by Anastasia Moreno
Every Marine has a reason why they joined the Corps. I happened to have multiple reasons. A dead-end phone operator job. Surmounting student loan debts. Dumped by a spineless boyfriend. Homesickness. Losing focus. The list goes on.
I was in Arizona for several years, going to college, doing some Army ROTC (a whole another story!), quitting college, and working day and night at a phone company trying to pay back my education debts. There wasn’t anything fun at that point. I wanted to reset my life and go back to my home island, Okinawa, Japan. The desert and mountains were okay, but I really missed the ocean.
But how can I live in Japan as an American citizen? After thinking through many options, the military path seemed the best. And of all the branches, the Marine Corps had the largest presence in Okinawa and therefore, gave me the best chance to go home.
So there I was in front of the recruiting office near the university. All branches of service were set up there, and the front of the offices were all glass. From right to left, it was the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Army.
I just left the Army ROTC program, so I decided to start from the right. The Air Force.
When I opened the door, I noticed a height tape similar to the one you find at gas stations. My head barely cleared the 4 foot 11 inch mark, and when I tried to step into the room, I heard a voice. An Air Force tech sergeant glanced at my height, stared back at his computer screen and told me, “Sorry, not interested. Have a nice day.” Then he continued typing.
Wow, that was rude. I knew the Air Force minimum height for females was five feet, but I also knew a height waiver was easier to get than a felony waiver (not that I had a criminal record!) “Well, f— you, too,” I thought as I walked over to the Navy office.
The Navy petty officer was very friendly and let me take a practice ASVAB exam on the computer. I aced it — 99 out of 99 points! He gave me a copy of the test results and told me this score is good for all branches.
The petty officer was extremely excited and kept offering me a job with the Navy’s nuclear program, but I knew that “nuclear” meant either a nuclear submarine with no females on board or a nuclear research laboratory in the States. Neither of those options would take me back to Okinawa, so I gently declined.
He seemed a little dissapointed but still offered many other job programs as I watched a promotional video. None of the Navy uniforms appealed to me, unfortunately, and the cramped drill movements on ship didn’t look as sharp either. It just didn’t click with me. So I thanked the friendly petty officer as I left to go to the Marine Corps office.
When I entered the Marine Corps office, the staff sergeant there was just as friendly as the Navy petty officer. He was impressed with my practice test score and opened up the MOS book and said, “Other than combat arms, you can choose whatever job you’d like.”
I told him I didn’t care what job I got. I just wanted to go back to Okinawa. He was surprised I knew about the little island, but after listening to my story, he said, “No problem, the Marine Corps will take good care of you. And you’re right, it won’t matter what MOS you have, because once you take the Japanese DLPT (language test), someone will find you and use you as their translator.” (I didn’t know what he meant by that until I got stationed in Okinawa.)
The staff sergeant was amused at the Air Force recruiter’s cold reaction, so he explained to me that he’ll “hook me up.” He predicted that the Air Force tech sergeant would call me really soon. I didn’t care about the Air Force at that point, so I wasn’t really sure how he’d “hook me up” — whatever that meant.
Something felt right about being in the Marine Corps office, so when I left, I skipped the Army office and went straight home. The staff sergeant asked me to attend a poolee event the following week, so until then, I went about my usual business at home and work.
A couple of days after the recruiting office visits, though, I got a phone call from the Air Force tech sergeant. I never gave him my contact information, much less have a conversation with that guy, so how did he get my phone number?
The tech sergeant stuttered, “I-Is this Ms. Moreno?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“I a-apologize for the way I treated you last time. I-If you have time, would you like to come to my office so I can explain what the Air Force has to offer you?” he asked.
I replied, “No thank you. I’m interested in enlisting in the Marines. Thank you for trying.” Click.
Then it dawned on me. The Marine staff sergeant must have done something! This was what he meant by “hooking me up”!
I immediately ran over to the Marine office and asked the staff sergeant, “What did you do to make that Air Force guy call me?”
The staff sergeant explained with a smile, “I wrote your name, phone number and ‘YOUR LOSS!’ on your test results and posted it right on the 4’11” mark of that height tape at the Air Force office entrance. Every time the tech sergeant removed it, I taped another one on till he gave in and gave you a call.”
Wow. I was amazed at how this staff sergeant, virtually a stranger to me, immediately treated me like family and showed me off to the Air Force tech sergeant. And I haven’t even signed a contract yet!
Something about his extra care and attention to detail clicked with me. I laughed my ass off and asked to sign the contract, right then and there. He got me!
I walked over to the Navy office, and the friendly petty officer seemed sad but congratulated me. He grinned, “The Navy and Marines get along like family, so I’m sure I’ll see you around. Good luck!”
And of course, the staff sergeant posted a copy of my signed Marine enlistment contract on the 4’11” mark in front of the Air Force office.
Anastasia Moreno is a USMC veteran and writer/translator of the fictional webcomic “Marine Corps Yumi” at mcyumi.com.