An Outreach Program of MarineParents.com
It occurs to me, scrolling through the site lately, that we have a lot of people new to this. Not so long ago, that was me. I don't even remember how I stumbled on this site as my son was a poolee, preparing to leave to MCRD. And, it seems like a lifetime ago. Looking at all the posts from those who are walking in the same shoes I donned not so long ago, it occurs to me that perhaps it's a good time to state some of what we who already learned it, think of as 'the obvious.'. The trouble with 'the obvious' is, well, that it ISN'T so obvious. A lot in this Marine Corps way of life you don't know unless you stumble upon someone else's conversation or directly ask. I remember the first few days on this site....scrolling through every group discussion I could find. ( I hadn't yet found the blogs!) Unfortunately, I was in a group with people in the same boat as me....they didn't know any more than I did...and fortunately, we had a very helpful, very sweet and patient moderator who helped us muddle through this sea of knowledge we were about to acquire!!! So, to those of you who are new, consider this my good deed for the day. I'm going to tell you things you 1) may not know, 2) may already know or 3) didn't know you needed to know! To those of you who are seasoned Marine parents, feel free to address any areas I miss! All contributions are appreciated:
Boot Camp in General:
Your first few days you will feel akin to a headless chicken. You won't quite know what to do with yourself. You've been preparing for this all along....or have you?!? Your emotions will run the gammut...you'll start to question your own sanity. All of this is normal. You will spend hours in thought of " I wonder what he's doing now?". Trust me, he's busy...and isn't spending idle time wondering what is going on back home! One of the things I asked my son when he got home from boot was " What on earth could you have possibly have spent ALL of your time doing and staying busy at?" He smiled his silly little smile and said, " I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you!" (our little joke!)
Some of the things I wondered about boot camp:
* What about that infamous phone call? I was lucky. I got mine. I do know that for the most part, MOST parents get theirs. If you are in a divorced parent situation, there is no guarantee that you will get it over the other parent. If he has a girlfriend, there is a small chance SHE could get the call....although that is frowned upon according to my son's recruiter. But do know this: (and you will learn to hate this phrase although it applies often) "No news is good news." Even if you don't receive the call, he is fine. If something was wrong, you would be informed promptly. The call will come in the middle of the night....a night, I might add you probably aren't getting any sleep anyway. The voice on the other end of the line will not sound anything like the kid you sent to boot....it's screaming at you, it's hoarse, it's unintelligible. I had great advice beforehand....I let mine go to voice mail and saved it. I turned it into a MP3 and it's now my son's ringtone and it cracks me up every time I hear it. I was glad I saved it because I would have thought some DI had prank called me in the middle of the night otherwise! So, no matter if you got a phone call or didn't know that they made it to their destination and are in very capable hands!
* When do I get to start writing letters? Start writing NOW. Just don't expect to get quid-pro-quo. I wrote daily. Think of it as more therapy than correspondence. (After all correspondence is more of a two sided conversation....you will find boot letters are NOTHING of the sort!)
*What do I write about? This is where you have to temper knowing your kid with your better judgement. Mine was never into sports. So, we didn't talk sports. I kept him up-to-date on the very boring goings on at home. I didn't dwelll on how much we missed him...that spurs on homesickness and was not my intent. Instead, I told him all those mundane, petty things that normally would bore him to death.....how the dog had dug holes under the fence enough to get her head stuck, how his cousin had successfully put his taken-apart four wheeler back together only to realize he left out 3 vital parts, how his sister, who was notoriously late for everything had not only been late to our dinner date at a restaurant, but showed up at the wrong location altogether. Those were the things that kept him holding on, without making him think he was missing something huge. I always included encouragement. Some parents included scripture, the latest sports scores, town gossip.....I found several military joke sites and would always print off moto posters or funny jokes or stories. When he wrote to me, I would address anything he asked, but did not dwell on anything if he were upset or down. I always made sure I was positive and if he were discouraged, tried to give him the positive side to things without sounding too PollyAnna about it!
*WHen do I get my first letter? There is no magic timeframe, but generally within 10-14 days of him shipping, you will receive a letter from his SDI (that's Senior Drill Instructor--guess I should make sure I explain all acronyms) explaining the fine training he is about to partake in, and what contact is allowed. It will also explain your SDIs preference in packages, food, etc. Most have a 'general' policy that is pretty uniform, but some SDIs do vary their preferences. The general rule is " Don't send anything other than paper letters unless you are specifically told by your recruit it is allowed and okay." Even if they tell you it's okay to send protein bars, the approval can change at a moment's notice and don't get offended if they never tell you it's okay to send anything other than letters.
*How often will I get letters? Hard to say. There are a lot of factors involved: 1. How much of a writer is your recruit? (mine wasn't....I was lucky to get a letter a week.) 2. How many people is he having to write to? Mine had me, his recruiter and a few random people he felt obligated to write back to because they had been nice enough to write him encouraging letters. Their time is VERY limited. Mine wrote letters in church on Sunday, when he was about to be on firewatch so he was up anyway instead of sleeping, or at times set aside to study. 3. Just because letters are written, doesn't mean they are mailed. There will also be times in their training they are not so accessible to mailboxes and as a result, the coming and goings of the mail will severely slow down. This is where that much hated " No news is good news" phrase comes in.
*What do I do about those downer letters? This is where I was fortunate. My son wrote me letters where he was frustrated with the behavior or actions of others. But I never got a 'downer' letter as so many parents have. If you do, know it's normal. And chances are, by the time you actually GET the letter he's long over it. Address it in careful fashion....battle discouragement with postivity. Battle frustration with pointing out leadership by example opportunities. Don't talk negative about the Corps, his DIs or his brothers. It's like any other family...." I'm allowed to talk bad about it, but don't let me catch anyone ELSE saying anything bad about it!" Don't make him feel divided loyalty....buy into the fact that your son has chosen this life, you have been drafted, but it is your life nonetheless. You have acquired an ever-growing family with unique gifts, personalities, but all sharing a commonality- love for country and willingness to sacrifice on her behalf.
Here's a link for some Boot Camp Communication tips: http://marinefamilynetwork.com/group/bccomm/forum/topics/lighten-up...
*He's gone.....how do I go on? Although at times you may doubt your ability to function....you will. You will shed tears. You will feel empty. But you will make it. This experience will teach you more about yourself than you dreamed. You will change in ways you never thought possible. In the meantime, you have a choice to make....do you sit around wallowing in depression and despair, or do you do something constructive? (Trust me, go for the latter choice!) Find what interests you....gardening, basket weaving, 5k running, painting,volunteer with a charitable organization, keep a diary, redcorate a room in your house, take a cooking class....occupy your time, but more importantly, your MIND. Idle time is cruel on the mind. A busy mind has less time to worry, obsess or blow things out of proportion!
Where do I find information about Family day and Graduation? Your best source of information is your recruit. After that, your next best source is the groups on this site you can join that will put you in contact with a moderator who is knowledgable and other parents who will end up forming connections that will be invaluable. Your moderator will tell you the best time to make travel plans for attending Graduation and Family day. (And if at all possible, I highly encourage you to....not just for your Marine, but it is an experience that cannot be adequately described in words. It is truly life-changing!) If your recruit is just starting out, it will seem like that day is a lifetime away....but trust me, it will be upon you before you know it. Again, here's another helpful link: http://www.recruitparents.com/bootcamp/mot-run.asp
*Can he send me pictures from boot? In a word...NO. I address this because I have heard several parents say they were sending a camera with their recruit. Don't! He will not have time to take pictures. Your recruit shows up to boot with the clothes on his back, IDs and 20 dollars. Do not send pictures, family keepsakes or even extra money. (Mine came home with the same 20...actually, he spent that same 20 on family day buying junk food! ha!)When I sent my son pictures, I scanned them into the computer and printed them as part of my typed letter. ( I can type a lot faster than handwriting!) And there are a lot of great programs out there that change your hand writing into a font if you MUST have a handwritten letter...cheating I know!The reason for this is if they had a 'cleaning party' and had to move their possessions, it was easier to store letters in a tied bundle and not worry about pictures scattering everywhere!
Your recruit will be given the opportunity to (and if he doesnt' take them up on it, you can at graduation) purchase a yearbook and DVD slideshow. You will have hundreds of pictures of your recruits training and activities at your disposal with this priceless purchase!!
Who is this Semper Gumby fella? If you haven't met the little jerk, you will. He rears his ugly head at the most inopportune times. He changes dates. He changes times. He changes locations. He helps plans epically fail! If you are determined to battle him, you will wear yourself out. The best way to deal with him is 1. Be flexible-much more flexible than him! 2. Don't sweat it- everything works itself out somehow and 3. Smile- fake it till it's real....Semper Gumby has ruined plans, weddings,leaves, birthdays, you name it, he's had a hand in altering it at some point for someone. This happens in life in general...he just likes to lend his talent to the Corps more regularly. Never put any plans in stone. Know that "The Needs Of The Corps" (another hated phrase used often) will always prevail over anything else and also know that sometimes, karma steps in and gives Semper Gumby a good, swift kick in the tail! You can also amuse yourself by contributing to or reading about someone else's perils with the little jerk: http://marinefamilynetwork.com/group/sempergumby
*What am I allowed to say?
If you are not yet aware of OPSEC, NOW is the time to get acquainted. It's not guidelines meant to make your life hard, keep you out of 'the know' or meant to squander your lifestyle...but it's sole purpose is to make sure YOUR son is safe, as are ALL of our sons. The bad guys are bad...not stupid. And they are really good at gleaning information from the most well-meaning, innocent sources. Be aware. Be wary of people. Be cautious. If you think you shouldn't....DON'T.It's always good to review, reread and refer to OPSEC guidelines from time to time. If a moderator asks you to change or delete something you say or write, please don't take offense....this site moderates its boards intently and they err on the side of caution. Besides, have you MET the Marine Corps? There IS no gray area.....and when it comes to safety of our boys, there is no gray area here either. If you think it's gray, it's a NO.
Here is a link of OPSEC guidlines for your convenience: http://marinefamilynetwork.com/page/opsec-1
Hopefully these tips get you through the first steps of your journey. There will be many more, but honestly, by the time your recruit becomes a Marine, you will learn how to navigate the site, make connections to several people who can answer any questions or will know where to find the information yourself. If not, you can always throw out questions in the blogs or groups...this site is a wealth of knowledge!
To all you just beginning your journey, I wish you the best! This Marine Corps life is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I trust you will find the same! Semper Fi!