Monday, February 17, 2014

Semper Mater Matris (Always Mother)

Semper Mater Matris  

                The first hint of his decision came in a text, during my lunch break.

                                David: So…mom. I’m thinking about joining the Marines.

                                Me: What? Are you serious?

                                David: Yes.

                                David: Mom?

                                Me: I’m here. Processing. You broke the no texting bad news rule...btw.

                                David: I know. I’ll call tonight. I was hoping you would break it to dad first.

                How is a mother supposed to react to an announcement like this? With pride? Fear?

                As we began the discussions that would shape my son’s future I couldn’t help wondering how other parents felt. Did they try to talk their child out of it or did they immediately jump for joy? The first person who came to mind was a friend of mine, Dana*. Her son, Billy* was just a year older than mine. He enlisted in the Marine Corps while he was still in high school and shipped out to boot camp a week after graduation.

Dana exudes pride for her son’s military path. Her wardrobe consists of shirts in three colors: red, white, and blue touting sayings like, “The Only Thing Tougher Than a US Marine is Their Mom” and “Don’t Mess With Me I Raised a Marine.” Her car looks like she just drove out of a Memorial Day parade; with more stickers than bumper and an assortment of initials and dates scrawled out in soap on every window. If you were familiar with the Marines you’d be able to tell what company, platoon, and job Billy held, as well as his base and the dates he deployed and returned from Afghanistan. She is the epitome of a faithful American.

I, on the other hand, was filled with worries and fear over my son’s choice.  In all honesty, I was not thinking what he will take into his adulthood from this experience, but what it will take from him. The obvious fear is the possibility of the ultimate sacrifice; a life in exchange for our rights. Not that I don’t enjoy the rights we have. I respect and commend every person who has lived and died for our freedoms; I just never imagined my children in that role, in that danger.  That unspeakable fear aside, there are so many other worries. What if my son has to take a life? We all can relate to the scenario of taking a life to save your own, or that of your fellow soldiers and friends, but what if you are simply ordered to take lives without a clear and eminent threat? How do you process that? What if you live while other soldiers around you are killed? What does that do to a person, not the soldier trained to aim, but the person beneath the Kevlar?

All of these concerns I have voiced to my son. We had many long conversations involving ‘what if’ scenarios and I force fed him every book I could find on war. But ultimately, it was his decision to make. All I could do was make sure he was well informed when he made it. On Memorial Day he left for boot camp, six days before his twentieth birthday.

Dana showed up that morning to see him off. She was a walking billboard of encouragement with her Marines hat and a t-shirt stating “Pain is Just Weakness Leaving the Body.” I was barely able to keep my weakness intact as the recruiter’s car, carrying my son, turned the corner.  Dana and her husband were a great help to me and my family. They knew exactly what we were going through, they had been there not so long ago.

In the months that followed Dana and I talked a lot. I had known her for years, but our sons’ military paths brought us closer. Although I couldn’t help but feel that I was failing by comparison in the mom pride department. I was proud of my son’s decision to serve our country, and was growing more proud as he worked his way through the thirteen week training regimen, but couldn’t bring myself to put on a sassy shirt and cheer. My thoughts were still muddled with all of those ‘what ifs’.

Meanwhile, these fears were coming to life for Dana. A few months before David enlisted Billy’s unit was deployed to Afghanistan. At the end of their tour, while dismantling the camp, they were ambushed and two of his friends were killed. This held up their departure. When he was finally back on American soil it was not the happy homecoming that Dana had hoped and prayed for. Billy was depressed and angry and had no way to express it, so he drank.

Dana tried talking to him and urged him to seek help. She knew something was wrong, but Billy wasn’t ready to face it. All she could do was keep trying to get him to talk to her, to a friend, to anyone. What they later found was he was suffering from PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder).

The Mayo Clinic defines PTSD as a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. Some symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. They have found people who seek help soon after experiencing symptoms have a better chance of recovering and a decreased chance of developing a long-term disorder.

Studies released by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs claim combat exposure as a leading cause of PTSD cases among military members and list many secondary problems that often accompany the disorder like depression, drinking or drug problems, and job or relationship problems. These can also exacerbate into physical symptoms, such as chronic pain.

The Mayo Clinic warns that symptoms can continue to worsen if untreated and can lead to thoughts of suicide or violence towards others. Seeking help at the onset of symptoms is the key to recovery. But what if military members don’t want to seek help? Dana knew her son was experiencing some of these symptoms and drinking heavily since returning home. She begged him to talk to someone. He told her it wasn’t what Marines did and that he would be fine.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reported that out of the one million troops that left active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2002-2009 about half came in for VA services. Out of them 48% were diagnosed with a mental health problem, like PTSD. Their concern is for the military members that do not seek help for their symptoms. The reasons ranged from concerns of being judged as weak to feelings that therapy, in general, is ineffective.

There are also cases where military members did ask for help, but were turned away. Kathy Dobie, a reporter for The Nation wrote about such an incident involving a young Marine from New Jersey. After his second tour in Iraq Lance Corporal James Jenkins was having a hard time coping with the violence he experienced. He was involved in close range combat with enemy forces, which resulted in a tremendous loss of life, including eight Americans.

Jenkins repeatedly told his mother about his nightmares, overwhelming feelings of remorse, and uncontrollable adrenaline surges. He started gambling, because he liked the fast pace and risks involved, and it quickly became an addiction. When his money ran out he began writing bad checks to continue gambling. He was arrested twice and spent time in the brig, a military jail. He started talking about suicide. His mother tried to get help by calling his commander, but was told they had too many soldiers to worry about besides him and he was probably only using the threat of suicide to avoid getting in trouble. Instead of facing his third arrest, Jenkins deserted.

The Marines found Jenkins living in a nearby town with his fiancée. They surrounded the house, but before they could reach him he killed himself. Lance Corporal James Jenkins was 23 years old.

Dana kept pushing Billy to seek help and eventually he gave in. She jokes that she harped him into it, but the relief in her eyes is evident. Billy’s symptoms have improved and he has stopped binge drinking. Dana does not give away too many details of his therapy, which I respect, but she does say it is an ongoing process for him.

I asked Dana how she did it. How was she able to put the worry and fears aside and beam with pride for her son, the Marines, and the country even after everything they have been through? Her response was simple.

“The fear is always there. I just choose to support him by being as positive as I can.”

My son, David, is currently in advanced training to be a Fire, Crash and Rescue Technician for the Marines. I find that my pride has, for the most part, won out over my fears. I have even bought a t-shirt, although it is modest in comparison to Dana’s collection. It just says, USMC with the words Semper Fi printed underneath. I will be wearing it to my son’s graduation in May**, along with the biggest smile I can muster. As he has learned to live by the Marine code Semper Fidelis (Always Faithful), I will learn to live with the fear and all of the ‘what ifs’ because I too have a code, Semper Mater Matris (Always Mother). Not even the Marines can change that.
*Dana and Billy's names were changed to respect their privacy, but all other names and research are factual and a list of references used is available upon request. 
**David has graduated and is a Marine firefighter stationed in Yuma, Arizona. Although I have a new list of fears, like the fact that he eagerly dives under planes to pin (secure) the wheels during emergencies, I have also never been prouder of my Marine.
Thanks for reading, 
Kristin :)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

SAM Bags

As I mentioned in my previous post I have volunteered to fill 50 gift bags for graduating Marines who will have no family or friends attending their ceremony. These brave men and women are called SAMs (Stand Alone Marines). Although I have only volunteered to help with the SAM bags in my son's Company, there are always SAMs graduating from Parris Island. This bothered me. I know, through my son, how much hard work and strength it takes to make it 13 weeks in the Marines boot camp. This is no small accomplishment and every man and woman that does it deserves to be celebrated, both for their perseverance and for their future service to our country. So I set out to find other companies and people who felt the same. This is what I found...

Case of puzzle books (40) and many more out dated books.
Donated by Penny Dell Publications (Norwalk, CT)

2 pack shavers (50 +)
2 pack Pens (50 +)
Donated by BIC (Shelton, CT)

Handmade thank you and congratulations cards (50)
Donated by family and friends.

50 Marine Red (or 1st Battalion Red) notebooks
Donated by family members

100 each of the following:
Trapezoid Drawstring bags
Protect Care Kits
Pacific Aluminum Bottles
Koomba Pens
Ear Buds
Eyeglass Holders
Clock Buddies
All of this donated by

I'm amazed at the response I've gotten so far! So many generous companies and people. It's heart warming to know our soldiers are appreciated and that these SAMs will be properly thanked for choosing to serve.

Proudly, Heart swelling, Thankful,

~ Kristin

Monday, July 23, 2012

Proud Marine Recruit Mom

Hi everyone. I know it's been a long time since I've posted on here, or have been active online at all. After some life changing experiences and inner battles involving writing (and just plain needing to figure out me as life changes) I took a long break. But all that is for another post and another time. Today I am back to share something very personal. 

My son, David joined the Marines this year. He is now at boot camp in Parris Island, SC, where he's been training since May 28, 2012. I couldn't be more proud of him, although as a mom, wouldn't have chosen this path for him or any of my children. But I do believe that serving your country is a brave and selfless act, one that allows us all the freedoms that we often take for granted. So for that I thank every man and woman who chooses to serve in the military. I also feel that choosing to join is a calling for some. So how do you stand in the way of that? You don't, no matter how much you want to lock them in their rooms until the world is a safer, kinder place. :)

As the weeks pass I write my son and wait anxiously (yes, I am that sappy, missing her kid mom) for his letters. I also follow his training schedule and connect with other family and friends of Marine recruits through a website run by the wives of Parris Island drill instructors.( ) It has been such a huge help for me and my family to get through these long 13 weeks. His graduation is quickly approaching now (August 24, 2012) and I can't wait to see him!

Through my casual observation of the yuku site discussions (and by that I mean constant checking and lurking for anything from my son's platoon or company) I found out that many new Marines do not have any family or friends attending their graduation, therefore have opted out of their 10 day leave. These soldiers graduate, line up at the bus station and head directly to their next training facility. The Marines call these men and women SAMs (Stand Alone Marines). 

Families from each company are asked to help fill gift bags for these SAMs to be given out as they leave Parris Island. As time went by I realized that no one from David's company was stepping up to organize this project and this broke my heart. Since Parris Island graduates new Marines almost every week they cannot possibly keep up with the never ending need for these gift bags so if no one volunteers the SAMs from that graduating class do not get any special send off at all for all of their hard work and training. So guess who stepped up? Yeah, me. It was one of those weak moments when my heart swelled bigger than my wallet.

I've been busy emailing and calling every local and national company I can think of to fill the 50 bags needed for Bravo Company's SAMs. Although I'm not a fundraiser, I dread my kids coming home with those wrapping paper catalogs or cases of candy bars, I am determined to make sure those new Marines feel appreciated for their choice to serve and protect us.

If you are as moved by this as I was you could help too. Maybe you work for a company or know someone who would be willing to donate something to this very worthy project. Anything helps and any excess donations not used at the graduation will be sent overseas to deployed Marines. Nothing goes to waste and no amount of help is too little or too much.

I will post more details shortly about what items would be useful and of course keep everyone updated on any progress made. Even just keeping these proud new Marines in your minds and hearts is nice. Positive thoughts have a lot of power on their own. 

SAM Bags Progress 

Feel free to drop me a comment about this or to share some great gift ideas.

Thanks and talk to you soon.

~ Kristin
Proud Marine Recruit Mom

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Welcome Back!

Thanks for stopping by for my Welcome Back blog post. It's been about 2 months since my last post. Way too long. Where have I been? Buried under layers of life. I started a new job in the school system and joined a health club with my kids. These, and the never ending daily concerns, have absorbed much of my time. While trying to get used to a new schedule and working outside of the house again my writing was put on the back burner. Not an excuse, I know.

This week is Spring Break for us and I plan on using it to get my writing self back in gear. So far it's gotten off to a good start. This morning I was challenged to a Word War on Twitter (yeah, first time back on Twitter in a long time too). I wrote a little more than 500 words in an hour. Certainly not a record setting writing session, but this was a great kick start to get me back into my story.

I've also taken some time to update my blog today. New background, added links, new ways to follow, and even a new post! *Whew*

Have you been feeling the urge to make changes or restart something you've let slide lately? I'd love to hear from you and please let me know what you thing of my blog improvements.


Kristin : )