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thedrifter
01-25-06, 07:35 AM
Wilson chose to join Marines for herself
Debbie Ingram
Eagle Correspondent
Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Jenna Wilson didn’t spend a lot of time mulling over what to do after high school.

The 18-year-old graduated Northview High School in December and the same day signed on with the United States Marine Corp.

Her reasons outweigh any reluctance new recruits might feel joining the military during wartime.

“I didn’t want to go to college,” the Dothan native said. “I wanted stability and to be challenged - physically, mentally and emotionally.“

And, Jenna said she wanted to do what she felt was her duty.
“I feel like every person should give what they can to their country,” she said. “My dad didn’t do it and I don’t see my sisters doing it.“

So, as is her nature, Jerry Wilson’s oldest daughter walked into the recruiting substation on West Main Street and asked where she should sign. On Sunday, Wilson left for Montgomery where she and other recruits were processed, then shipped out to Parris Island, S.C., for 13 weeks of basic training.

The family knew this day was coming. Wilson has had time to get used to the idea of Jenna’s leaving since she took an ROTC class at Northview led by Marines. Jenna was impressed and last May first talked about joining what is considered the toughest branch of the military.

“Being an aid with ROTC taught me about respect,” she said. “I saw there was respect for the military and respect for people in the military. I wanted people to have that respect for me and I was looking for a direction to go.“

But carrying a heavy work load as a hostess at O’Charley’s and being a competitive cheerleader for two years put Jenna behind in her studies. Her grandmother also died her senior year. As a result, Jenna did not finish with her class of 2005, but returned to school last August to complete her requirements for graduation.

Wilson says he is proud of his daughter who has taken on the role of mother in the household since Wilson and his wife divorced.

“Jenna is very capable, intelligent, strong and independent,” he said. “She is a deeply giving, sincere person. She can’t say no.“

Jenna’ mother, Jennella Walker, wasn’t so keen on her daughter’s decision. But Jenna’s mother has lost a lot - both parents have died in a little over a year.

“My only discussion with my mom was I told her I talked to the recruiters and she said ’No.’ That was it,” Jenna said.

Her mother, who lives in Slocomb, says she is worried but perhaps partly responsible for her daughter’s strong sense of patriotism.

“The only thing that gives me any kind of peace of mind is when Jenna belongs to something, she excels. She becomes the leader of the group and I think that is the main reason she went, to belong to something,” Jennella Walker said.

“I’ve watched it (the war), made them watch it and I support it. I watched the whole Gulf War on TV and this one too. So that doesn’t shock me that she is patriotic.“

Since summer, Jenna has worked a 40-hour week, attended school half a day, run carpool daily, transporting her sisters, Jordan and Jamison, and their friends, to school at Northview and Carver Magnet School. She runs errands, shops for groceries, takes her sisters and their friends to the movies, to Wal-Mart, to orthodontist appointments - whatever is required.

The role was not forced on her. “I didn’t have to take the responsibility,” she said, “but I did.“

Gunnery Sergeant Al Rose of the local recruiting office saw these qualities as the making of a good Marine.

“She is self-motivated and she is in good physical shape,” Rose said of Jenna, who is 5-feet, 4-inches tall and weighs 138 pounds. “She is very mature, outgoing, adventure-seeking, and ambitious. Someone aggressive and physically fit is who we look for, and a person who is seeking a very good challenge.“

But why the Marines?

“In my mind,” Wilson said, “that was not a good decision for her. I told her to talk to people.“

Wilson has two brothers with a military background - both of whom he describes as forceful and strong. Their support was a bit surprising.

“They said the military was a good choice,” said Jenna, acknowledging that college isn’t for everyone. “I didn’t want what was easy. I wanted something tough.

“All the other recruiters, all they talked about was the money. The Marines talked about how they would challenge me to become a better person and learn to be a leader.“

Wilson acknowledged his daughter wants to change, and though family and friends are all a little scared for Jenna, Wilson said women are not put in combat situations in Iraq.
“I know I may be sent to Iraq,” Jenna said.” That doesn’t bother me. I’m not afraid.“

Rose said the war in Iraq has not affected recruitment at the local Marine Corp office. People who are going to join the Marines are people who will join, regardless, he said.

Jenna, whose strong subjects are math and computers, wants to pursue a job in computer electronics and has asked to complete her training on the East Coast to remain as close to family as possible.

Sunday morning, Jenna’s last breakfast at home is a Pop Tart with the edges cut off. “I know I won’t get to eat this for a while,” she says.

As she waits Sunday for the noon hour to arrive - the hour she leaves Dothan, Jenna looks around the house, taking one last look.

She decides she will miss the family pets the most - the labs, Romeo and Juliet; the fluffy cat, Jamie, and her personal cat, Andy.

“I feel a little scared,” she said, stroking Jamie, “but I’m excited about the change. Everybody’s like, ’We’re gonna miss you.’ I feel like I will get there and maybe not miss them. This is normal - leaving the nest. It’s not a big deal.“

Debbie Ingram is a freelance writer living in Dothan. She can be reached at dingram46@sw.rr.com.

Ellie