I’ll never forget the day that I told my father I wanted to join the United States Marine Corps. We had just wrapped up a week of events at the CMA festival with a group of veterans from the Wounded Warrior Project. I had met an above the knee amputee and his wife who were both Marines. At this time I was 19 years old, a sophomore in college, and she was the first female Marine I had ever met.
To give you a little bit of my family background, my grandfather served in the Marine Corps for 33 years and my father served for about 25. I had grown up around Marines. I was taught the values of the Corps starting at a very young age, and I learned that others sacrificed in order to defend our freedom. I always felt a desire to support the military, but I NEVER thought that I could serve our country. To be honest, I thought, “I’ll just marry a Marine!” (Which ironically, I am going to marry one, but we are BOTH Marines! Even better.)
Upon the conclusion of the CMA festival, I asked my father if we could meet for lunch in order to discuss a few things. We sat down and the first words out of his mouth were, “You’re not pregnant are you?!” I said, “No!” He said, “You don’t want to be a Marine do you!?” (As if that were the second worst thing he could guess) I said, “Yes Sir, I do.” I remember being particularly nervous for that conversation because growing up I had always heard my dad say, “I would never allow my daughters to be Marines.” I believe this was due to the fact that while he was an attorney for the USMC he worked on multiple sexual assault cases, and naturally did not want his daughters subject to those kinds of acts.
He will admit that he believed I was just in a phase that would soon wear off, once the motivation of the week died down, he thought this goal would fade away. Well, the motivation never died down, and this goal slowly came to fruition.
When I arrived back to the University of Louisville, I called the Officer Selection Office (OSO) in Lexington, Ky. (Find Your Officer Selection Officer ) A Staff Sergeant answered the phone and proceeded to interview me. If you know me, you know that my voice doesn’t match my build, it’s very high pitched and girly! I told him I was a cheerleader at the University of Louisville and by my description and my voice, he didn’t think he was speaking to anyone with much potential to be a United States Marine. We scheduled an initial physical fitness test (PFT) and met about a week later.
Reflecting back on these moments, they are reminders of the very small obstacles that I chose to work through from the very beginning. I didn’t know if I had what it took to become a Marine?! I didn’t know what the other women serving would be like. I didn’t know if my friends and family would accept this career path. All of these negative thoughts were outweighed when I was surrounded by the caliber of individuals that I met through the Wounded Warrior Project. Seeing their sacrifice really put things into perspective. I decided that I couldn’t let these self inflicted negative thoughts hold me back. I felt like I was capable of serving too.
Why did I grow up thinking, “I’ll marry a Marine” vs. “I want to be a Marine!” For whatever reason, I believe a lot has to do with the way society has painted a picture of what women are supposed to be. Society expects women to be nurturing mothers and care takers, to maintain a certain physique and dress a certain way, always pleasing to the eye and polite. Men are taught to be rugged, tough, driven and to work hard in order to get to the top. “Most leadership positions are held by men, so women don’t expect to achieve them, and that becomes one of the reasons they don’t. ” Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In. When I met someone who was different, a female Marine, I saw potential to be different too.
I felt like I needed “permission” from my father. While he did give me his blessing, what if he had not? Would I have chosen to continue to pursue this goal? I’d like to think so. If any of you are struggling with feeling like you need permission from others to pursue your goals, the answer is….you don’t! We are given one life to live and the clock is ticking. Make the most out of this life that God has blessed you with. Pursue challenges that scare you. Don’t let the opinions of others delay you from achieving the success you deserve. Drown out the fear of uncertainty and aggressively live out your dreams.
Karen M. Dunn says
You are truly inspiring. Love you.
I love you too!!