The Road From Lamp Shade to Helmet

Kate Campbell, US Marine Veteran

Kate Campbell, US Marine Veteran

Marine Corps take the wheel,
Take it from my hands,
‘Cause I can’t take this student loan,
I’m letting go,
So give me rank of Lance,
Save me from this road I’m on,
Marine Corps take the wheeeeel.

~ (with apologies to Carrie Underwood)

In 2007 I was a college senior living off campus in my rugby team’s party house.

  • My signature move: Housing a beer-bong of Natty Ice from inside a lamp shade
  • My GPA: 1.8
  • My family: Pretty mad about it
     
Signature Move

Signature Move

Now, repelling dudes, repeatedly puking on your tie-dye beanbag chair and destroying any chance of a solid future may seem awesome, but I’ll let you in on a secret - it wasn’t. By the end of that semester I fully despised myself and felt like nothing but a burden to my housemates (sorry about ripping our fridge door off at 2am!) and my family (sorry about that whole ‘expensive tuition I’m wasting’ thing!). I was spoiled, disrespectful and going nowhere. I was a loser (yuuuuge loser) and I knew it.

Luckily, I still had the presence of mind to know that what I needed was a solid kick in the a**. I needed to be part of something bigger than myself; to feel like I had a purpose in contributing to a greater good… My recruiter didn’t need to give a spiel about travel and adventure and honor and courage. That winter I walked right into his office and asked him to “Just sign me up now, please.” Marine Corps take the wheeeeel…

My intentions were good but I was clueless. I thought to serve your country meant putting on a cool uniform, flipping down a sweet pair of aviator sunglasses and blowing sh*t up with your buddies in the name of freedom (ok, I think for some that is true – but shockingly, not for me).
On Parris Island I learned it was more about selflessness, and looking out for those around you (oh, and scrubbing things clean — like, a lot). Hearing about the sacrifices of Marines who came before me made me want to be a better person. Accomplishing new goals week after week gave me a sense of self-worth. Working as a team stopped me from thinking about myself for a change (a true feat).

By the time graduation rolled around I was standing so tall it felt like all the links in my spine were going to unhinge.

Piss Cutter > Lamp Shade

Piss Cutter > Lamp Shade

How do you say nerd in Pashto?

How do you say nerd in Pashto?

From there, what it meant to serve was always evolving. On active duty “to serve” meant being far away from loved ones. Long, unpredictable hours, frustration, boredom, excitement and being pushed to the limit. Living in a permanent sausage fest (I have now heard every fart joke known to mankind) and often feeling like I was under a microscope as a woman. And being pleasantly surprised by myself when it only pushed me to work harder.
 
It meant living, training with and exploring the West coast with Marines who became family. Laughing harder and more often than I ever had before. Pooping in an ammo can. Going to war and experiencing things I never could have imagined. Feeling the suffocating agony of loss when not everyone made it home and understanding what true sacrifice is. Seeing the worst, but mostly the best, of leadership in action and having examples to aspire to.

And now having served means being among a community of amazing veterans who inspire me and are always quick to lend a helping hand. It’s a fellowship that will continue long past my EAS date, and it pushes me to keep moving forward.

There are some things I struggle with now, and days I watch the news and feel bitter (I think I got too #woke on foreign policy), but I catch myself. Having served means I am not alone. And when it comes to the friends I’ve made and when I look back at who I was before the Marine Corps, I wouldn’t change my path. My time in service gave life meaning and saved me from the road I was on.