I had always been a fan of Duke basketball; I watched the games on TV and knew the names of all the players. I could rattle off stats and scores and hold an intelligent sports-conversation with any guy. But actually standing in the student section of that tiny little gym for the very first time, grasping my very own chant sheet, looking up at the banners hanging from from the rafters? Seeing Coach K come onto the court along with Paulus, Scheyer, Singler, Smith, & Zoubek (and some freshman kid named Miles Plumlee)? Witnessing something so great & knowing that very few people in the world would ever have the chance to experience that moment? For the past four years, I haven't just been a fan. I've been there. I've stood (err, jumped) on the bleachers; I've cheered at the victory bonfires. I've high-fived players after games and celebrated a national championship with an entire campus. I have gotten a glimpse of something that most people only hear about or see on a TV screen, and it is humanly impossible to describe a feeling like that -- a feeling I know that I will never forget.
And that's how I feel about the Marine Corps.
Before Zach ever joined the Marine Corps, before MEPS and the ASVAB and swearing in as a poolee... I was a "fan" of the United States Military. I thoroughly enjoyed my Memorial Day cookout and 4th of July fireworks. My family had an American flag that flew on the porch of our house, and we were raised to "support our troops." Before Zach left for boot camp, I proudly bought my first Marine Corps t-shirt, and I wrote him a letter every single day he was away. But actually sitting in the family section of that tiny little gym in Parris Island, watching all the motivating video clips with inspirational background music while waiting for the Marines to file in for graduation, seeing hundreds of boys-turned-men march into the room once the doors finally opened? Witnessing something so great & knowing that very few people in the world would ever have the chance to experience that moment? For the past almost-four years, I haven't just been a fan. I've been there. I've stood in the bleachers; I've cheered at military graduations and promotions. I've sent countless letters & packages, and I've celebrated a deployment homecoming with an entire unit. I have gotten a glimpse of something that most people only hear about or see on a TV screen, and it, too, is humanly impossible to describe a feeling like that -- a feeling of pride and deepest respect for our military members and their patriotic service to this country.
The video that is posted above, those 56 seconds (and then some) -- they changed everything for me. Because of those 56 seconds, I now have enough Marine Corps t-shirts to open my own store. Because of those 56 seconds, I hit up the patriotic aisle in AC Moore this time of year like nobody's business. And because of those 56 seconds, I have honest-to-goodness developed an Eagle-Globe-Anchor radar that is accurate for up to two miles.
Looking back on my time at Duke, I feel so incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to watch games in Cameron. Being a Duke fan, a Duke supporter -- it's great. But actually being there, getting to experience the greatness in a way that most people never will -- it's indescribable.
In the same way, I feel so incredibly privileged to have had the opportunity to support Zach throughout his Marine Corps career. Being a military fan, a military supporter -- it's great. It's more than great, really, and the wonderfully kind comments on my blog over the years from people who love and support our military mean so much to me (and Zach). But actually being there, getting to experience the greatness in a way that most people never will -- it's indescribable. It's powerful, it's motivating... and it's the reason why I've written an entire Armed Forces Day blog post :)
(All of these pictures were taken back in 2009 --- what little babies!)
Being a small part of the military community for the past 3 1/2 years has taken me to multiple states, and it's taken my heart across the ocean to multiple countries. During that time, I've had the opportunity to meet so many Marines, and while I can't even begin to express my gratitude toward them for everything they do for me, for my fiancé (like how I casually slid that word in?), and for this country, I most definitely want to recognize them.
Hipp: You're somewhere in that 56-second video, although I didn't know you then. You've been with Zach from the very beginning: Parris Island to Geiger to Aberdeen and back to Geiger, and I'm so glad he's always had you to rely on. I'm sorry we woke you up when we called to tell you that we were (finally) engaged (it wasn't late!), but I'm so grateful we have a friend like you in our lives that we were so eager to call. You love your family & this country something fierce, and your willingness to do anything for either of them shows how selfless and loyal you are. I'll never be able to thank you enough for coming to Zach's homecoming with me, and I can't wait for a few more Fast Freddie's trips before you both EAS :)
Baker: For two years, you sacrificed the chance to see your family and live in a familiar place as you were stationed half a world away in Japan. Thank you (and the time difference) for being awake during my all-nighters and for telling me that the day was going to be good since you had already lived it and were going to bed when I was getting up. I'm so thankful for your hard work and your sense of humor, and I'm especially grateful that you defend this country infinitely better than you play Draw Something :)
Howard: Will you come home already? Bahrain has kept you for far too long, and Zach & I can't promise to keep Hipp out of trouble much longer! Thanks for always being the responsible(ish) one and for being a 1000x better roommate for Zach than "Ricky Bobby" ever was. I miss being able to banter with you in person about our difference of opinions in college basketball teams, but I respect you so much for spending two years of your life serving in the Middle East.
To the boys at SOI (Sousa, Douglas, Spriggs, Oliveras, Clark, Robinson, Sanzone, & Sgt Scriber): Thank you for welcoming me from the very beginning and making me feel like a part of the Marine Corps family, even if I was "just the girlfriend." You stopped by to say "hi" whenever Zach was on the phone with me, you gave Zach your extra ticket so I could attend my first Marine Corps ball, and you never made me feel awkward when I came to visit the armory. Although you're all currently scattered throughout the country & many of you have already EAS'ed, I'm still grateful for all of your hard work and the sacrifices you made.
To the boys of 1/9 (Arellano, Burke, Bell, Sturgill, Schamberger, Decker, Baxter, and Deselle): Thank you for taking care of my boy when I'm not there, thank you for making sure he came home from Afghanistan safely just like you promised me, and above all, thank you for your commitment to Corps and Country throughout your most recent combat deployment. You are all braver than I will ever be, and today is about honoring you.
On this Armed Forces Day in particular, I am grateful for the sacrifices that my own fiancé makes for this country. Zach, there are times where I want to punch a SSgt in the face for making everyone work late, or times that I go crazy when you're on rifle range or duty and we can't talk at all for days. I really don't like how Saturday morning PT gets in the way of plans, and I absolutely hate going weeks or months without seeing you. But as many times as I've played the EAS Song on repeat and sang along at the top of my lungs, I really am so proud of everything that you do. I recognize that while I do have to give up some things and my life is different simply because I date a guy in the military, you sacrifice so much more. You are incredibly selfless, loyal, and the hardest worker I know... so thank you. Thank you for sleeping on a cot in the desert with your rifle for seven straight months. Thank you for standing 12-hour guard force shifts. Thank you for dealing with the hassle of pressed uniforms and weekly haircuts and mandatory PTs. Thank you for chocolate from Germany and flags from Afghanistan and the most wonderful pair of silkies from Mojave Viper. Thank you for Skype sessions and phone calls and handwritten letters, even when it means less sleep. Above all, thank you for everything you've done for me and this country, and thank you for allowing me to experience this journey with you. Thank you for giving me a significantly deeper appreciation for my country and for the selfless men & women who work so tirelessly to protect it.
And thank you for helping me with my senior capstone project :)
(A few images displayed in my senior capstone exhibition -- I really do promise to reveal the entire thing sometime within the next month. Life kinda got busy!)
If you're fortunate enough to know a servicemember, thank them today! And if you're not so fortunate, well... you can always thank mine. I'm pretty convinced he's one of the best ones out there. Happy Armed Forces Day!