| This is the 405th story of Our Life Logs |
The person I am today is not even close to the person I was 20 years ago, and I’m proud of that.
I was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1982, but we moved to Florida in the US when I was only two. I grew up sheltered from life—the kind of sheltered where it was a glorious adventure to take a trip to a different city once in a blue moon—because while my parents and I moved around a lot (about 10 times throughout my childhood), I never had much of an opportunity to really explore a new place. I could never grow roots. My parents were very reserved, and I became just like them. I didn’t know how to make friends, and this handicap to socializing left me feeling lonely with little self-confidence.
So, I taught myself how to learn to like being alone. It became a preservation mechanism, a means of survival so I could fight off the feeling that I had few who cared for me. I wasn’t necessarily sad. I just didn’t really have a purpose or emotional response to how life was going. I spent most of my time in library, getting lost in the pages of other people’s lives.
I grew up not having the slightest idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up. I was interested in a lot of things, but choosing one was overwhelming. When my senior year of high school came, I went into panic mode. Should I be an environmental lobbyist? Should I become a chef? Should I venture into pottery? Or maybe I should own a dog rescue! Or perhaps start my own fashion line of shoes! This thought process was exhausting.
Then, like a magic trick, I met the most intimidating and exciting person who showed me a path I’d never considered before.
When I was a senior in high school, Staff Sergeant Torres, a local Marine Corps recruiter, entered my third-period chemistry class with a sense of urgency that made me feel like I was supposed to be doing something productive. I had never seen (or heard) anyone look so sharp, walk with such purpose, and talk so darn loud! His demeanor, his tone, his attitude—it was like a superhero came flying in!
Words kept echoing over and over in his pitch: honor, courage, and commitment. All foreign concepts to me. He then asked us to consider enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. I was so drawn to the idea of being an elite, the ultimate female empowerment symbol. Most of all, I wanted to learn to be comfortable in my own skin. I wanted to prove to not only others but also to myself, that I could become a strong, confident woman.
Before the Staff Sergeant even finished his pitch, I had already signed the enlisting papers in my mind. He was the lighthouse in my foggy, messy mind, showing a way to break out of my isolated cocoon and truly fly—all while serving my country. In May 2001, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. It was the best decision I have ever made.
Shortly after I graduated high school, I was shipped out to boot camp. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
You see, female Marines train all in one location: The Island. Parris Island, South Carolina. I’ll never forget the bus ride there. I was listening to Cold Play’s “Yellow” to help calm my nerves when all of a sudden it was swiftly interrupted with high-intensity yelling. Instant nausea ensued. Amidst the screams, we rolled into what seemed to be the middle of nowhere at 2 AM, got bum-rushed out the bus to step on the infamous yellow footprints…the steps…you know which ones…and jolted into formation. Again, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.
Turns out, the whole “being the ultimate female empowerment symbol” does not come with a simple curly signature. It’s earned after a slew of blood (not necessarily yours), sweat (enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool), and holding back tears (at least until you can get back to your bunk and let them flow into the cool side of the pillow).
At boot camp, I discovered that my lonely upbringing had taught me that I possessed something valuable: resiliency. I had learned to cope with anger, solitude, and difficult life situations at a very young age. Boot camp made me use those “lessons learned” to make it through. I had always been awesome—I just needed the right environment in which to THRIVE.
Then it happened. September 11, 2001. The day that all those living in the United States lost their breath for a slight moment when those towers came crashing down. Reality set in quickly that my future in the Marines was going to take a drastic turn.
I graduated from boot camp in February 2002 and was shipped out to serve shortly thereafter. I completed my first tour of active duty in 2005 and, due to the stop-loss, I was thanked for my service and told to move on; so, I did. I went off to pursue my passion for food and earn a culinary degree while living in San Diego, California.
Not even a week after completing school, I received what I like to call the “Semper Fidelis Package.”
[So, quick history lesson, in 2003, crap was hitting the fan hard in the US with a new type of war that our ranks were not used to overseas. Every year was a new and different battle, and on June 22, 2004, President Bush signed an “Individual Ready Reserve” that pulled personnel from the inactive reserves in order to support the war. Now class, guess which badass they said they needed back…AHA! You guessed it. Your girl over here.]
The next thing I knew, I was back in uniform and checking in to 7th Engineer Support Battalion, 1st Marine Logistics Group, Camp Pendleton, California, for a deployment in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
It took some time, but I achieved the promotion to Non-Commissioned Officer which is a complete honor. It’s a critical leadership position and I couldn’t have been prouder. This set me up for success to lead my Marines with stern discipline, successful mission accomplishments, and most importantly, solidified my self-acceptance that was eons away from that reluctant little girl. In fact, many deemed me as “the scariest Sergeant of Marines” they had experienced. Not the best look for me as a person, but the personal transformation was no joke. And it was put to the test.
February of 2008. The moment I stepped foot in Al Taqquadum, Iraq, it became very real. The smells. The weird orange skies. And my goodness, the dust. The feeling that all the training I had received at any given time may need to be used. By the third day I was there, I experienced my first sandstorm (shitty and terrifying), had to take “Navy Showers” with water bottles (because that’s just the way it was), and learned that I had been snatched up for the Lioness Program, an all-female team designed to search and secure Iraqi women and children who were suspected of aiding in dangerous activity.
This was a nasty war of cowards and insurgents who planted bombs on children just to harm us in uniform. I was mortified. But again, I knew that they were just doing as they were told. It made me realize the power of what I was doing, keeping others safe as if I were a modern-day Wonder Woman. I was learning combat lifesaver skills, brushing up on my MC Ninja skills every damn day, and even though I woke up every morning wondering if this was all just a bad dream…I was doing it.
After being in Iraq for several weeks and dying from all the additional training I was receiving, one morning I woke up and felt like I was stabbed in the gut. So random and out of nowhere and I literally could not walk. I was pumped up with meds and flown to Baghdad where the medical facilities could further see what was happening.
Turns out, that while I was training with the Lionesses, I strained tendons and muscles in my abdominals that caused several ovarian cysts to rupture. I just remember thinking, I get boots on the ground for five minutes, break an ovary, and that’s it? All done? The crap, Doc? I was surrounded by actual wounded military personnel; I’m talking like blown-off limbs, missing faces and appendages, and here I was laid out from a dumb infection…lame. Then, I immediately went into panic mode because I wasn’t sure if this was going to affect me being able to have kids or not.
Two days before and I had been Wonder Woman. Now, I was just wandering.
Although I was no longer deployable, I still had to fulfill my obligation to the yearlong orders, so I finished them off back in California. It was so bad. I started to question everything at that point.
Oh, I forgot to mention…this was 2008. Crash of the US housing bubble, remember that? All goes to hell in the real estate market causing me to not be able to afford to live in SoCal any longer. Well, that and the job market for my career field was about impossible, especially since I’d been out of the kitchen for over a year due to my recall. I lost my job and, with that, my sense of self and purpose. I was in a very bad place. Like, needed-therapy bad place. I was lonely. I was pissed. I was lost. There were about two solid months of self-loathing and couch crashing until I came to the realization that getting back in uniform and being in-it-to-win-it was my only “adulting” option.
So, there I was. Right back into prior service recruiter’s office, signing my life away once more—except this time, I wasn’t a sheepish girl trying to find some semblance of strength within my heart. No. I had been strong, stood tall, and I already had my come-to-Jesus moment. But as I was signing that paper, I knew I would have to do it all over again.
I came back into the service at ground level (my original specialty of weapon’s technician was not available so if I wanted to come back in I had to completely change my job), and yet I started in a leadership position. I was a novice whose job was to be the one to mentor and guide others through proficiency.
So, what did I do? I dove right into becoming an administrator and never looked back. For about a solid year I went to every workshop, conference, school, and training event to immerse myself. I wanted to ensure that I could be the best administrator and Marine that I could be in a short period of time. Once more, I was doing it. No more wandering.
I’m a tour short of retirement and think about my journey as one that I’m proud to tell my children. This shy, curly-haired loner wears big girl pants that hold over 200 years of tenacious history. Think I turned out alright, don’t you?
By the way, I met my husband who is a former Marine, so, lucky for me, he understood what it meant to work hard and strive to be the best every day. And after 16 years of boom-boom-pow (not to mention three kids!), I decided to take a step back and no longer continue my service. There’s more to it, but no point in getting into the details. I may return, I may not. Regardless, I gave it my all every day, and for that, I am truly proud.
This is the story of Aldrei Fangman
Aldrei grew up in Florida as a soft-spoken girl who had no clue what her purpose in life was until a recruiter for the US Marines Corps gave a presentation at her school. After signing up and surviving boot camp, Aldrei realized that she had been strong and resilient all along—she just needed an outlet. After 9/11 and the subsequent Individual Ready Reserve order that pulled her from inactive duty, Aldrei’s resilience was put to the test again and again. After 16 years of military service, Aldrei has chosen to step back from her “family in green” and spend her days with her family of five. Aldrei shares her stories and thoughts on her blog, https://thatmommaonthego.blog/.
This story first touched our hearts on June 11, 2019.
| Writer: Aldrei Fangman | Editor: Colleen Walker |