How the Marine Corps prepared me for travel: Part 2

California, USA / Parris Island, SC, USA

In Part 1: The Background, I talked about leaving my amazingly cool job in the visual effects industry and joining the Marine Corps.  Many of the reasons for the decision were explained, although it’s impossible to articulate them all.  Here, I’ll share the story about getting ready for “the yellow footprints.”


I already mentioned that one of my dreams, since achieved, was to work at ILM on Star Wars.  Sadly, I neither enjoy nor excel at playing politics, a necessary trait for long term survival in the film business.  Combined with the fact that the Star Wars I worked on was the thing that spawned Jar Jar and, well, you can see why my dream dissolved.


Jar Jar in carbonite is everyone’s dream.


However, the experience had confirmed for me that when you make ideals and dreams a priority, they become your reality.  An important part of that is taking physical steps toward creating your desired reality.  For something that, in my mind, is really difficult to do, breaking it down into baby steps became necessary.  I had to start with walks around town (near Sonoma at the time), leading to short jogs, and finally followed by a real exercise regimen overseen by a recruiter.

It’s important to note that I’ve never been a runner, not really.  I have a memory of sprinting once or twice in junior high, but long distance?  Oof, who does that for fun?  I much preferred horseback riding.  Still a good workout, but none of that pesky running.  Well, not you running, that is; leave that part to the horse.

Wait – let me back up.  First off, I know that I’m smart, as well as a smarta** – better than being a dumba**, I always say! – and don’t always take orders well.  A rank-and-file enlisted position did not immediately appeal to me for these reasons.  (Which is not to say that enlisted Marines are not smart – there are some exceedingly sharp Devil Dogs out there.)  So I looked into becoming an officer.  I only had a 2 year degree at that point, however, so in talking with my Officer Selection Officer (no, really, that’s what the position is called), it was one of the first things to address.  There were ways it could be dealt with, assuming I enrolled in a university that would accept my existing credits.

The thing that could not be dealt with administratively was getting in shape.  You see, Marines have to be in excellent condition — no surprise there — but Marine Officers have to be able to run faster than the enlisted Marines under their command.  To lead by example.  With a smile.  While calling out cadences and encouragement, maintaining military bearing, and generally being a badder badass.

It was bit of a quandary for me.

I greatly respected my OSO and believed that if I really dedicated myself to this undertaking I could do it.  The thing is, I had some hesitation about throwing myself into it wholeheartedly.  I just question things too much.  I could see that cohesion and belief in victory were paramount to the functioning of the Marine Corps and I wasn’t sure I had it in me to lead.  Especially since I hated running.


Eagle, Globe, and Anchor


On top of everything, the dot com bubble was bursting about that time (the “dot bomb” as my friends called it).  Since a great deal of the stagehand work I did it was techie trade show-based, the jobs I’d been counting on to see me through were drying up.  The insurance settlement from the RSI (repetitive stress injury) from too much computer work was also being delayed.  Finally, I had made an unfortunate choice of letting my then boyfriend move in with me temporarily when he lost his job.  He managed to alienate my landlord somehow and got us evicted (looking back, I don’t think it was a legal eviction, but I didn’t know that at the time).  An acquaintance had a place where we could stay, waaay out in the middle of nowhere in the southern California desert.  I foolishly said yes.  The boyfriend flaked and disappeared at the last minute.  Oh, and my car died.  *facepalm*  One of the WORST, most depressing times of my life.  Ever.

I still shy away from thinking about it.

Still, I had a goal and that was something.  To stay in the fold, I started working with the nearest recruiting office.  The closest OSO didn’t especially impress me and was further away than the enlisted recruitment station, so it worked out.  I took a trip or two up to the bay area to work with my OSO, but it wasn’t the same.  I still wanted to be a Marine, but I’d started thinking in slightly less daunting terms.  At the time I considered going enlisted reserves, then going back to school for the 4 year degree, and then finally going for officer candidate school.  That’s what I told myself anyway.


A motivating sample of cadences for you. (Can’t see it? Watch on YouTube.)


I worked out (“PT” — physical training) with the local delayed entry program (DEP) poolees and the Marines at the recruiting office.  I discovered I was outstanding at crunches, pretty good at anything that involved upper body strength, and still sucked at running.  There were moments when I enjoyed working out at the local gym and started to develop a hope that I could learn to like running.  Sadly, running on a treadmill is not the same as running on dirt.

In order to get the all-clear for boot camp you have to pass a series of tests, including the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery), a physical at MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), and an initial strength test (IST).  I think they should also test you to see how many acronyms you can learn in one sitting, then give you a recruitment bonus if it’s more than 10.  But that’s just me.

A deadline for OCS (office candidate school) applications was coming up and I had to get passing scores on certain PT tests to go.  The ASVAB and MEPS were no problem, other than an age waiver – I was one year over the cutoff age for enlistment – but the running was skill kickin’ my hiney.  After barely  squeaking by on one test, I told the enlisted recruiter to send me to Parris Island.  I didn’t think I’d be able to sort out my internal dilemmas in time for OCS that year.  But I still wanted the title and I knew I could make it through Parris Island.


I was looking forward to meeting this guy.


I packed up my pets, plants, and most important belongings, and set off for Washington state to visit my mom and stepdad before departing.  I didn’t realize it would be the last time I saw the rest of my possessions or I would have chosen more carefully.  Alas for hindsight.  I try to look at it as my first lesson in minimalist living.

What had I learned so far?

1) make ideals and dreams a priority

2) take measurable steps in the physical world toward your goals

3) sometimes plans change; go with it

I saw the pets settled, got taken out for some of my favorite dinners, enjoyed the green of the Pacific Northwest, and even watched a TV movie about boot camp with my mom.  After another trip to MEPS (had to get re-checked, as the previous medical exam had been for OCS), I was cleared to go.  My recruiter arranged what is known as a “courtesy ship” for me.  That is, a local recruiter handled flying me out of Washington, despite the fact that the credit for my enlistment would go to the sergeant in California.  …And then, I was off to South Carolina!


…and that’s the exciting conclusion of Part 2!  I had meant to write more, but life happened. May come back and add more at some point. Have reconnected with some of my boot camp platoon sisters in recent years. One even went on to become a DI herself – most impressive! In any case, let me ask…

What pre-travel experiences shaped your travel philosophy?


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  1. It’s crazy to see where life leads us and your path is an interesting one. It can take a lifetime to learn the three lessons you did. Thanks for posting!

    1. Sometimes I still have to remind myself of those things. Learning is a lifelong adventure! :)

  2. I was considering joining the armed forces after high school – I was an ROTC nerd but yeah, I was murdered by the film industry drying up. I had tried working at PBS for Austin City Limits only to learn that PBS had frozen hiring for YEARS and it is still going on.

    1. Oof. Seems loony to me that the censoring and rating systems in US film and TV give a pass to violence but are afraid of nekkid people being nice to one another. More art, less war!

  3. Weeks? Weeks? Unacceptable. Start writing. Keep writing. Post sooner!

    1. Oh, you flatter me, Linda. Really, it’s much better this way. I am happier and write better if I have a mixture of topics and media. Living too much in the past is stressful, since the brain is wired not to know the difference between memory and present experience when it comes to emotional reactions. I don’t want to find myself reciting the Rifleman’s Creed as I drift off to sleep in my “rack” at night!

      But, hey — there’s plenty of silliness to keep you distracted in the meantime. Did ya look at the US vs. Italy vs. Ireland post? Folks are eating that up! :D

  4. Wow, the Marines! I grew up around military people (officers, at that), and so I have an idea of  the world you ended up in. I'm so glad you found a new path in life that took you out of your circumstances. Sometimes things have to reach a low to reach a high again. And I agree with Abby, you are truly inspirational.

    1. I appreciate that, Sherry.  I'm not sure how, but I appreciate it.

      It's interesting the different things this post is bringing out, both in me and the folks who read.  Travel blogging, like a lot of the new thought spirituality of which I'm fond, often seems like it's part of a different world from the military.  I know people — and this will show up in a future post, I'm sure — who have expressed their biases about the military to me both before and after I joined.  I think the fact that some folks had me (treehugger), or the idea of what a Marine is, in a box with a hand label made it difficult to reconcile the ideas.  Guess what?  The military is made up of regular, every day folks.  Volunteers from your neighborhood, school, church, local bakery even.  But of course, you know that.  ;)

  5. SO inspirational!! I love reading about people's paths… It is so commendable how you formulated your goal and went for it. So brave!

    1. Thanks, Abby.  This was actually a little difficult to write.  It was my least favorite part of the whole thing, really.  Still makes me grimace when I think about it.

      The good part is that I thought this was going to be a short and sweet three-parter, but I realized that I learned a lot more than what could easily fit into 3 posts.  It was philosophy as well as practicality.  Gave me a lot to think about.  Glad you are enjoying it.  :)

  6. Wow, eviction, boyfriend disappears AND your car dies?! Damn.
    Reading this makes me realized how screwed I would be if I tried to join to the marines. I get winded walking up a small hill!!

    1. I'm sure there must have been some cosmic reason for everything to go downhill at the same time.  Probably if I'd had all the usual things to worry about I would have been too distracted to succeed or something.  Who knows?

      And yeah, I'm with you on the out of breath thing.  Been a computer jockey lately.  Maybe writing about all this will motivate me to get running again.  ;)

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