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Seeing the World-- Marine Corps Style!

The military, in general, and the Marine Corps, specifically, have a funny way of changing one’s definitions. For example, the phrase “seeing the world.” What do you think of with those three little words? Personally, I envision London, Paris, Rome, St. Petersburg, Morocco, Cairo, Jerusalem. I think of seeing sites like Westminster Cathedral, la Tour Eiffel, St. Peter’s Square, the Winter Palace, open-air markets, the Great Pyramids, the Wailing Wall. I think of hiking in the Himalayas, skiing in the Alps, sleeping in a yurt, riding a camel, dancing along the Great Wall and sailing on the East China Sea.

Not exactly what the Marines delivered. For us, in the beginning, “seeing the world” seemed to consist of traveling back and forth, from one coast to another, along good ol’ I-40. We literally crossed the North American continent six times in the coming years. We got the miles, just not the locations so much.

The Basic School (the post-Officer Candidate School training), at Quantico, was where each new officer received his assigned Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Basically, it was the area of expertise that the officer would work in for most—if not all—of his career in the Marine Corps. Each officer submitted his top three choices of MOS, along with his top three choices of duty-stations (where he would be stationed after completing his MOS training school). My Marine had graduated with a degree in Russian-Soviet Studies, so after MOS choice #1—flying, came #2—intelligence. #3 was Ground Supply—a good choice for a business-oriented post-military career. Duty-stations? Well, we wanted to see the world, so his choices were #1—Okinawa, Japan. (No kids, exotic, great! Let’s go!) #2—Hawaii. (Who in their right mind wouldn’t want to go to Hawaii for three years?) #3—West Coast. (Well, we’d seen something of the East Coast, so let’s check out the other side of the continent, too.)

Oh, baby. We didn’t know it, but there was so much wrong with all of those choices.

#1—Flight School. Before signing the papers that committed him to the Marines, my husband told his recruiting officer that he wanted to fly. “You’ll get the papers for that at OCS,” the liar told my man. Actually, that officer should have given my husband the necessary papers then and there. Evidently when a recruiter’s quota has been met (in this case, for pilots), he looks to fill other slots and this particular officer was not above dissembling in order to make himself look good as a recruiter.

The Marine Corps is a small world, really, and a few years later my Marine encountered this particular officer at a social event. It was with great pleasure that my husband engaged his former recruiter in conversation, surrounded by the officer’s compadres. My Marine thanked this officer profusely for his help in getting into flight school—for advising him that the paperwork would be taken care of at Quantico. (The flight application procedure being common knowledge to all who had been through OCS.) My man’s former recruiter was looking decidedly uncomfortable and embarrassed when we left him behind.

#2—Intelligence. It would make perfect sense that someone with a Russian-Soviet degree would be a great fit in the intelligence field, right? Especially since this was before the fall of The Wall and the break-up of the Soviet Union. Wrong. Intel slots were given to females since they weren’t allowed to deploy, at that time. A few years later, my Marine would apply for Language Schools since—after all—he did have that Russian. No go. They sent him to Naval Postgraduate School (just up the road from the language schools at the Presidio) where he earned a degree in Information Technology Management. A great opportunity, truly. While there, however, we met the Marine officer who did get the Russian language billet. My man commented on the other’s prior experience with the Russian language and we found out that this guy majored in Spanish. Made perfect sense.

So, #3—Ground Supply. Maybe not the most inspirational-sounding MOS, but a supply officer can be the make-it-or-break-it guy for the Marines out in the field—and it did allow my Marine to get out into the field, too… Now, to understand what the assignment of this MOS is going to mean, I have to back up and tell you about the duty-station location scenario.

There is a general rule at TBS (The Basic School, remember?) that if a Marine is assigned his third choice of MOS, he gets his first choice of duty station. Kind of evens the whole selection process out. So, we were going to Okinawa! Whoop!

Oh, wait, supply school? Ground supply? The next class in that school doesn’t start for three months, so we can’t send you to Okinawa and then back for your school, and then back to Okinawa, again! (In sending my Marine for OJT (On the Job Training) at his duty-station, it was going to be for a period of time long enough that they were required to send me—and our household goods—over as well, since we were, well, married! And, since Ground Supply School was of a similar length of time, they’d have to send me—and our stuff!—back for that, too. And, after Supply School was finished, they’d have to ship us—and our stuff—across the Pacific a third time. I offered to leave our meager assorted possessions behind for a while, but no deal.) So, no Okinawa.

And, guess what? Not our second choice-- Hawaii-- either, for the same reason. Oh, that was so not fair. Especially considering that when we got to our third choice of duty stations (Camp Pendleton, California), and my Marine checked-in, the CO (Commanding Officer) asked him why he was there. Lo and behold, they had changed the start date for Supply School and it began in three weeks. Not months. Weeks.

After we calmed down, my husband and I found a motel that accepted pets and we settled into that awful place for 20 nights. The place turned out to be infested with fleas that “awakened” after their snacks arrived. (Which were US, by the way!). Top it off with the fact that all of our belongings were packed in a huge moving truck and we needed warmer clothes than what we had on hand (for the coming winter we’d be experiencing in North Carolina). The moving truck pulled up along the curb in front of the motel and we literally emptied our possessions onto the sidewalk. Pulling out what we needed, we re-packed the rest back into the truck and sent it off for three months of storage.

Now, at the time we owned one vehicle—a Ford EXP 2-door hatch-back. This was not a vehicle that could possibly hold the items that we’d pulled out of the truck, so we boxed it all up and UPS’d it to my parents’ home in Amarillo. Mom and Dad held onto it until we had an address in North Carolina, and then they shipped it on to us. When the time came, after Supply School was finished, we simply repeated the process in reverse. Cost us several hundred dollars that we certainly didn’t have—Thanks, Daddy.

Soci’s first move, from Virginia to southern California, was tucked into a hole between the boxes and bags crammed in the back of our sporty little car. One of my favorite pictures from that trip is of him peeking out from his little nest behind the passenger seat. Another was of my Marine (Oh, he looks so young!) holding onto—or trying to!—a rambunctious young dog, with the Grand Canyon spread out behind them.

The drive back East to North Carolina was filled with stops at rest areas, just as the trip west had been. Not that the humans in the car needed to stop, but the increasingly frantic barking of the dog behind them simply required it. Socrates did enjoy having his own bed in the hotel in New Orleans; he sprawled out across the cover, looking like a king who’d finally come into his own. There was a train track that ran behind the hotel and Soci had never before experienced the thrill of having a train rushing along nearby. When we took him out that night to “do his business”, a train came rushing past. That dog hit full speed before he hit the end of that six-foot leash, with his hair standing on end and ears laid back, all the while looking behind for that iron monster! Hmmm… Yet another unexpected surprise. I guess he deserved his own bed, after all.

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