Today we share the story of Marine Staff Sgt. Maggie Sexton, who will be joining us in Washington, D.C., for the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. On the grounds of the Washington Monument, she will be talking to local schoolchildren about what it means to serve. Find ways to serve on 9/11 Day and through the weekend at AllforGood.org.
I signed up to join the Marine Corps not long after the events of 9/11, right after I finished high school.
I joined for reasons similar to other young Marines at that time: I wanted to serve my country and join the response following the 9/11 attacks, and I wanted to challenge myself and find out what I was made of.
For my first four-year enlistment I was a nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist. Then I spent another enlistment guarding American embassies in Beijing and Berlin and teaching new embassy Marine security guards. I ended up serving eight and a half years, in locations from Japan and China, to Iraq and Germany, and here in the U.S. from California to Virginia.
Have you noticed that the word “serve” is used a lot when people are talking about being in the military? We’re service members; we serve our country; I served for eight and a half years…
What does it mean to serve and why do we consider that such an important aspect of our military? To serve is to elevate the needs of others over your own – to sacrifice your own desires and goals and needs to something greater. And sacrifice takes a lot of forms in the military.
It means not having the option of quitting, no matter how much you want to. It meant living on the military base with other Marines instead of having my own house. It meant not being able to go home and see my parents and brothers for Thanksgiving or Christmas – though I did get to visit them at other times. It meant going to war.
When I deployed to Iraq there were a lot of military moms and dads. Sacrifice meant that they had to leave their children for six months to a year at a time, and I saw just how heartbreaking and difficult that was for them.
Many service members’ sacrifice included being injured or killed in the line of duty.
All of that hardship and loss is also a huge sacrifice for our families – our parents, siblings, partners and children – even though they weren’t the ones who joined the military or signed up for that sacrifice.
I said that I joined the Marines to serve, but also to challenge myself and see what I was made of. From boot camp, to my three combat deployments in Iraq, to my experience guarding American embassies around the world, I did learn what I was made of: pretty tough stuff.
In addition to learning to run and march and do pull ups and shoot a rifle, I learned assertiveness; I learned how to keep a cool head in stressful or dangerous situations, I learned how to lead and take responsibility for the Marines around me, and I learned to always give my best effort and never think of quitting as an option. Most importantly – I learned what it means to serve.
The skills and perspectives I learned as a Marine served me well during my Marine Corps career and they continue to serve me as a veteran and civilian. I now live in Washington, D.C., where I finished college after I left the Marine Corps, and where I now work to improve the health, well-being, rights and opportunities of women in other parts of the world.
And I know a lot of other Marines who have left military service but are continuing to serve their world, and country and communities in many different ways.
I hope that my story expands your perception of Marines, soldiers, sailors and “airmen” (P.S. – they aren’t just men, either!) and will help you to think about the diverse roles that service members and veterans play within your community.