A little more than 13 years ago, we got this kid. She was small – only 5 years old. She didn’t speak English… hell, she could barely communicate at all, having come from a family of drug addicted losers. She didn’t know how to use utensils. She didn’t know how to brush her teeth. She had never met us before, and she didn’t understand why she wasn’t living with her mom and dad any longer.
The adoption proceedings had been completed by May, 2001, and Sarah was officially our kid.
She wasn’t without her issues. We had to teach her everything from rudimentary hygiene to speech. She had lice. She was malnourished. A few months after she arrived, I took her to her first dentist appointment, where we found out her teeth were so rotten from malnutrition, a few of them had to be extracted. Poor little one cried – she was so terrified!
When she began to communicate, we realized she didn’t know she was with us permanently. Her parents told her they were sick, and that as soon as they got well, she would come back to live with them. We had to inform her that she was not going back, and that her parents chose drugs over her. This was not an easy revelation, so we did it with the help of a family counselor.
The next years were a combination of pride, fear and downright terror. There were emotional ups and downs. There was rebellion. There were deceptions and betrayals. There was a divorce from her father and fights with her sister and the Redhead. But when she finally graduated Washington-Lee High School with an advanced diploma, Sarah knew what she wanted to do with her life.
She wanted to become a Marine.
She left for boot camp in mid-October, and after nearly three months of stress, bruises, exertion and hard work, Rob, the Redhead and I drove down to South Carolina to pick up our Marine.
It was not a short drive. We got under way on Wednesday afternoon at 1630 hours, and didn’t get to our hotel until 0230. I consistently drove more than 90 miles per hour just to make up for the time we lost in Northern Virginia traffic. The Redhead drove as well. He was behind the wheel through North Carolina, before I took over again. We finally fell asleep in our hotel room at 0300, and were up by 0900 for Family Day.
This was the first time in 3 months we saw our Marine. The pride on her face is unmistakeable, and she couldn’t stop talking (or eating, for that matter) the entire time we were together. I have to say the love between brother and sister was palpable that day. The Redhead had always been close with his sister, but I didn’t really realize how much he missed her until he ran to her, grabbed her and gave her the biggest hug I’d ever seen him give anyone!
(No, I will not publish photos of his face until he turns 18)
We had to return Sarah to the parade field at 1445 hours, after which we drove back to our hotel, and I took a much-needed 3-hour nap.
The next day was Graduation Day, and it was a disaster. I don’t mean that Sarah didn’t graduate. She did. But the morning can only be described as a class A clusterfuck!
We arrived a half an hour early and parked in the visitors’ lot. The weather was beautiful – warm and humid – after rain the previous night. I figured the ceremony would be held on the parade deck. Nope. After several back and forths, a woman directed us indoors. We went through a metal detector and were shuffled up the stairs to where family members were seated.
Remember, we were there a half an hour before the ceremony was to have taken place, so there was plenty of time to make an announcement that the women were graduating AT THE LYCEUM!
That’s right. We were directed inside. We were shown where to sit. And not one announcement was made about the fact that the women were graduating in a completely different venue.
The ceremony began on time, and we began to realize that only men marched into the facility. I whispered to Rob that perhaps the women were graduating right behind the men?
The ceremony ended, and the families poured down the steps to congratulate their Marines. I approached a female Drill Instructor who was watching the ceremony and asked her if the women were graduating right after the men.
She looked at me confused, and then horrified, “OH NO! The women are at the Lyceum!”
“The WHAT?” I nearly shouted.
“I’m so, so, sorry!” She replied. “The women graduated in the Lyceum. It’s down the road. Wasn’t there an announcement?”
I looked at her, and I literally saw red. “NO! There wasn’t an announcement! How could this be?”
She turned around to a male NCO, who was standing next to her and asked him, “Was there an announcement about the women’s change of venue?”
He looked at me, then he looked at her and shrugged… SHRUGGED, like it wasn’t even important, “No.”
The female DI looked devastated. She was tiny and Hispanic, I think, and she looked flushed with embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. If you head over there now, you will at least see her and take some photos.”
Meanwhile, I was staring at the male NCO, who shrugged it off like it wasn’t a big deal, and I was seething. These women worked their asses off. They pulled together. They accomplished something the vast majority of women in this country couldn’t hope to accomplish in an environment dominated by men. They earned the title United States Marine, and he acted like their graduation didn’t even matter!
I finally grabbed my jacket, and ran out of the facility, with Rob and the Redhead behind me. I threw myself into the car, and looked up the Lyceum on my phone to get directions. We arrived just as everyone was leaving.
The females’ graduation was approximately 30 minutes long, if that, according to Sarah. The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps didn’t attend their graduation, like he did the men’s. There was no pass in review. Nothing. After all that work to become US Marines, it didn’t even seem that the females mattered all that much, and a number of families apparently missed the graduation ceremony, because they were not informed about the change of venue.
Thanks for nothing, MCRD Parris Island. The only photos I have of the graduation right now are the ones I copied from the MCRD Facebook page.
Sarah wasn’t upset that we missed her graduation, even though I was in tears. She insisted that the ceremony wasn’t a big deal, even though it was supposed to be, because her cycle was the first that was to have graduated Marine Corps boot camp having met the pull-up standard. She was devastated that the women in her platoon were not afforded the opportunity to perform the pull-ups on the physical fitness test. Apparently, because most female Marine recruits struggled with the pull-up requirement, the young women in Oscar Company were informed that despite their hard work, they were not going to graduate having met the standard. Sarah was more angry about this than she was about graduation. She explained that the majority of the women in this cycle were, indeed, ready to pass the pull-up requirement, but that they were told to stand down, because the women who graduated before them could not measure up. And instead of allowing these women to do the work, and perhaps even fail, but at least try to meet the standard, the Marine Corps chose to allow them to slide.
My daughter, at the very least, was furious!
Nonetheless, I have a Marine. I have a Marine who overcame emotional difficulties, who matured, who turned her life around and committed herself to the service of the nation she loves. She excelled at physical fitness and got 299/300 on her combat fitness test. She put exhaustion out of her mind and completed the Crucible.
And no one can take that away from her.