Head Held High
Kristen Wilkerson, United States Marine Corps
I joined the Marine Corps looking for a challenge. I wanted to open doors for a new career and longed to have a positive impact on the world around me. Looking back five years later, I realize I found all that I originally sought, but I’ve also found something profoundly satisfying and meaningful that I never knew I was missing.
My military service reshaped who I am. My initial training stripped away any sense of entitlement and I learned more about myself in the first four months than I’d ever known before. It not only gave me discipline and taught me to perform under pressure, but everything I did wasn’t just for me anymore. I was working hard for the Marines at my side. The time came when each of us hit a breaking point, physically or mentally. We were pushed past the edge of exhaustion, pain, fear, embarrassment and failure, and instead of being broken, I learned to get up and found powerfully hidden strength in helping my fellow Marines when we all felt like we had already given our last ounce of energy.
As an added bonus, I knew I had made my family proud. My father retired after 20 years in the Army as an officer and my brother served in the National Guard. I had a new connection with them as I marched across the parade deck on Parris Island, in my blues, at the head of my platoon.
After five months of school and two years of on the job training, I finally felt strong in my MOS as an air traffic controller. As supervisor of the radar room, I was able to emulate the best leadership techniques I had been shown. The team of Marines I helped build and work with on a daily basis became my family. We watched out for each other and each one of us became better controllers knowing that the Marine to our left or right had our backs no matter what. We all had different strengths and weaknesses, but working together, I really felt like we could handle anything.
Military service set my life on an exciting new course and has given me a sense of intense patriotism and loyalty. When I think about the moments that define my military service, my heart swells with devotion to those with whom I’ve had the honor of serving.
To me, military service is the echo of a hundred boots pounding the pavement while I ran the last quarter mile of the crucible alongside my platoon shouting cadence at the top of my lungs, even though my socks were soaked through with blood from blisters; it’s the respect that poured into my firm handshake when I said goodbye to my favorite, most inspirational sergeant who gave up his personal time and went above and beyond for his Marines. Military service is the burning lungs of a Marine who has just thrown up at the finish line, who then turned back to run the last portion of the PFT over again with another Marine who was struggling to finish; it’s the dry, tired eyes of taking rifle watch for a sick Marine who needed that hour of sleep a little more than I did. It is the strength of 15 Marines who showed up to help me move into my new apartment on their only day off when my husband was away on training; it’s my trembling knees and the rattle of window panes that shook in the hall as we belted out the Marine Corps Hymn at my Corporals Course graduation, and it’s definitely the goose bumps that grip my skin each time I saluted our flag at sunset and heard colors ring out over the hills of Miramar.
My military service will be my head held high as I tell my son that I was, a United States Marine.
Kristen Wilkerson is a student, wife, and mother. She works two part-time jobs and is active in local theatre and music in Wilmington, NC. She comes from a military family due to her father having served 20 years as an officer in the US Army, and she got to move all over the globe with him and her large family as a child.
Kristen joined the United States Marine Corps in 2012 and served five years as an Air Traffic Controller. She is currently seeking acceptance into the Dental Hygiene Program at Cape Fear Community College and will earn her Associates in Science by December 2018. She has always had a passion for writing and is excited to be part of StoryForce.