This is my first post, so I want to start off with a decent hook. Something interesting. How about this:
All three of my kids have flight time in Marine Corps aircraft. My oldest daughter, almost 7 years old, has 110.9 total hours, all in a Cobra. 36.4 of those are from night vision goggle flights (22.6 of them under low light conditions, thank you very much), and she was along for the ride on my Night Systems Instructor (NSI) check flight, since I was 4 months pregnant when I completed the qualification. She used to kick like crazy in there when we’d shoot the 20mm. Liked the sound the 2.75-inch rockets made coming off, too.
My second daughter, now 3 years old, has fewer hours. She only has 25.4 hours in the Cobra, 4.5 of them on NVGs (but all 4.5 under low light conditions), since by then we knew that Cobra pilots definitely were not allowed to fly pregnant (OPNAV was not clear, and as there had never been a pregnant Cobra pilot before, we made our best guess the first time). I waited until the end of my first trimester to ground myself, since that’s the traditionally “safer” time to tell people that you are pregnant.
My son, now 18 months, didn’t get to fly in a Cobra (poor dude), but he does have 30.7 hours in a King Air (UC-12B). None on goggles, since they don’t do that stuff. And he never seemed particularly impressed by the aircraft, since he didn’t do extra kicking or shifting to let me know.
But I digress. This is my first post as a USNI blogger-person, so maybe I should back up a bit. Chronologically speaking. While looking through some of the USNI blog entries a few months ago, I noticed something interesting. Or rather, I noticed—in an interested way—that something was lacking. There’s an amazing breadth of experience and knowledge available there, and the subjects addressed are broad and relevant. But I didn’t see anything out there remotely reminiscent of my experiences in the Marine Corps or at USNA. And considering it’s been 14 years since I graduated and got commissioned this month (plus the 4 years by the bay), that is…interesting. I know, in some eyes having only 14 years in makes me a baby. Which is wonderful, because these days I’m feeling pretty old. But at the same time, young women and men are signing up for the Navy or Marine Corps today, and they could have similar decisions to make. My choices and my story could help them. And with greater numbers of women joining the military, experiences like mine will become more common. Which makes this stuff…relevant.
In case the bio didn’t show up, here’s my story:
I’m a USNA grad, class of 1998. Graduated, got a commission in the Marine Corps, and set off for TBS and flight school. Winged in February 2001, selecting West Coast Cobras, since East Coast (New River) skid squadrons weren’t accepting women yet (I was quite happy to go to Camp Pendleton anyway, but found the restriction interesting. As in, “Really? You’re going to force me to go to Southern California, and keep me out of Jacksonville, NC? OK, twist my arm…”). Went through SERE school and the Cobra FRS, and—after my checkride from the FRS got delayed, since it was originally scheduled for September 11, 2001—checked into HMLA-369.
I was the third female Marine to fly the Cobra (I think) and the first in my squadron (the only one for most of my time there). This led to some great stories—mostly funny ones, a few disgusting ones, and one or two downright wrong ones. It was a familiar role after USNA and TBS. And to be honest, men are just as catty as women, only they are less honest about their cattiness. I went to an all-girls Catholic high school for all four years, and the only real difference between my four years there and my four years at USNA was the smell in the hallways.
At 369, I deployed three times (SE Asia/31st MEU, then Iraq, and another Thirty-worst MEU again), went on a bunch of dets, made some lifelong, amazing friends, served under two fascinating and inspiring commanding officers, and worked in Operations for the majority of my time there. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I miss it terribly (especially these days as I fly a desk in the Pentagon part-time and run around with three little kids the rest of the time).
Pre-flight school, back in 1999, I married my husband, a USMC infantry officer. We did NOT want kids. Of the first 9 years of our marriage, we lived in the same state for about 3 of them. In my mind, kids = wasted career. We were happy being childless and laughed at the idea of having kids, and how it would “ruin” things. Why would we ever want to have kids, right? Anyone with kids is laughing at us and the stupidity of that comment.
But…as it turned out, we had three kids, who are now aged almost 7, 3, and 18 months. And instead of still flying, still deploying, and staying on active duty for 20 or more years, I find myself a Reservist with three little kids, not flying at all, and driving myself crazy. This was NOT the original plan. It took me three years to accept the fact that life had changed (in what was a wonderful way, of course, but I didn’t see it like that at first). And I don’t know that I’ve really accepted it yet.
I don’t regret the choice to leave active duty for the Reserves (when my oldest was 2 ½ years old), but it shouldn’t have been the only viable option. I had nearly ten years in at the time, advanced qualifications in the aircraft, and the desire to keep doing it all. For a long, long time. But single-parenting through most of my oldest daughter’s first two years of life showed that I could not do it all, at least not without something coming off of the track. I went kicking and screaming from active duty, but did not see any other way, since I was failing at parenting and failing at being a Marine Corps officer/pilot. And that is one big reason that the services lose experienced women and men at a certain point in their lives and careers. But is it necessary?
This seems like a good forum to encourage dialogue and a sharing of ideas and experiences. Professionally. In this vein, I want to tell my story, as a pilot, a mother, a veteran, a Reservist, and also a Marine spouse (which is also growing more and more common these days). I want to ask a bunch of questions, maybe get a couple good ideas, and try to focus some attention on what will be a growing issue in the military.
Comments are encouraged. I can only tell my story, and hopefully that will encourage greater dialogue on the topic(s). But with women being allowed into more fields, the ongoing debate about women in combat (which I have some strong feelings and thoughts about), and about a million other things going on that are downright fascinating, these topics are relevant.
Plus, I can tell some good stories.