Chapter 26: Sentimental times...blah, blah, blah.

The attack on our Nation was one of the scariest events that I have witnessed to date. My contract was ending that December, so I put in for an extension to give me time to submit for my reenlistment package. I waited and waited, and wouldn't you know it. My career planner forgot to submit my extension! Again, extensions were not in my favor. Second time that it wasn't done in a timely manner. He felt horrible about it, but I guess it was my fault for not following up on it and assuming that someone was doing his job correctly. Great guy, don't get me wrong, but he wasn't the brightest at times.
With one month left on active duty in my beloved Corps, I became pretty bummed that I would no longer wear this uniform everyday. I worked so hard for this uniform and for this title, that I didn't want to give it up. I fought for my place in this male organization. Many do not know the many struggles that I endured during these years. I dealt with harassment almost everyday and I had to find a way to let it roll off my back. I made good and bad choices, but those choices made me who I am today. I think the worst my decision was, the stronger it made me. I gained character. I was no longer the girl who turned bright red when the teacher called on me in class. I was strong-willed and determined, and I voiced my opinion.
I was also scared. I was going back to a world that had become unfamiliar to me. Since joining the I&I Staff, I was still getting used to male haircuts that weren't 0-3 inches. Also, for once I had to be a real adult. I had to pay for my housing and utilities now, find a job with medical insurance and prove to a new world who I am.
When I found out that I was getting out on my actual EAS, I had so much to get done - and I only had two weeks to get everything wrapped up. It hit me one day. This will be my last drill weekend and it will be my last Marine Corps Ball. What a perfect way to go out.
That Friday night when the reservists showed up, they noticed that I wasn't behind my desk. My replacement was there and was ready to take care of business.  He was a tall, slender Marine, completely different than me. I think he was secretly counting down the days that I departed the area.  I don't think he cared for me that much. I just sat back and did nothing, which was so unlike me. Then the announcement was made that this was my last drill. That's when I felt the respect from the reservists for the first time. I regretted all the times that I was mean to them or called them "reservists." I should have called them Marines because we all wore the same uniform.
I said my apologies to those who truly deserved them. The Marine who broke her ankle? I apologized to her. I realized that I should never laugh when a Marine is down. I should have been there for her, but instead I turned my back on her.
I went to the ball. My very last ball. It was bitter sweet as I heard the Marine Corps Hymn. It sounded so beautiful, that just typing this, I am getting chills. The smiles on the Marines' faces are forever engraved into my mind. The laughter and camaraderie echoed through the hall. I just sat there, trying to imagine my life without them in my life and soak up this moment. Then I remembered, once a Marine, always a Marine and the fellowship that I have now with my brothers and sisters will be there for life. Just because I am no longer serving doesn't mean that I will be forgotten. A huge relief came over me.
That night, my fellow Marines danced with me. Even my replacement gave me a compliment. Guess he did like me after all. The last dance of the night belonged to my Sergeant Major, who told me for a whole dance how amazing it was to serve with me. He could see the tears welling up in my eyes. He told me three words that I will never forget..."Semper Fi, Marine." And with that, I end this chapter of my life, but don't worry, I'll be back.


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