Braving the Boards: When Disappointment Comes

A note to the girl who thinks her life was just ruined in a moment by the promotion board results.

A year and a half ago, my husband and I were on a big family trip, and someone passes around a memento. Everyone signs it. My husband signs it “Maj,” and I cross it out and put in Capt.

“You’re not a major yet,” I tell him.

“Ahh, but it’s just a matter of time. I’m a good Marine, I have good fitreps, I went to resident EWS, and the only guys I know who got passed last year had legal pending or a DUI.” It’s his career, I listen to his logic and don’t really think much further.

We were confidently hopeful though, and over the next few months, I kept refreshing the MARADMIN page, looking for the promotion notice.

A year ago today: I’m newly pregnant with my first baby (I’ve waited forever), and Jay gets a phone call on a Friday night. I was so excited to find out what school we’d be going to and hoping for Naval War College in Rhode Island! My husband answers the call, “Hello Sir… doing great…” and walks out of the room.

He walks back in, and I can’t read his face. Then he says with a quizzical look, “I got passed?” We were in shock. We were supposed to go next door for a friend’s 20-year celebration and… what just happened?

Immediate damage control. What do we do, who do we call, there must have been a mistake, can we resubmit? Was there a technical glitch, maybe his photo didn’t load…? The first thing I do is call my dad, a retired Navy captain, asking him what to do.

“Well shit, guess you get ready for civilian life, the ride is over.”

This was all I knew, all he knew, all we knew. We’d focused everything on the Marine Corps, my career, his, our soon-to-be son—we’d made the Marine Corps the center and us the satellites. How could it fail us, what do we do without it? I emailed a friend whose husband was far senior to mine, and I waited. I waited, sitting next to my partner who I loved so dearly, watching him struggle to find the words. For a man who can talk his way out of any parking ticket, he was lost. His first reaction was confusion, then anger, then pain. Saturday was silence. We sat on the couch, and every hour or two he would say, “But why would they send me to EWS” or “Maybe it wasn’t as good of a fitrep as I thought.” I suffered with him.

Eventually I got a note back from my friend, and she said, “You know, my husband was passed too, and he’s a colonel now, so it’s not the end.”

A tiny bit of hope came into my life, and I decided Sunday was for research. What does Google say? Not much, and the rest of the house was filled with silence. The silence was deafening in our home. No eating, no sleeping, just contemplation. That weekend felt like a month. In our lives together, we’d battled thing after thing—his dad’s death, his mom’s move, my career woes, financial and emotional troubles—but I’ve never seen him as dismal as he was on Sunday. I was worried, prepared to call the Chaps and ask him to pull my husband in to his office, but the CO got to him first. Thankfully, he took him in, told him how great he was, and tried to figure out what happened. No one knew.

A year later, we still don’t know. Every CO, their career people in Quantico, the friends, the mentors, no one knows why. The guesses were that Jay’s time as a company commander didn’t come soon enough, and he didn’t have a fitrep in command, though he was in command in turn like everyone else…

Monday changed my world again. When my husband came home from work, I was prepared for the super sad solitude. But he walked in and started talking about five ways he could be a better officer after this. He talked about how he could lead junior Marines away from his hubris, how he could be more appreciative of what we have, how he learned where his support was (me), how he learned about the process, and how much he wants to be a Marine.

We agreed that we would spend six months doing everything we could for the Marine Corps, give it every ounce of our blood, sweat, and tears, and then we would spend six months prepping to get out, planning for the worst, saving every penny, and deciding on a post-Marine Corps career, so if the next board says no, we would be prepared.

We did just that, and here we are today with the board results pending, sitting on someone’s desk somewhere about to change our world. And you know what? It doesn’t matter. Either way, we’re a thousand times stronger today than we were a year ago. Plan A and Plan B are awesome, and I’m so much more in love with my partner because of the struggles and how courageous he is. Seeing the end of it all might just be what it takes to really love the Marine Corps, but also love life outside of it too.

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