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From Fear To Pride

Posted by Doug White under Military, Personal

After I completed boot camp, I was sent to Camp Johnson, North Carolina for admin school training and upon completion of that I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina which is literally in the same city as Camp Johnson was.  It was not much of an event for me to move to one base from the other.

My first job was as an orders clerk for the Headquarters Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division.  I remember having what was probably a silly feeling of excitement when I was given my own desk in the office where I was to work.  I’d never worked in an office before and something about that desk made me feel … grown up.

About three months later, I took Christmas off to visit my family in Rapid City and when I came back to Camp Lejeune I was pulled aside and told I was no longer an orders clerk.  Fortunately it wasn’t because I had done anything wrong, rather they needed a Marine to serve as a Chaplain’s assistant for the Division Chaplain.

There I was again, just a few months after arriving at my first adult job now starting my second one.  I worked with a Navy enlisted man and the Division Chaplain – a Naval Captain – and his assistant chaplain – a Lieutenant Commander.

I enjoyed the job quite a bit; it was much more informal than I’d been used to since becoming a Marine.  This could be the reason I made the error I did not long afterwards.

One day I was asked to go over to the Headquarters Battalion and get some signatures from the new First Sergeant there.  I walked up to his office and knocked at the door and introduced myself, “Good morning, First Sergeant, I’m PFC White and…”

“What in God’s name do you think you’re doing!!??” a voice bellowed from the office.

“Um, uh…”  I looked in and saw one of the biggest men I’d ever seen in my life.  The Marine Corps mascot is a bulldog and I swear that day I saw that mascot come to life – at a good six and a half feet or so, snarling and ready to tear me from limb to limb.

“Marine, is that how you enter a First Sergeant’s office?  Like we’re some kind of buddies or something?!!”

“Uh, no sir…I mean, no First Sergeant….”

“Get out of my office and come back when you learn how to present yourself like a Marine!” the man bellowed.

I did exactly what he said.  I left.  However, what he said was not exactly how I interpreted it.  Apparently, he had meant for me to stay outside his office and eventually present myself properly.  I made no friends that day by leaving.

By the time I made it back to the Chaplain’s office, a call had been made and I had been ordered back to the First Sergeant’s office.  With a distinguishable gulp, I knocked on his door and when told to do so I walked in at attention and presented myself to him.

As one can imagine, several of the next minutes were filled with various profanities and loud yells to intimidate me and put me in my place.  Both objectives were accomplished.  I feared this man more than I probably ever feared my drill instructors at Boot Camp.

Which taking that into account made my next mistake even more stupid.  Several months later, we had a Chaplain from Great Britain come to Camp Lejeune on an exchange program.  Because I was the Division Chaplain’s assistant this meant I drove him around the base, I was there when this Chaplain arrived and I got to meet him, his wife and their two girls.

Not long after that I got the nerve up to ask this Chaplain’s daughter to go out with me and we began dating.  One day I decided I wanted to buy her some flowers from the local PX.  I drove there at lunch to do so – but I did this in the Division Chaplain van.  When I came out a few minutes later, the van was gone.

It turns out that using military vehicles for personal use is a big no-no.  Granted, this should have been something I understood but looking back at it now, I’m going to cut my nineteen year old self some slack.

The First Sergeant was not as kind.  It wasn’t long before I was once again standing in front of his door.  Fortunately, by this point, I was well aware of how he wished me to present myself and did so accordingly.

There was no pleasure to be found in the fact I remembered our earlier lesson together.  More profanities and loud yelling ensued.  The First Sergeant decided I needed to be taught a lesson.  I had requested time off as I had planned to take my girlfriend to visit a good friend of mine in Washington D.C.  That leave of absence was revoked and I spent that time on duty.

As reprimands go, despite how unfair I thought it was at that time, it was a rather tame punishment.  In fact, I was able to get time off later on and was able to take my girlfriend to Washington D.C. after all.  I was pretty lucky to be honest that more hadn’t been done.

That makes the final thing I did the stupidest thing of all.  Another young female Marine had been moved into the Chaplain’s office.  I have to be honest; I didn’t like her at all.  She outranked me slightly – for most of the time we were the same rank but she was the senior of the two of us – and honestly I probably was threatened by that a bit.  Again, I was nineteen.

She and I had a lot of issues for the next year or so and I did not show her the respect she deserved.  It didn’t help though that she was pretty incompetent at our job.  That doesn’t excuse what I did however.

One day we were filling out performance reports for the Chaplain’s that worked under the Division Chaplain and she kept doing them incorrectly.  In the arrogance that comes so quickly to the young I made a big production of showing her how she was doing them wrong.

The assistant Chaplain at that time had finally seen enough.  He contacted Headquarters Battalion and asked to have me removed from the Division Chaplain’s office.  I had been, in essence, fired.

I was embarrassed and frustrated.  I knew I was good at what I did and I lost this job because of someone else’s incompetence.  That’s at least what I told myself at the time.  In truth, I lost it because I didn’t know how to work within the system.  I was trying too hard to fight it.

I expected to find myself before the First Sergeant again to be once more hit with more profanities and loud yelling.  Surprisingly that didn’t happen.  I was moved into the Logistics office for the Division and not much else was said of what happened.

I have to admit, I think being put into that job was a good thing and I actually enjoyed what I did.  We were responsible for keeping track of things the various units in the Division needed such as food, ammunition, etc.  I worked for a Gunnery Sergeant who was quiet and firm but pretty good to work with.

One day I was walking to my office when I saw the First Sergeant headed my way.  He was coming right towards me with a determined look in his eye.  I quickly thought back over the last few days and couldn’t think of anything I had done wrong!  What was he going to say to me?

He stopped right in front of me, “White!  I see you haven’t signed up for the football team we’ve put together.”

“Uh, um…well, First Sergeant, I’m really not a football player,” I began.

“White!  Did you hear me?  I see you haven’t signed up for the football team we’ve put together!”

“Well, uh, First Sergeant would you like me to sign up for it?”

“That would be fantastic White!  I’ll see you at practice!” With that he turned and left.

I stood there dumbfounded.  What the heck just happened? I guess I had just joined a football team, a MARINE football team, having never played a day of football in my life.  “I’m going to die.” I whispered to myself.

The next several days were brutal.  I practiced with fellow Marines who took this game of football, one I never understood and never thought made any sense, very seriously.  I would go back to my barracks after practice bruised and in pain but feeling something I hadn’t in awhile.

What I felt was that I once again belonged to this group known as Marines.  I wasn’t an outsider, I wasn’t a failure, I was just like them.

Silly as that might sound it was confirmed one night after practice when the First Sergeant took me aside and complimented me.  What he told me was irrelevant.  This man had spent every one of our encounters together yelling at me for something or another.  This time he was telling me I was doing well.  I felt a swell of pride that I hadn’t felt in a really long time.

Unfortunately we never got a chance to play any football games.  Not long after that, a dictator in Iraq decided to invade Kuwait and the world changed for everyone I knew.  My unit was in preparation mode to go to the Gulf.

I didn’t go with them.  I had orders to go to Okinawa and so I watched as many people I knew began the steps to go to war.  No one knew how long we’d be there or how serious the war would be.  We just knew we were going.  That would include a certain First Sergeant who terrified me so.

I don’t know what happened to the First Sergeant.  Considering how the first Gulf War turned out, I’m sure he was fine and continued on in his career as a Marine.  But I wonder about him sometimes.  I wonder if he continued to first terrify and then essentially instill pride into other Marines such as he did to me so long ago.

As for myself, I can’t honestly say I am happy I experienced all that I did under him.  I can say that I see now, twenty-five years later, that it served a purpose.  I made silly, dumb mistakes as a young Marine and I deserved every consequence I received as a result.  But what I also needed, and I like to think he knew it those last few days before all changed, was to feel like I was still part of this group I had joined.  If that’s the case, he definitely accomplished his mission.

 

I will admit to a bit of apprehension about writing this.  This issue is such an inflammatory one anymore that I believe that there is no way to espouse any opinion without angering someone.  However, it’s weighed on my mind for so long now I have to put something down on paper.  I’m asking ahead of time for some patience.  Please read it through and hear me out.

In 1991, I was a 22 year old Lance Corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  There had been a debate going on in the paper about homosexuality in the military and I decided to put my two cents in.  Below is a small tidbit of what I said back then:

I have no particular love of homosexuality, but then I’m not a homosexual.  But, as I’ve worked with people who’ve been divorced, had sex before marriage and other activities, which the Bible states are wrong, I see no problem working with someone who is gay.  It’s not my job to take the place of God and judge anyone.  And, as much as the military would think it’s their right, it’s really none of their concern what a person does in his private life, especially if it’s done with another consenting adult.  Let God be God.  If it’s wrong, He’ll let them know.

Not the best worded opinion I’ve ever wrote, but I was pretty young.   However, I still feel this way.

As you might imagine, I received some flak from my immediate supervisor over this article.  (Keep in mind, this was several years before, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’.)  The third to last sentence talks about how it’s none of the militiary’s business about this issue.  I was told I had no right to say this in a public forum as a member of the military. In fact, I was ordered to submit any future “opinions” I had to my supervisor before they were sent to the paper.  I may not like to admit this, but as arcane as that sounds, my supervisor was right.  I was in the military and like it or not, your freedom is limited to a degree when you serve.

I wrote this article because I had a very close friend in the Marines that was gay.  He was my first supervisor when I was stationed in North Carolina.  He got out of the military not long after that but we remained friends.  I cared for him and I saw the struggles he went through and it bothered me that he couldn’t just be who he was.  He had to keep it a secret the entire time he served our country and generally most of his adult life.  He struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction and I’m sure that his keeping this a secret was partly to blame.  Today, I don’t even know if this man is still alive.

So you might say that I have a somewhat libertarian view of homosexuality.  I’ve been raised in a faith and then chose a different faith as an adult in which both teach homosexuality is a sin.  I believe that to be true.  But, I also believe it’s not my place to interfere in what someone does in their personal life.  I believe in essence, “each to their own.”  I’ve known several people in my life that are gay and I really don’t care.  It’s their life.  It really, truly is none of my business.

That being said, I draw the line at when the tables are turned and now people who have a spiritual conviction against homosexuality are being told they must ignore their convictions and participate – in any way – in something they feel is sinful.

In both Kansas and in South Dakota there were laws that were debated this winter about protecting the right of a business owner from being sued if they refuse to provide a service to a same sex couple because of their religious convictions.  Both laws never completely made it through their states’ Congress and are now dead in the water.

This is probably a good thing – to a degree.  Both laws were too broad from what I can determine.  It seemed they could be used to allow firing of someone for being gay as well as allowing discrimination against same sex couples for pretty much anything.  All of that is wrong.

It does bring up some issues for me though.  Here are some of the things I think of and my thoughts on each.

Should a business owner be allowed to refuse service to a same sex couple?

If the service is done in regards to a religious ceremony – such as a wedding – then my opinion is yes, that business owner should be able to refuse service if they choose.  Telling a business owner that they are not allowed to have a religious conviction when they choose to go into business is absolutely foolish.  That’s like me asking you to cut off your toe before you go into your career field.  People’s religious convictions are a part of who they are.  You can’t turn that off and on.  If you can, then it’s not a true conviction.

I’ve heard people also argue that it is ok to say a preacher can’t be forced to marry a same sex couple but that a business owner isn’t afforded that same right?  Why?  Just because a person isn’t a preacher, that doesn’t mean they don’t have religious convictions similar to that preacher!  It just means the preacher chose to make his convictions into a career.   The business owner didn’t but his/her convictions are still a part of who they are every day.

So, if a business, such as a cake decorating company or a photography shop was asked to provide their service for a same sex wedding, they should be able to refuse – in my opinion.  But, that same company being asked to provide the same service outside of a wedding or other religious activity, should not be able to refuse the service, even if the people who requested it are gay.

Likewise, if any business is asked to perform a service that is not part of a religious ceremony, then I believe that business cannot refuse service when requested to do this by someone who is gay.  If you feel that strongly about keeping gay people out of your life, then honestly, you need to remove yourself from the public entirely.

Should a business owner be forced to refuse service to a same sex couple?

Absolutely not.  I’ve heard some say that the law that they tried to pass in South Dakota would have done this.  If so, it deserved to die.  What a ridiculous concept.

Should a gay person be allowed to be fired for being gay?

Again, no.  Seems odd that in the 21st century we even have to ask this question.  I truly thought that being gay was a protected status.  Recently, I learned otherwise and that shocked me.  It seems to me to be an arbitrary reason to fire someone.  It’s like firing someone because they like peanut butter and jelly.

As you can see my only real issue is tied to when a business owner is being required to ignore his/her convictions.  I believe that my thoughts on that  as described above could be a viable way to create a solution to the problem – but one voice like mine gets drowned out in the thunderous clamor of screams of “bigot!” and/or “sinner!” that seem to take up so much of this discussion.

I have to pause for a moment and talk about those two words, bigot and sinner.  These two words take up so much of any conversation on this topic that it is difficult to have a rational conversation with anyone anymore.

If you look at a person who has a religious conviction against homosexuality and with nothing more than that to go on call them a bigot, you are absolutely the same as the Westboro group that goes around preaching hate towards everyone.  Seriously.  It’s an inflammatory word that makes discussion impossible.

Likewise, if you look at someone who is either gay or believes homosexuality to be a normal part of life and call them a sinner with nothing more than that to go on, you are the same as the Westboro group as well.  Keep in mind, if you truly believe it’s a sin, you must believe we are all sinners, and that includes you so explain to me why you feel it’s your right to yell it into someone else’s face?

I believe we are on the cusp of a huge change in this country.  Because of the way people are approaching this issue, I truly believe any solution we come up with is going to hurt someone.  We seem bent on either two solutions:

  • Ignore a person’s right to have religious convictions against homosexuality.
  • Ignore a person’s right to live a homosexual life free from discrimination.

This makes me sad.  I think in as country as great as ours, that we should be able to come up with a more reasoned approach.  The older I get though, the more convinced I’m becoming that “reasoned approaches” are a thing of the past.

The Secret Life of Doug White

Posted by Doug White under Personal

I watched a good, sweet and sentimental movie today called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  Without giving away too much, the movie centered on a man named Walter Mitty who spent a lot of his life daydreaming about adventures and what happens when he stopped daydreaming and started living his life for real.

I went with my oldest daughter – who is sixteen going on twenty – and a young lady who has been a part of the family for years now.  The two of them were absolutely enthralled with the show and talked about what the show made them feel.  The urge to travel and explore the world and make sure they aren’t missing out on life was a common thread of the conversation home.

I get that.  When I was around their age, I couldn’t wait until I had left the nest and explore the world and find my place in it.  I joined the Marine Corps and every chance I could, I travelled.

I took a trip with a girlfriend of mine to Washington D.C. to visit my best friend.  We spent a day wandering the city that I remember with great fondness.  I travelled to Middletown, New York with my closest friend in the Marines so we could visit his friends and the place he grew up.

In my last year in the Corps I was ordered to go to Okinawa, Japan.  I actually didn’t want to go at first.  It was too far from everything I knew.  It turned out to be one of the best years I spent in the Marine Corps.  I met several great people and I saw a country that was small and yet filled with such intense beauty.  It is a year that will stay with me until the day I die.

When I got out of the Marine Corps, I went home to Rapid City, South Dakota and started college.  I took time again to travel once more – this time to Bismarck, North Dakota.  I had a pen pal while I was in the Marines and I travelled to see her and her friends.  It was a lot of fun and I met some really neat people, who I never saw again.  But the memory of it still makes me smile.

I then met my wife to be that fall and within the year we were married.  From there, I have stayed within six hours of my home town.  Some might say that once I married, the adventure of my youth was over.  I would heartily disagree.  The adventure took on a whole other dimension.

I watched the most beautiful woman willingly decide to walk down an aisle and willingly decide to spend the rest of her life with a guy like me.  I watched the most beautiful woman in the world give birth to the two most beautiful babies God ever put on this earth.  I watched my oldest daughter warm up a room with her smile and her laugh opened up a whole world of possibilities of joy into my life.  I watched my youngest barrel into a room with a sense of humor that made me realize that if she only knew how funny she was, the world would be in for a ride like nothing anyone has seen.

I watched my oldest rush off to her first day of kindergarten without so much of a glance back to her mom and dad.  I remember going for a walk at that lunch that day wondering at what point did that little five year old ball of energy get her hooks so deeply into my heart.

Every night when my youngest was young, I watched as she would crawl into my chair and sit with me and only then would she go to sleep.  I would kiss her on the forehead and again wonder how it is that I could love another person so deeply as I loved her, her sister and her mother.

I watched as my girls wanted me in everything they were a part of.  Christmas concerts, school plays, basketball games, movies, trips to the pool.  I watched as they grew and realized that they didn’t need their dad so much.  And while that sometimes is tough to take, I realize that too is part of this adventure I’m on.

Because while they both are trying to be independent and grown up, there are still days where my youngest will come to me and ask me to pray with her because something is bothering her or she can’t sleep or whatever.  And every once in a while my oldest will surprise me like when she sits down beside me on a couch to watch a show and leans her head on my shoulder.  They’re small moments of affection that I will always cherish.

To these two and to the girl I like to call our “college transplant”, this may seem boring.  This may not seem like an adventure to them at all.  To me it is everything.

I’m watching one lady – who while she isn’t technically ours, really is – blossom from a young girl who had a hard time interacting with others into someone who is an extremely self-sufficient young woman who I have no doubt will move onto great things.

I’m watching a child who has spent sixteen years of her life in a state of perpetual motion finding her focus.  Her love of music is something that pours out of her soul.  And when I watch her deep in the midst of that love, it is something that makes me almost numb with awe.

I’m watching another child who takes on the academic world with a fierce determination that is inspiring of someone so young.  Yet still so shy, she has taken steps to open herself up into new things and open her heart up to those around her.  She’s still so young and her path is undecided but I know it will be filled with lots of wonderful moments and adventures of her own.

I’m watching the woman I love taking these three under her wings, guiding them, nurturing them and every once in awhile smacking them in the head when they take missteps and I’m beyond excited to be on this trip with her.

My adventures in my twenties were exciting and different and wonderful.  As I hit my mid-40’s all I can say is that the adventures of day-to-day life with these people are never boring and never dull.  They are what I live for.  I can’t wait to see what happens next.