shared information concerning various jobs and positions offered to women Marines. It was everything I wanted to hear. I made my decision; there was nothing and no one for me at home, so I signed my name.
I left for Bootcamp on May 2nd, 2011. I was so nervous. I remember thinking, ‘welp, this is it. MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) Parris Island. My fear was short-lived; I was swept up in a whirlwind of chaos for the next thirteen weeks. DI’s shouting orders, the yellow footprints, it seemed like everything was spinning. I remember telling myself that screaming wouldn’t be an issue because that was the norm at home. I told myself to keep my head down and do what I was told; I could do that. I wasn’t prepared for the first training phase, the breakdown phase.
This is the phase where they strip the recruit of their individuality and thought process. They make sure a recruit understands that apart from the hope of being a Marine one day, she is nothing. DI applied physical and mental pressure to such an extent that I was driven far beyond what I believed was possible. Being tested physically was a good part; I was prepared for that. It was a mental challenge; how prepared was I to continually push myself past the breaking point? How prepared was I to overcome endless days of gut-wrenching struggles and sleepless nights?
Could I overcome my thoughts?
Could I keep telling myself, just one more day?
Could I do this, become one of the few, the proud, a Marine?
Early in my training, I started to feel excruciating pain. I fell out of a forced march. It became almost unbearable to walk. Each movement I made brought with it unbelievable pain. ‘It’ll be okay, just one more day; I won’t quit. This can’t be for anything, I’d say. Marines are taught to push on regardless of how complex, painful, or deadly the mission becomes.
The rifle range would be a luxury; shooting from the prone position made it easy to relax my body before aiming. To my surprise, I discovered I was a pretty good shot. Considering I had never fired a weapon before Bootcamp. My range coach and drill instructors noticed. This is when my time as a Marine began to take off.
I was highlighted and went from Station Recruit to Series Guide, and things got interesting. The series guide is a leadership role I needed to prepare for, and I wanted something else. I liked it when my drill instructors didn’t know me. After the crucible (final physical & mental testing), I received my EGA (Eagle, Globe & Anchor), and I didn’t cry. I couldn’t tell you how I felt. I just knew I was happy it was over. I did it; I made it. Pushing on to the next day, I’ll admit the pain, though a fading memory, was still present on graduation day.
Each Marine Corps Bootcamp graduate is highly trained to act and react professionally in war and peace. A Marine will stay the course and will not fold in times of chaos, pressure, and times of combat. I watched people fold throughout training. Parris Island teaches a recruit many lessons life has to offer. Keep pushing onward beyond your natural limitations. Included in the definition of a Marine are the following words: ADAPT and OVERCOME.
I do not compare myself to those who have suffered the slings and arrows of combat. Although, as a woman in the Marine Corps, I experienced traumatic events just as devastating and long-lasting. I was unprepared and had zero guidance after those fateful experiences. Many nights when I close my eyes, I have vivid visions of the fight of a lifetime. My startle response is off the charts. I spend too many sleepless nights watching shadows flicker-dance by candlelight on my bedroom walls.
As nighttime birthed a new day, I finished packing my gear and left Paris Island for my next duty station. I had completed thirteen weeks of arduous training and indoctrination to become a permanent United States Marine Corps member. God bless America and the men and women of the United States Marine Corps! with no expiration date.
In closing, I leave you with this thought-provoking quote from Marine hero Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daly, “remember why they send the Marines in first.”
– Sgt. Opha May Johnson (First Female Marine)
– Lieutenant General Lewis “Chesty” Burwell Puller (Highly decorated WWII and Korean War Veteran)
– Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly (2-time award-winning Medal of Honor recipient)