I originally planned to have this post up back in November around Veterans Day...but here we are in April! haha! I thought it would be fun to answer the questions y'all submitted on Instagram about my time in the military and share a different side of me that I don't share about too often.
Can you spot me?! 🤣
My platoon (Iraq 2009)
Q: How long were you in and what branch?
I served a total of 8 years- I signed an 8-year contract. I was in the Marine Corps, as a reservist, so I did 6 years of active drilling and 2 years of inactive (meaning I didn't have to go to drill but I was still "on the books"). I served from 2007- 2015! I was 18 when I signed on the dotted line and went to boot camp.
Q: What was your job title/MOS?
In Marine Corps terms, I was a 1341 -Engineer Equipment Mechanic. In English, I was a diesel mechanic and I worked on construction equipment! The stuff you see on the side of the road when there is construction going on. Like trams, dozers, and forklifts.
Q: What was your job? How was it? Favorite and least fav parts of it?
I answered the first question above. :) For the most part, I enjoyed my time as a diesel mechanic! It's so fun to troubleshoot and fix things! It definitely had its rough moments and there were days where a few choice words, that I'm ashamed to admit, came out of my mouth! Mechanic work is not easy! Especially working on electrical! I loved doing the preventive maintenance stuff, like changing transmission fluid, changing oil, changing tires, etc. It was really fun changing tires that were as tall as me! I also changed out batteries, changed out alternators, and replaced the transmission on a huge Tram. I even got to operate some of the equipment that I worked on which was fun and intimidating. One month I was picked as the mechanic of the month and I even got to help escort a piece of equipment that we had retrograded to another base- meaning I got to go outside the wire.
Q: What made you want to serve in the military?
I think it's funny because joining the military was NEVER on my radar growing up. I wanted to be a teacher, a movie star, and in kindergarten, I wanted to be the president of the United States- specifically President Bush! 😂 haha! (I've always had such high expectations for myself!) 🤣
The idea really started rolling around when I was a Junior in High School. I was 17 and there was a girl that I worked with who was in the Air National Guard. She would be away from work one weekend each month for drill. One night at work she was telling me about how for drill weekends she would get paid $300. The thought of getting paid $300 for a weekend was insane to me! At the time my paychecks were like $300 every 2 weeks. On top of that, I just thought she was so cool and put together! She was a girly girl and sweet but I knew she had a tough side and it was really inspiring to me.
Another reason was that I didn't want to go to college. To be honest, I really thought I would make bad choices! haha! I also had no desire to go back to school, I was ready to switch gears. I wanted to "do something meaningful" and challenge myself! I also liked the idea of doing something people didn't expect me to do and something that people didn't think I could do. I had a lot of people tell me that I wouldn't make it and that I wasn't cut out to be a Marine. It fueled my fire! I thought about it all the time while I was in boot camp! Their voices rang in my ears and it fueled me to not only survive but to THRIVE and do my best.
On top of that my boyfriend at the time (my hubby now) had served. I started talking with him about it and telling him the reasons why I wanted to join and he supported me! My parents were NOT on board. My mom literally said, "You were supposed to be a model; why do you want to go get killed?" 🤣 oh moms. haha! My little brother told my mom that I was stupid...guess who joined like 4 years later?! haha! My Papa and Pappaw ( 2 of my grandad's) also served in the Marines. My Papa actually got to see the flag-raising on Iwo Jima. He was one of the only men left in his boat when they stormed the beaches. ♡
Q: What is it like to enlist? I've thought about it a lot recently.
Fun, scary, exciting, motivating, challenging and intimidating! haha! ALL the things. I can't speak for the other branches, but the Marine Corps has something called the DEP program (delayed entry program) where you work with your recruiting station to prep for boot camp. We did weekly PT (physical fitness/workouts), and we did mock ISTs (initial strength tests) periodically to track our progress.
The first few days of boot camp you have to be able to pass the IST to be put into a platoon and officially start training! I was determined to pass on my first try and to pass with flying colors! So some evenings I would meet up with my recruiter at the local military base and we would work out at the gym to get more training in. It was cool to be involved in the DEP program because there were a couple of other girls that were joining as well and I got to build relationships with them and have friends that "got me". One of the girls was going to boot camp before me and the other girl had the same ship date as I did. I became close with both of them but the girl with the same ship date and I became besties!
I also watched all the Marine Corps movies that depicted boot camp that I could find. I watched Full Metal Jacket, and a crazy boot camp documentary called, "Ears Open, Eyeballs Click". None of these depictions scared me away, they motivated me! I couldn't wait to overcome the challenges. I also worked on learning all the things I knew they would make me memorize in boot camp, like the Marine Corps hymn, the Rifleman's creed, all the "knowledge" as it's called.
Before we shipped out we had to go to MEPS and pass all the health screenings to be able to officially sign the dotted line and leave. MEPS was an all-day thing. Lots of waiting! You get your eyes checked, you do a color blind test, a hearing test, your vital signs...all the things. Then you sit down with your recruiter and go over all the paperwork and sign your name on the dotted line! You will also have an official "ship date" and that's when you will leave for boot camp! Mine was June 18, 2007. You also get to see your end of active service date, mine was in 2015 and I remember thinking, whoa... that's so far into the future!
Q: How hard was the initial training?/ Boot Camp experience?
It was tough in ALL aspects. Marine Corps boot camp is the toughest. About 30-40% of my platoon dropped out for various reasons. I was even dropped from my initial platoon. (more on that in a bit). Yes, the physical aspect was hard but I had trained so much beforehand and throughout the insane training of boot camp, you just get faster and stronger. The mind games part of it never really got to me. Some of the other girls would get so riled up with all the mind games. I always knew they were a test and I never let them get to me.
Learning all of the new terms and customs was challenging. You also have to talk in 3rd person the entire time! You are not allowed to say "I". You have to refer to yourself as, "This recruit." HA!! It took a bit of time to stop talking in 3rd person once I graduated. 😂
Typically everyone gets sick in the beginning of boot camp. They call it "the boot camp crud". I never got over it. I would just chug some cough medicine every morning. I was not about to go to sick call and be one of those recruits. If you went to sick call you usually missed out on a good chunk the training for that day. Also, there were a couple of girls in our platoon that always went to sick call and skipped out on things. Maybe they were sick, maybe they weren't but what I do know is, when everyone else is working their butts off and someone else is skipping out on it all the time, you aren't exactly happy about it. I wanted to make sure I was pulling my weight so I only went once or twice.
I had volunteered and been chosen to be a Squad leader while we were at the rifle range and I had really started to step up in my leadership. We had to carry extra weight and do a lot of extra things but I loved it. After that portion of training, we had a "down week" where there was not really any training but a lot of things to get ready for graduation going on. I went to medical that week and I ended up having a fever, getting meds and having to be on bed rest.
I seemed to be getting better but the weeks after that, I really started to take a turn for the worse. I would cough all the time, especially at night. Everyone would yell at me when we were laying in our racks. haha! I felt bad but I couldn't help it. I also started losing weight. I started boot camp at 126 and at this point, I was 118. I remember one of the other recruits saying, "You look like you're dying." I had a chance to see myself in the mirror, which I hadn't looked in a mirror in who knows how long, and I looked sickly. They started feeding me double rations. I kept pressing on because we were SO close to graduating and I was NOT going to be one of those recruits that got dropped.
On our final PT test, I did not pass the run portion, which is literally impossible this far in. There's no way you get in worse shape during boot camp. I was DYING and was so out of breath. I had 3 drill instructors, including our Series Gunnery Sergeant, who were running next to me yelling at me (the Marine Corps version of encouragement) to finish. I finished the run but I did not pass the time requirements. I remember almost blacking out during the "cool down". After that, I started passing out randomly. One morning while standing "on-line" (standing at attention in front of our footlockers) I remember seeing a circle of light that got smaller until everything was black. I woke up on the floor with some other recruits around me and my DI yelled at me to get up and to sit on the squad deck. She walked passed me to go into the office and called me a faker. LOL! I never took things like that personally and I knew she knew I wasn't faking. I passed out again in line for morning chow that same day. I got sent to medical and they did several tests and I couldn't pass a breathing test. The Doc told me that I had pneumonia. He said, "If you go on the Crucible you will die." It was at that point I realized how serious it was. No one in the Marine Corps is dramatic when it comes to things like that. You can't get out of things unless you are dying...especially in boot camp when you are essentially trying to prove your worth to America's elite fighting force.
That night, my Senior Drill Instructor (she was like the mom of our platoon) pulled me into her office (which you NEVER get to go into) and told me that I was being dropped. I remember feeling so upset and ashamed. I had worked so hard!! I teared up just now typing this remembering all the feelings. I was still a squad leader and my plan was to graduate with "honors" (they don't call it that) but in boot camp, it's a big deal to be the Guide or a Squad leader. It is the leadership roles within the recruits. When you see a platoon marching, the Guide is the one in the front with the Guidon (platoon flag) and the Squad leaders are behind, leading the 4 squads. I was so proud of the fact that I was still holding the squad leader title! That night we were leaving for the Crucible and I was determined to keep the title and graduate with it. I cried after speaking with my SDI and I'm not a crier. The only other time I cried in boot camp was when my best friend at the time and bunkmate, the girl I told you had the same ship date as I did found out that her mom was losing her eyesight. That night I was forced to grab my gear and say goodbye to all the girls I had come so far with. I was taken to the "broke stick" platoon and I was so mad! In my mind they were losers and now I had to be seen with them. Only losers that couldn't hack it got sent there. Boy was I humbled. Little did I know, the girls that were there had an insane about of drive and dedication. This platoon was a place to recover, build back up your strength and ultimately get placed back into boot camp to graduate. We had to take pt tests and other things periodically to gauge our improvements. Once we were found fit for training we would get placed in another platoon and finish out the rest boot camp. There were some girls in that platoon that had been there for an entire year. One of the girls had broken her leg! Her story was one that really changed my outlook on that platoon. One girl had spent several months there and was ultimately told that she was getting sent home. I truly felt for her. I couldn't imagine going through all of that and not getting a chance to finish. Needless to say, my outlook on the broke stick platoon changed.
I was placed into another platoon and was able to graduate a month later than originally planned.
Graduation week (Boot Camp 2007)
Even though I went through all of that, one of the toughest things for me was being away from my boyfriend. If I'm being open and honest, I was pretty insecure in our relationship and was worried about what he might be doing the whole time. He wrote to me every single day and it really helped. Every night at mail call, I always got a letter. If I didn't get a letter one day, I would get two the next. But I still worried about it (he is now my husband, and things are great!). He actually kept all of the letters I wrote to him. A couple of years ago I went back and read the letters I wrote to him. It was pretty cool to re-read them, but it made me sad that in most of my letters I kept talking about how insecure I was.
The physical aspect of boot camp was obviously HARD. It would have been a lot tougher had I not dedicated so much time working out and running before I left. I would workout every night after work (I worked 3 jobs at the time) and I drank a peanut butter and chocolate milkshake every evening to help put on some pounds! haha! I was right on the line for being too skinny. You actually have to be a certain weight before you go to and begin boot camp! If you are too far under or overweight you can't even go, or you will get sent to another platoon before you start training to lose weight. Once you meet the standards they will place you in a platoon and you can start boot camp.
My little brother and sister at my graduation. My little sister wrote me little letters and sent me drawings while I was in boot camp and in Iraq. She was 7 in this pic. It was so sweet and encouraging to know that she was so supportive of me! ♡
Q: Were you ever deployed overseas and if yes, where?
Yes, I was! I got deployed to Iraq. I also signed up for a deployment to Italy for a year but it ended up falling through. I was SO excited about that deployment and was really bummed when it got called off. I had so many plans for all the things I wanted to see.
Q: Why did you get out?
I have been asked this question a lot! Sometimes I look back and kind of wish I had stayed in. My commanding officer and all of my NCO's pulled me into their offices my last drill weekend and asked me why I was getting out. They told me they wanted me to re-up. My commanding officer even told me he would give me a bonus if I would stay. He said the Marine Corps needs Marines like me to stay in. I was seriously flattered and kind of shocked that he felt that way! (I'm my own worst critic). It's not every day that someone begs you to stay in the Marine Corps. I told him I really appreciated the offer but that I was ready to be Mrs. Ryan instead of Sgt. Ryan. I told him that my hubby and I were trying to have a family. Ultimately, I was ready to be at home and be able to be a stay at home mom when we got pregnant.
I hope yall enjoyed reading a little bit about my story! I had so much fun typing this! What a trip down memory lane. It's fun to reminisce and feel some of those old feelings. There are still more questions about my time in the Marine Corps that yall submitted that I plan to answer in part 2 of this post!