In Their Words: Celebrating Military Family Month

By HR Generalist Cathy McCoil

My father was an enlisted man.  He began his career when he was 17 (he lied about his age – they didn’t check back then) and achieved the rank of Chief Warrant Officer IV, CWO-4 — the highest rank an enlisted man can achieve.  Dad served for 30 years.  My younger brother was in the nuclear submarine program in the Navy for 8 years where he went to school to become a nuclear chemist.

I was born (on the economy – not on base) in La Rochelle, France and as a result, I have dual citizenship.  Ironically, I’ve never been back to France.  I only lived in France until I was two months old because my father PCS’d (permanent change of station) to Fort Benning, Georgia.  We moved every three years. In addition to France, Dad was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, twice, Landstuhl and Wuerzburg, Germany, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, and Kwajalein island in Kwajalein Atoll, Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The most notable of all the places I lived was Kwajalein – referred to fondly as Kwaj.  Kwaj is an island approximately nine degrees north of the equator.  It is 3.5 miles long and ½ mile wide and the temp was a balmy 80 degrees year round with a cool ocean breeze, and monsoon and dry seasons as opposed to Winter, Spring Summer and Fall.  There were no cars, no television, and no internet.  As a result, everyone knew everyone and there was no “generation gap.”

Kids, teachers, and parents all hung out together and attended the same events and parties.  Without tv and devices, everyone was always outside.  There were free services available to all: bowling, two pools, three movie theaters, scuba certification classes and scuba diving, snorkeling, miniature golf, a 9-hole golf course, boating, deep sea fishing, water skiing, ceramics, a photo lab for developing your own film, free air travel to Hawaii and to other islands in the atoll, and of course, the beaches.  There were all kinds of sports, except football and baseball.  Instead of football, there was soccer, and instead of baseball, there was mountain ball – a form of softball.  Contact sports and sliding into bases was not allowed due to serious injuries that could occur from the hard coral island.

There was only one high school, so the school sports teams competed against the adult teams.  There were five restaurants and several snack bars on island.  Despite the availability of all the free activities, the best thing about living on Kwaj were the natives, who lived on nearby and other remote islands.  Most had no electricity or indoor plumbing, and fished and farmed for food.  Their national motto is Accomplishment Through Joint Effort and that is how the Marshallese people live their lives every day.  Those who have, share everything they have with those who do not.  They are the happiest, most beautiful, giving people I have ever met.

My father ran all food services on each base at which he was stationed, from the hospitals to the mess halls, movie theaters, and snack bars.  Because of that my dad had to work most holidays —  he had to make sure the soldiers had their Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas dinners before we could have ours.  Occasionally, we would eat those meals at the mess halls so we could share the meal with Dad.

My Dad served in the Korean War and did two tours in Vietnam.  Each time, he was gone for a year or more.  During the Vietnam war, he was MIA for about a month. Fortunately, he was rescued and was able to return home to us.  He never spoke about what happened to him when he was missing.  During his career, he worked long hours and often had to do paperwork when he was at home in the evenings.  But, he still found time to help with homework and to attend school and sporting events.  The most difficult part was when he was deployed.  From a kid’s viewpoint, it was a very sheltered and safe life that afforded us opportunities to travel and see things we probably would never have been able to do otherwise.

Because of the sacrifices my dad and our family made, I have immense respect for the work service members do, regardless of what job they hold in the military.  Although my brother never served during a conflict, he has some very harrowing stories regarding his experiences in nuclear submarines.  Those who serve in the military are selfless, make constant family and personal sacrifices, and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice without hesitation.  Whether serving to preserve our freedoms, or to support other nations in their quests for similar rights and freedoms, I believe service members embody the national motto of the Marshallese every day:  Accomplishment Through Joint Effort.

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