There is a special bond that military families have with each other, especially in the Marine Corps. Saturday I wore my Marine Corps sweatshirt to the grocery store and to pick up food from a restaurant down the street. The man in the grocery store and I only had to exchange eye contact and point at each other’s supportive USMC apparel to realize we were both part of the larger family called the Marine Corps. My other encounter was also wearing a Marines tee and while he was intoxicated in the middle of the street, he felt the need to salute me screaming “Semper Fi,” after which I told him I was a spouse and not a Marine, so there was no need to salute me. “Semper Fidelis” is the Marine Corps motto translating to “Always Faithful.” It pairs nicely with the saying “Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”
They say that “home is where your heart is” and I think that fell true for us during Brendan’s active duty years. In the (almost) four years that Brendan was stationed in California, I never had the experience of living on or near his base. I am still undecided on whether or not this was a good thing or not, but either way, we made the long distance work. Ironically enough, base still felt like home when I visited him.
I remember the first time being on a Marine Corps base – there were men (and some women) in cammies EVERYWHERE and every sign on base was in red and yellow font.
“Cammies” is a short term for camouflage, the uniform Marines and most military personnel wear from day to day. Did you know that each military branch has its own camouflage pattern and color? As time went on, I learned to identify them without needing to read the name tapes on their chest.
Prior to my first visit, I thought military bases were this boring, secluded place that just held barracks for the single Marines and fields for training…boy was I wrong. I guess the best way to explain it is that military bases are almost their own city or gated community. You need to pass through the gates with proper identification, but once you’re there, you have just about all that you need and TAX FREE. The department stores are close to, if not better than, the ones at regular malls. You can still get your Nike Frees or Michael Kors purses, but a little cheaper, and again, TAX FREE. They even have everyday franchises we all know such as McDonalds, Domino’s, etc. Brendan and I praised the day they put a Dunkin Donut’s in the new PX and we made sure to use it well.
This is the main gate at Camp Pendleton, but there are several others because this base is so large. I believe it is 7 seven exits on the highway!
Aside from all of the glorious aspects of base, there were also a few things one must adapt to – like gun fire at 7am from the shooting ranges. I guess if you live there full time, it becomes background noise, the way heavy trucks and emergency sirens do in the city.
Beyond all of the shopping necessities and other oddities, the people living on base are one of a kind. Of course like anywhere, you will have a variety of people from A-Z, but on base, you have thousands of families from diverse walks of life, living and working side by side every day. Needless to say, you learn A LOT about people from all parts of the country, for the good and for the bad. It allows you to open up your eyes to new cultures and different ways of living. For us, like many military families, these different walks of life became our family. Now that Brendan is home, we find ourselves saying, “Let’s move to…” and fill in the blank of the state our second family lives in just because we miss them.
I can probably count on two hands the amount of physical times I have seen our second family in the past four years, but none of that really matters. We have adopted these wonderful people in our lives to help us during the hardest times as we endured situations that many (and most) people will never experience in their lifetime. And there we were, early twenties, still trying to figure out who we were as individuals, but also having to learn what it meant to be separated for long periods of times and distances from our newlywed spouses and families; and even more so, the emotional meaning of war.
And that is why these amazing people are our family now; because they helped us conquer our fears, adjust to a new way of life, teach us about their part of the country and also a lot about ourselves. To these very special people in our lives: thank you. We love you like we love our family made from blood.
So it is true that home really is where your heart is and that is why a little piece of our hearts will always be in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, California and of course a few other places.