It’s a regular Monday afternoon for me here in the safe confinements of my house, located right outside of Jacksonville, North Carolina (or “J-Vegas” as many of my girlfriends and I like to call it). I can hear the 53’s patriotically whirring over my house as the ground beneath me trembles, I watch those sexy Cobras and Hueys fly in some formation that my husband has undoubtedly described to me over a hundred times, and in the near distance I can hear some Battalion running an exercise with mortars. It’s a sound you welcome and grow quite accustomed to when you live near a base; it annoys you during your child’s nap, yet reminds you of the freedoms we’re granted; especially when you turn the news on and see horrific images, like those of the recent Paris massacre.
It’s troublesome to log onto Facebook and see my news feed slewed with hashtags about a Kardashian marriage problem, articles on the parenting style of Brad and Angelina Jolie, and who wore what at the Golden Globe Awards. What’s even more unsettling is just the insane amount of responses and attention people are willing give these articles. Individuals from all across the world will sit idly at their computer, just waiting for their shining moment to pounce on some poor soul who dares to speak unholy of Kim Kardashian, and the decision to give her child a cardinal direction as a name.
Meanwhile, people who deserve far more hours of attention are getting little to none; but they don’t mind. They are humble, silent warriors, dedicated to protecting the freedoms and privileges this great country has afforded us. They do so willingly, and without reservation of what consequences may lie ahead on the path they chose when they took the Oath of Enlistment/Office.
Justin Wilson, is one of those men.
I had the privilege of meeting Justin a little over a year ago; My husband (Dan) and I had just moved out to California, and too much time had passed since the two men last saw each other. My husband’s days as an active Recon Marine have been over for quite a few years now, but the legacy, memories, and friendships, that brotherhood gave him still live strongly within his heart. While I never knew Dan in his Recon days, I’d like to think that he wasn’t much different than he is now; Quiet, humble, affectionate and dedicated towards his job of conquering the vast sky in his mighty Cobra. It was because of his stints in Iraq that Dan wanted to fly Cobras, always saying that when shit hit the fan and the men heard these birds, they knew they would be safe. It was his way of trying to stay connected with his brothers, while moving onto something else.
Justin’s characteristics resembled Dan’s, and it was in that moment I believed that most, if not all, men serving in the Recon/MARSOC community must have this type of valor. Justin was quiet but stood tall with poise; His words were soft yet strong and with conviction. I watched him lovingly play with his children, and listened to him and Dan laugh about the days when they served together. He served me lunch and made sure that I felt comfortable in his home, talking to me as if we too, had been friends all these years. I watched the two from afar, wide-eyed and brimming as a child does the first time he sees his hero in real life, feeling safe knowing that there are many men out there like these two, keeping my son and I safe at night while we sleep comfortably in our warm beds.
I wish there was more coverage on the loyalty and strength behind these family men – the ones who every morning wake up and shave their faces, put on their uniforms, and kiss their wife and children good-bye as if they have some seemingly, ordinary job. The men who missed their child’s first birthday, a Christmas, and another Thanksgiving while defending us from afar. As a country we fall short on this, but as a community of spouses, friends, and supporters to these men, we can try and fix it.
Even though he’s currently deployed, and most likely fed up with answering questions for newspapers and online columns, Justin happily set some time aside to answer a few questions for the Recon/MARSOC community, our supporters, and even those who think this is a route they wish to go down. I hope you enjoy it.
What drew you to become a corpsman for the Marines verse being the traditional corpsman?
My brother was a Marine. I tried to join but the recruiter wouldn’t let me. He told me to go down the hall to the Navy, and tell them I wanted to be a Corpsman. I wanted to be with Marines and nothing would change my mind. Then I found out about Recon and that sounded like what I did in my spare time anyway. I grew up hunting and never taking the easy way. I’d get eyes on my target (game), I get in, get precious intel, I get my target, get out and then I’d have a meal; all while being undetected (hopefully).
Was there a selection criteria for going green (if so, can you elaborate)?
Not really a selection then but there is now. When I came in, the War on Terror was just starting, so pretty much if you had a pulse you were going green side. When at Field Med School I got the chance to try out for Recon. We’d run the basic diver screen of 500m swim, pushups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and 1.5mi run. That was the basic, just to get looked at; Then was the Recon Screen. Once at a battalion, we did Pre-BRC and thrashed daily just like everyone else. Every day seemed like selection through our almost two year pipeline. You had to prove that you wanted to be there every day. Even on the days you just didn’t feel your best, you gave your best.
Since you are constantly working with Recon/MARSOC Marines, how do you keep up with the physical demands?
We PT together, then I PT some more. As Recon Corpsmen you have to be at the top of your game all the time. We never rest. When the patrol reaches its ORP we make our rounds to make sure everyone is good to go. If we do a raid, we are in the stack, if someone gets hurt we put on the other hat and go to work on them, then MEDEVAC them out. You’ve got to have stamina in this game.
Now that your Navy Cross award has gone public, I am sure there are many young men/women who hope to emulate your very own work ethos – so, who would you say helped define yours?
There are too many to list! I’m a product of my upbringing. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where everyone knew everyone else, and everyone helped each other. The folks back there worked long and hard and were proud of the jobs they did. We all seemed like one big family, always there to support each other when someone needed it. When I came in and became a part of the Recon and MARSOC communities, I found that same “smallville” feeling. We all knew everyone else, we help each other, and we are brothers. We may disagree at times and have fights like brothers do, but when I needed them they were there, and when the needed me they could rest assured that I’d be there.
What do you wish to see happening for the SARC’s in your community?
Hopefully the standards remain high, and some young studs out there can step up to the challenge to be one of the best. We can adapt to anything but what we can’t tolerate is lowering a standard to increase numbers; That would be a disservice to our brothers we serve alongside.
What is the biggest difference you’ve seen between the Recon and MARSOC community?
People and funding, that’s about it. We have more logistical support and a boat load more people that’s about it. We also have the backing of SOCOM as well which gives access to good family support and resiliency to the warfighter.
What is the best advice you could give anyone who wants to become a SARC/Recon/MARSOC Marine?
Get kicked in the groins and like it. Sometimes the job isn’t glamorous like on TV. You are cold, wet, lonely, hot, dirty, miserable; you hurt, are hungry, everything is trying to bite you, sting you or flat out kill you. It sucks, no lie, but you look to your left and to your right and there is someone else with a shit eating grin on their face doing the same thing you are and it makes it fun! It’s also about doing the hard right, than the easy wrong. We are to be silent professionals and above all else humble. If they are coming to this community to be some high viz, sexy, ego chasing, thrill seeker…then move on. We want hardnosed, hardworking, won’t-quit-until-they-are-dead, and still keep on trying types of people.
What has been the most defining moment in your career so far?
Coming home to my family.
How have the events that happened on Sep 28, 2011 changed your outlook on life, and maybe the mindset of walking into working every day knowing that giving 110% at work means so much on the battlefield?
Nothing has changed. I think I’m the same old Willie everyone has known. I’ve always had a love for life, my brothers, and my family. I try to give my best at all I do. It’s part of the creed.
I think spouses / family get left out a lot on most interviews, so how important has their support been for you during your career?
As far as spouses/family goes I’ll say this; A man is nothing without family. If he doesn’t fight for his family, what does he fight for? I would not and could not be half of what I am, if it wasn’t for the amazing support I have from my wife and extended family. Any award I’ve ever earned would not be possible without family. They give me my focus when times are hard, they give me happiness when I’m with them, and they give me memories when I’m alone. We stay in touch as much as possible and always say “I love you” even if you had an argument because you never know the time or the place. It takes a hard strong man to do this job, it takes and equally harder or stronger woman to stand by and watch her man and raise his children while he fights for them.
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Robin, Justin’s wife also gave us the pleasure of answering a few questions so that we might be more aware of the role spouses hold and the support they give our service members.
What is the hardest role for you, as a military spouse?
I think that people might assume the hardest role for a military spouse is keeping the household together while Daddy or Mommy is away. Sometimes, it feels the same as being a single parent, and I struggle with many of the same things.
But the harder task, I believe, is trying to incorporate Daddy into our everyday lives, even though he’s not here. Unlike a divorce, our family strives to work together as a united group, even though one of its members is not in the same country. I have to make sure baths are done in time to Skype with Daddy in the evenings, to write down the funny things our sons say so I can tell my husband on the phone, and take extra pictures of special events and send them off. We read books that focus on other children whose parents are also deployed, and talk about the feelings they might be having.
Daddy is missing from important events, but it’s not because we’re divorced or because he has passed away. I don’t always have answers for my son’s questions: “Why didn’t I get to talk to my Daddy on my birthday?” “Why can’t he just get in his car and drive home from work?” “Why does my Daddy have to be gone but other Daddys don’t?”
It can be difficult to try to guess what my children might be going through emotionally when they are separated from their father. Sometimes there are temper tantrums that simply end with “I miss my Daddy” choked out through the tears. How can I respond? I try to be mindful of the role their father WOULD play, if he were here; I do my best to wrestle with the children, blow duck calls, take them outside to dig up worms (I am NOT a worm-digger), and have Lego gun fights before naptime.
What has been the most challenging time you’ve faced while your husband has been in?
The most challenging time for us as a family has been right now, while Justin is preparing to return from Guam. He was recently awarded the Navy Cross (to add to his numerous other distinctions), and with this comes a certain amount of publicity. In addition, Justin is very committed to Wounded Warriors in Action and other service organizations that serve to assist veterans in their recovery from battle.
My husband is not even home yet, and I can already sense the pressure he is under. His children are counting down the days on a calendar, and yet, I know he is also enrolled in college courses, is scheduled to hunt with WWIA, and will still be working full time. He also has speaking engagements, and will no doubt be contacted by his home paper for another interview. I am proud of the work he has done, and I am glad he can represent the United States of America as a positive reminder of the work that is being done overseas, but these commitments come at an expensive price. When he is hunting, speaking, being interviewed, studying, working, or connecting with fellow veterans, it means he is not at home having date night with his wife or saying bedtime prayers with his sons.
I can see that he feels an obligation to serve his community, but it is immensely important to me that we are able to have the time to reconnect as a family. It is a constant struggle to balance home life with his extra-curricular activities and his work.
What advice can you give to women while their husbands are deployed?
1. Make your husband a priority. In the beginning when Justin deployed during our dating relationship, it was easy to write often, to sit at home and wait for him to call. Now, a marriage, a career, and two children later, I find it more and more difficult to take the time to connect with him. The kids became my daily priority because their needs absolutely have to be met. My relationship with my husband, because he is not in my direct line of sight, often falls to the wayside. Nothing good can come of this. I think I still have a lot to learn myself about ways to keep my relationship with my husband as a top priority. Part of the problem is that it’s easy to let this relationship slip because he’s not here, but the other part is that it’s just hard. There is little intimacy when a relationship consists of phone calls a few days a week, interrupted with, “Mommy, I have to poop NOW!” and “Joshua’s eating the dog food!” It takes real work—and a lot of creativity–to maintain a long-distance marriage.
2. Find something that defines you besides “wife.” As a military spouse, you follow your husband everywhere. His job chooses your geographic location. Then, he gets new orders and you pack up the house and go. You have to follow him everywhere, and it’s easy to feel like a tagalong in someone else’s life. When your whole life is wrapped around your husband, everything comes to a crashing halt when he gets deployed. It’s important to find a community of people, whether it’s military wives, a Bible study, a MOPS group, or some other support system, that can help you find value in being YOU. This group of friends is also critical in maintaining daily emotional and practical well-being while your husband is gone. Most people aren’t stationed near family; who will be the person you can call for soup and Gatorade when you’re too ill to go to the store and the kids are hungry? Who can you call when you’ve had a hard day at work and your husband is fast asleep on the other side of the world? When your husband deploys, there should be a portion of your life that can continue on as normal. This portion can, and should, feel like your “safe haven” when everything else feels like it’s in continual upheaval.