Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why Yuma Isn't Such a Bad Duty Station

When I tell people we are stationed in Yuma, most people give me a look of pity. Typical responses we get are...

First of all...RUDE.
Second of all...Yuma is not a "hot spot" duty station for most Marines. It's literally in the middle of nowhere. There's not a whole lot to do here. The summers are brutal. There's not a whole lot of things that make Yuma appealing when looking at it from the outside. When Nick broke the news to me last summer that we would be coming here instead of going to Okinawa, I was a little crushed. But I came here with a positive attitude, and I was determined to find the silver lining. I put my faith in God. I just knew he had a great purpose for us being here instead of Okinawa. I have always had conflict with God when it comes to the Marine Corps, and this is the first time I truly surrendered to Him.

His plan was evident with just our house hunting journey. We originally had planned on living on base housing.  But after looking at housing market trends in Yuma, we had to jump on the chance to buy. The cost of living in Yuma is SO affordable! I will have to do a whole another post on buying real estate. Nick and I have owned 3 homes in the last 10 years, and they've been the best investment. Anyway, we purchased our home (site unseen), and thanks to an amazing realtor (shout out Breanna Sanchez), we found the most adorable house in a great neighborhood. We had so many concerns about this house because it had sat on the market for so long. A turnkey house in a nice neighborhood shouldn't sit on the market for as long as it did. Our realtor did some digging, and found out that the listing agent had the number of bathrooms listed wrong, and it probably wasn't coming up on people's searches. This house was sitting on the market when we had orders to Okinawa! I truly believe in divine intervention. I believe that God had this house "saved" for us before we knew we were coming here.

Friday afternoon in our backyard! We are putting a pool in our backyard!

Another wonderful thing about Yuma is that it us just a short drive into California. Yuma literally sits right on the California/Arizona border. I literally accidentally drive into California all the time by missing an exit. Our family has done several trips to Southern California to get away from the desert, and it has been wonderful. We have a ton of friends stationed at Miramar and Camp Pendleton, and it's been great to just drive over to visit them for a weekend.

We've known Emilee since we were stationed in Boston. She is now stationed on Camp Pendleton, so it was a treat to be able to go visit her on a weekend trip to SoCal!
This past weekend, our former nanny from College Station flew out to San Diego from Houston to spend 3 days with us at the beach!

It's really nice to be able to be near a place where people are willing to travel to in order to see you! Let's face it, no one is dying to come to Yuma, but no one is going to say no to San Diego.

Nick is also in an amazing billet with amazing Marines. He genuinely enjoys going to work every day (minus the occasional complaints that EVERY SINGLE MARINE has). He has "normal" working hours, and we get a lot of family time. That's been the biggest blessing for our family....FAMILY TIME. After spending so much time apart, our kids are really taking advantage of having dad around.

We live just 2 miles away from a famous hiking trail here, Telegraph Pass. 

Visiting dad at work on base!

I look back at the last 7 months here in Yuma, and I've been really happy. I miss Texas. I miss my Texas friends. I miss my kids' school. I miss being near family. I MISS TEXAS...it's my home. But there is so much I don't miss about Texas. I don't miss living away from my husband. I don't miss solo parenting. I don't miss the humid weather. I don't miss the feeling of "keeping up with the Joneses" (there is a LOT of that in College Station).

I don't have to explain every detail of life as a military family to people who don't understand it. It's refreshing. Again, I truly miss Texas...but there's also a lot I don't miss. Don't get me wrong, I definitely want to go back home one day when Nick chooses to retire. Texas is home. You will never convince me that there is a better place than God's country.

I can truly see God's plans for our family in action here in Yuma. We found an AMAZING church that we absolutely love. We found an amazing school for our kids to attend. We love our neighborhood. We have truly found the "silver lining" in being stationed here, and are excited for our future. We have found that Yuma is a great place to be stationed. It is a small, tight knit community, and a great place to raise a family. All my skepticism and doubt about coming here are completely gone.

For my military spouses who might be stationed here one day, it's not the end of the world. It's a pretty great place!

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

When Your Husband is the Oldest 2ndLt in the Marine Corps

Actually, I'm not sure if Nick is THE oldest, but if he isn't, he's definitely up there in the rankings. If you're not familiar with how military rank structure works, let me try and explain it really quick in layman's terms.

If you're familiar with the military, you can skip this entire part...
When a person decides to join the military, they have two routes, the Enlisted route or the Officer route. To enlist in the military, most branches only require a high school diploma or equivalent (education wise). To become an Officer in the military, a college degree is necessary. Now there are things like warrant officers and limited duty officers that do not require a college degree, but let's keep it simple. The way rank structure works, the Enlisted service members are technically ranked lower than any Officer. That means an enlisted service member who is an E9 (the highest rank an Enlisted service member can be) is still outranked by an O1 (the lowest Officer rank). I know you're probably thinking, "So a 38 year old E9 with 20+ years of service is outranked by 23-24 year old O1 with barely 2 years of service only because one has a college degree?!". The answer is yes (and the O1 makes almost the same salary...a little more). For the most part, most senior enlisted service members become respectful mentors to young officers as they learn to navigate the ins and outs of the Marine Corps, their jobs, and their junior enlisted Marines. If an Officer has a bad senior enlisted "right hand man", then that Officer's job is usually 10 times harder. Also, I should add as a side note, there are MANY Enlisted service members that have college degrees. There are a ton of reasons why a service member may have a degree and not be an Officer. But that is another discussion for another time.

Nick enlisted in the Marines right out of high school. His Enlisted career spanned roughly 16 years before he commissioned as an Officer in the Marine Corps after completing the MECEP program (Marine Enlisted Commissioning Education Program...just google it if you're like "wtf is that?"). Nick was a MSgt...just ONE rank away from being at the very top of the enlisted rank structure.
Promotion to MSgt

I'll have to do a WHOLE another post about WHY he chose to sort of take a "demotion" (term used loosely). The fact of the matter is, he is currently a 35 year old 2ndLt. The average 2ndLt in the Marine Corps is a newly college grad (23-25 years old). Also, I'll do a post sometime about the MECEP program, and how we ended up at Texas A&M.

Some pics of Nick from the early 2000s when he was a junior Enlisted Marine. The Marine Corps didn't even have the signature MARPAT cammies yet (the digital cammies)!

So what is like being a Marine family, when your husband is a 35 year old 2ndLt that is prior enlisted? Here are the 3 biggest things that I have noticed in this season of our life...or his life...

The Marine Corps has a fraternization policy, so hanging out and being friends with people outside of your rank is usually frowned upon. There is a very thin line when it comes to being friends outside of work and being professional. That means Nick's "peers" are in different life stages than us. Most 1st and 2ndLts are either single or newlyweds (married under 5 years). Meanwhile, we have 11 years of marriage, 2 kids, 28 years of service (between the 2 of us), on our 3rd mortgage, and spend way too much money on anti aging products (ok, that last part is just me). We're basically geriatric. 
One of the few students at A&M's graduation with 2 kids in tow 

The Marines that are in the same life stage as us are literally Majors (an entire 3 ranks higher than Nick). We have made amazing friends with fellow 2ndLts and 1stLts, but there is a definite "life gap". It feels weird when I'm talking about the emotional rollercoaster my pre puberty 9 year old is going through, and the issues with getting my 5 year old to sleep in his own bed at night. I'm pretty sure 99% of the time, they don't care, and are just being nice to me by humoring me. I pray to God that my kids don't discourage them from having children one day (if that is in their future)!

He can hang out with his senior enlisted Marines or some of the older Officers, as long as both parties can separate work from pleasure. Some of our BEST friends were Nick's 1st and 2ndLts when he was an enlisted Marine (SSgt/GySgt). Those friendships worked for us though, because Nick was good at separating work from pleasure. Those Marines are now all Majors. He could drink one weekend with his platoon commander, and go to work on Monday, and keep it professional as if nothing happened that weekend (and we had some wild weekends). The balance can be tricky though.

Most of Nick's peers are at their very first duty station. I don't even know how many units Nick has been with. At 18 years of service, it's a lot. That's quite a bit of experience that Nick has that his peers do not. You can't teach experience. Nick has figured out "the game". Let's face it, if you've ever served in the Marines, you know that a lot of "the job" is a big game. Once you figure out how to play, life gets easier. Most Marines don't figure that out till much later in their careers. I was talking to the wife of another 2ndLt, and she told me how stressed out her husband was all the time. He was working really long hours, and just trying to keep his head above water some days. She felt like she never saw him. I almost felt bad telling her that Nick was able to leave work to come to things like our kid's award ceremony at school, or leave early because I had a hair appointment and I needed him pick up our son at the bus stop. Her husband probably could too, but he hasn't figured out "the game". Also, he hasn't done "his time". Just like any job, you have to put in your time.... With time, comes experience. With experience, comes the answer to the game of Life  "The Marine Corps". I guess this also ties into the the first thing I mentioned...we are in a different stage of "life".

18 years of service, 3 combat deployments, a tour on the drill field, and a few summers as a Sgt Instructor at OCS...add OCS (as a candidate) and TBS to that mess...Nick's body is pretty wrecked.
Nick and his friends on his first deployment to Iraq
Everyone seems to love the photos of Nick yelling at recruits.

Nick in TBS
Nick as a Sgt Instructor at OCS

He now wears hearing aids (wear your ear pro Marines!), has a plethora of back and neck issues, suffers from insomnia (most likely from his TBI), and complains that random limbs go numb sometimes. He's no spring chicken, and compared to his peers, he's basically a grandpa. I constantly have to remind him that he doesn't have anything to prove. But, of course...he's a Marine, and Marines ALWAYS have something to prove. He takes pride in being able to PT with his younger counterparts (and being able to keep up). What his younger counterparts don't realize is the amount of recovery time for him is double (triple...sometimes quadruple) what theirs is. He literally came home after a combat fitness test (CFT), bragged about how much better he did than all of his younger Marines, and practically died on the couch from pain and pure exhaustion. There's nothing I can say to make him slow down...it's a Marine thing.

There are a TON of other things that we notice about being an older company grade officer family, but these are the 3 biggest things that I notice. It's definitely been an adjustment for us, and for me especially. We are thankful, grateful, and blessed to be at this point in our life. We can physically see what God's purpose has been for our family in each season of our life, and we are excited to see what he has in store for our future. We are counting down the years till RETIREMENT, and I know it'll be here in the blink of an eye. I am trying to soak in all the adventures and the amazing friends we have met along the way....while simultaneously trying to raise normal-ish kids.

I'll probably do a few more posts about some other small differences being in this season of life. I literally could write a novel on it. Anyway, my goal is to write one post a week on this little blog of mine, so we'll see how that goes!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The Month of the Military Child

Gosh, it's been a hot minute. Every time I make a bold claim that "I WILL keep up with this blog", I fail miserably. The truth is, I Instastory my life so much, that I find myself not being as inspired to blog. I have yet to switch my blog to Wordpress (like I have been saying for MONTHS), and who knows if that will ever happen. But anyway...

I shall grace you with my rambling today...

Since April is the "Month of the Military Child", I thought I'd share some things about my own two children and how awesome they are.

If you're a longtime follower of my Instagram/blog, I don't have to repeat my life to you. But if you're new, I'll give you the "Barney style" rundown. I am a former Marine of 10 years, married to a current active duty Marine (who will hit 18 years of service this July), and mom to 2 pretty fantastic military "brats". If you're really curious to know the whole back story of how my husband and I ended up together...just click here. You can read all about our whirlwind elopement in fabulous Las Vegas.

Back to my 2 fantastic military "brats". I have a love/hate relationship with the term "military brat". When used in the right context, it can be endearing.

Who wants to be called that anyway?! I have said this a gazillion times that military children should be the most respected members of a military family. Why? Because my husband and I CHOSE to serve. I CHOSE to marry my active duty husband. My children had NO CHOICE. They were born into our family, and forced to live this life. Not that children ever get a choice in the circumstances they are born into, but that's a whole another blog post for another person to write about. 

As parents, we have tried our best to give our kids the most "normal" life with the best opportunities we can provide. My children are involved in sports, music, activities, playdates...all the things that "regular kids" do. We make holidays special, and celebrate everything and anything that is a reason to celebrate! From that viewpoint, we are a pretty normal, All-American family!

Of course, circumstances due to the fabulous "Uncle Sam" will throw "normal" out the window in a heartbeat. My 9 year old daughter has been in 5 schools in 4 states...again...she's NINE. My 5 year old son has been in 3 schools in 2 states in his short lifetime. We tried to do the math once, and roughly figured out that both of our children have lived more of their life with their father deployed to combat or gone for training than with him under one roof. These kids are resilient.

My children have certainly "bloomed where they have been planted". Of course, we always go through an adjustment period, and I'm not saying it's always been easy. If anything, it's been rough. Our move here to Arizona from Texas was by far one of the toughest moves we have done yet. My oldest had deep seated roots in Texas with a group of friends that were thick as thieves. I think I shed more tears leaving Texas than any other duty station....not because I was sad, but because I felt like we were literally ripping our daughter away from an amazing life and group of friends. My son had just started Kindergarten in Texas, and after only 6 weeks (when he was finally getting adjusted), we moved and put him in a new Kindergarten class...in a new school...in a new state. Being 5, and being the "new kid" is tough, and I admire little Mattis for his courage and tenacity.

We have been in Yuma for roughly 7 months now, and it finally feels like home.

Our kids have settled into their new schools and have made friends. Most importantly, they get to live under the same roof as their dad, and that is a blessing. The things that most "regular kids" find so normal are things that my kids cherish. I wish you could hear the squeals of excitement when my husband has time to drive them to school in the mornings, or see the excitement on my son's face when he sees his dad on the sideline at his soccer game (cheering him on like a fool). The smallest things are the biggest things to a military kid.

They deserve a month to be dedicated to them. There is a generation of military kids growing up with a parent (or both parents) who have served in a wartime military for 18 years. I truly believe that these kids are going to change the world with the worldliness and experience in this oftentimes, uncertain life.