I Knew It Was My Chance

“A few good men,” were sought by the Marine Corps when I decided to join in 1979. I knew it would be tough. I expected to be disciplined, even beaten – like in the movies, where young men trained for Vietnam. And ultimately, I knew it was my chance to serve my country, further my education, and see the world. I needed to score twice as many points in my entry exam as the vast majority of future Marines. Why? Because of my gender.

In 1979 I was an 18-year old daughter of a conservative, traditional Hispanic family in the Midwest. Voted “most lady-like” by the faculty of my high school, I surprised everyone who knew me. But the surprise was on me when I took classes on makeup, etiquette, and poise during the all-female Marine Corps boot camp training.

“Recruits!” bellowed a short, dynamic female drill sergeant. “You WILL learn to conduct yourselves like Women Marines.” She warned, “In the past, we’ve had a few misguided recruits try to commit suicide by drinking detergent. Don’t bother. You’ll only belch bubbles and get a stomach ache.”

Sixty-two female Marine recruits in Parris Island, South Carolina awakened to the crashing sounds of wooden bats beating hard against a large aluminum garbage can at 0330. And at dusk we carefully slipped our worn out bodies into our perfectly made Marine Corps bunks and fell asleep after singing the Lord’s prayer.

There were history classes, exercise sessions, drill marches. In the end, Parris Island’s top brass was invited to a tea party held by my female platoon. This occasion was the event which was to prove we WM’s (Women Marine’s) were ready to graduate and embark into the male-dominated world of the U.S.M.C., most likely in administrative positions.

We became confident and strong – both mentally and physically. Two months later, fifty-one of us graduated.

Fast-forward 20 years: a marriage, and two teenaged children later. The skills I learned while in the Marines served me well as a secretary in fast-paced offices. They served me well in managing a household. But little did I know I was yet to make the best use of my Marine Corps skills.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said a counselor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, in San Antonio, Texas. “Do not despair if you fail a test, or a class, or the entire program.” The counselor showed a videotape of friends and family of medical students who had committed suicide due to academic pressure. “Of 480 applicants for this program, only 79 were accepted. What matters most is not whether you get A’s B’s or C’s. What matters MOST, is that two years from now, you will have the letters, R.N., after your name.”

Of the 79 students who started a bachelor’s nursing class with me in the Fall of 1998, only 45 graduated. For me and other male military veteran classmates, the two years of nursing school were much more difficult than boot camp. But that Marine Corps discipline helped me get through nursing school.

I joined the Marine Corps to serve my country and see the world. Today, as a traveling nurse, I serve my patients and see the country. In 1979, the United States Marine Corps needed a few good men. Today, I believe the nursing profession could use a few good Marines.

Happy birthday and Semper Fi!

Ms Lillian G. RN

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