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09-11-07, 07:53 AM #1
Helping Marines to be the few, the proud, the married
Helping Marines to be the few, the proud, the married
September 11, 2007
Last updated: 5:41 PM
Ever since I saw Clint Eastwood in "Heartbreak Ridge," I suspected marriage might be a little harder for Marines than for regular people.
In the movie, Eastwood plays a gunnery sergeant who eats nails and spits blood and growls at the barkeep, "It seems marriage and the Marine Corps aren't too compatible."
That would have been enough to convince me, thanks. Except that Eastwood ends up spending a lot of time in his truck reading women's magazines and trying to understand what it was that his ex-wife wanted.
Now wanting and having ain't the same thing. So I was kind of surprised last month when I met a group of six Marine sergeant majors who didn't need a magazine - or a barkeep - to figure out marriage. All of these Marines stationed with the 1st Marine Corps Recruiting District had been deployed as much as Eastwood could imagine. Each of them had also been married more than 20 years. The men credited some of their career success to being happily married and some of their happiness in marriage to being good Marines.
I couldn't exactly figure out how that worked. Neither could the Marines. Sgt. Maj. Robert LaFleur explained that it can take a long time to fit the two together at all much less explain it to someone else.
"I'm not good at that look-me-in-the-eye-and-tell-me-how-you-feel stuff," he told me.
LaFleur credits his own 21-year marriage to his wife, Tess, and her unwillingness to give in despite the challenges of raising their two sons alone much of the time.
"Now I find myself giving advice to all my Marines on how to be a better husband... and wishing I had done it myself instead of learning the hard way," LaFleur said.
Here are a few of the things on the list of lessons learned:
Stay single as long as you possibly can. This first lesson seems kind of harsh, but it is the first thing that comes to mind for a lot of long-married Marines. LaFleur remembers being a married sergeant with two kids. Maintaining a budget and trying to have some kind of quality of life on that income was hard.
"Tess and I both recall that a regular Friday night for us was going to the Bojangles and getting an eight-piece spicy chicken and four biscuits because it was only $5.99. The two boys (3 and 5 at that time) loved it, and the quality time was excellent," LaFleur said.
Finding quality time for $5.99 is no joke.
Make the decision to be a better husband. LaFleur remembers the exact date he decided to be a good husband. It was both the day of his farewell party from his Radio Recon Company - and his 40th birthday. After arriving home at 1:30 in the morning and not going to dinner as planned with Tess, he knew he needed to change tactics.
"I knew if I was going to keep this woman I better be as nice to her as I am to my Marines," LaFleur said.
Read about the stuff you don't know. In some ways, Eastwood had the right idea. LaFleur found that if you are going to understand women, you have to read what they read. So he picked up several books on communicating between spouses. The most important thing he learned was to let Tess talk about her problems or her work without offering instant solutions.
"We often go on evening walks, and I listen to her tell me about the things that are happening at her work. I do these walks because I value her so much, and I am trying to make up for all the years I minimized our interaction on things that are important to her."
Don't be short on the phone. The one thing LaFleur wishes he could tell his younger self would be not to be so short on the phone when Tess called.
"I remember many occasions when I would speak curtly to her and then feel terrible about it but not apologize because I saw the apology as a weakness," LaFleur said. "Being so totally focused on my work in order to get promoted did not lend itself to a good relationship during our early years of marriage, but she was the glue that held us together."
Be faithful to a tough woman. Fidelity is always an issue for couples who spend so much time apart. As sergeant major of a battalion, LaFleur saw some Marines being unfaithful to their wives. At the same time he saw a lot of "Dear John" cases where the young wife fell in love with someone else.
"It takes a special breed of cat to be married to a Marine. They have to be strong, independent, faithful and a dozen other adjectives that can be summarized in a single word, 'tough.'"
I'm sure there are still plenty of folks who are certain the Marine Corps and married life are completely incompatible. I'm sure there are some old Marines out in their trucks reading women's magazines and wondering what went wrong. But I take solace in the fact that there are some tough old sergeant majors out there who figured out how to stay married and stay in the Corps, too.
And that's so much better than sitting in the truck trying to figure out what went wrong.
Jacey Eckhart, firstname.lastname@example.org
09-11-07, 08:09 AM #2
Interesting to note here that the advice included staying single as long as you can. I've heard that in order for Officers to get promoted past O-3, it is an un-written requirement to be married ( successfully ). It is viewed as a sign of a stable individual, who can balance the rigors of the USMC and a family too. Not only that, but the Officer wife has a fair share of being politically connected and social at officer and family events, and lack of participation is considered undesirable, potentially affecting the officer-spouse's future. So much for Pro-Cons. Anyone have any insight? Are senior / staff enlisted judged similarly?
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