Veteran's History Project

Jessica Rhods, Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps, 2001 – 2005


September 7, 2017

Larry Nelson for the Western Nebraska Observer

Jessica Rhods

The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better under- stand the realities of war.

Jessica Rhods came from a family that was long on military service. Although that was all well and good, it is not necessarily a requirement to follow the lead of members of a family tree. At age eighteen, Jessica needed a change in her life. Things were not going as well as she expected. Since both her parents had military histories, she knew about what to expect.

Jessica looked for the recruiting offices in her city. The only office open at the time was the one seeking a few good men and women... the United States Marine Corps. The recruiter went into the full explanation mode about service and discipline and all the good stuff Marines do. She passed the physical examination and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) at the Military Enlistment Processing Station in Denver. She was of age to sign the papers for enlistment and in ninety days, she was on her way.

Jessica began her military service on 23 September 2001. The attacks on America had happened just a few weeks before. Things were different. The flight was full of people who seemed quiet and contemplative. After landing, she and other recruits were bused to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) at Parris Island, South Carolina.

A Drill Sergeant rode the bus with the new people. Along the way, he provided quite an array of information aimed at filling in the recruits about who was in charge and who was not; who was part of the human race and who was not; intro about achievement; intro about Marine discipline self-discipline; major intro about rigorous training. As the bus neared the base, the recruits had to put their heads between their knees.

Arriving on the MCRD, she said "all hell broke loose". The reception committee (Drill Sergeants) boarded the bus and began yelling at the new people. They were yelling LOUDLY! There were Drill Sergeants outside slapping the sides of the bus. A common question among the new recruits: "what have I gotten myself into?"

The Drill Sergeants ordered them to "get off my bus!" When their feet hit the ground, they had better be looking for yellow painted footprints on the asphalt. The footprints were four across and usually twelve prints deep. "Get on a set and DO NOT MOVE!" Gulp.

Late at night, the Drill Sergeants marched them to the clothing issue point – in the dark! They obtained uniforms that were allotted for their use. What about eating? Nope. We'll tell you when you're hungry.

The recruits were marched to their housing unit. They would live here. The bunks were two high, about twelve sets of bunks on each side of the untouchable squad bay area. They were told to sit on the floor while a senior Drill Instructor put out information about their immediate future.

Jessica doesn't remember going through the chow lines. She knew it was a process. Actually if you were the last person through the chow line, you better hurry because when the first person in the chow line finished eating, all the others were finished too. Shovel it in, chew what you can, shovel more...

In barracks life, they were shown which bunk was theirs. They were presented with a foot locker and shown exactly how their clothing was to be stored and presented on inspection. Here, on their own, the recruits learned the concept of teamwork and helping one another out. There were some who couldn't hack the discipline and training. In a short time, those folks were either recycled or allowed to return to civilian life.

As the initial training moved along, there would be two weeks of rifle marksmanship, more drill and ceremonies, and overcoming the challenges of the "crucible". The crucible is a raw, almost extreme, test of your capabilities that have been taught over the past twelve weeks. Almost every subject is touched on, but there is emphasis on marksmanship, first aid, drill and Marine Corps specific subjects. Passing means you will graduate. Failing is not an option at this point.

Jessica entered the Marine Corps at 5'10" weighing about 120 lbs. On graduating from the initial training, she weighed in at 140#. Achieving this much made her feel like she was something bigger than herself... like she had succeeded through a place where not all made it! Some of her family had come to Parris Island to watch and be proud.

After a thirty-day leave at home, the next piece of training was at a site near Camp Lejeune, NC. This combat skill site extends the war-fighter areas of knowledge. They shoot squad-level weapons; hone their land navigation training, combat training of move-shoot-communicate, for almost another month!

Jessica went on to train in her field. She was to become an Expeditionary Airfield Technician. The items taught here included hands-on work with equipment made to get aircraft on the ground, reload, and get them back in the air. She learned to work on aircraft arresting gear, visual landing aids, airfield lighting and marking, etc...

Orders arrived just before school completion. Her duty assignment was Camp Foster, Okinawa. This time, she traveled by plane to Japan, then on to the island. There is a load of history on this island, including many, many deaths of American Marines and Sailors.

Jessica said her work here was with about fifteen other Marines. They trained constantly and made the requirements of readiness for their unit. The shop they used was relatively small compared to others. They worked on mobile landing pads for helicopters, as well as fixed wing planes.

There were many challenges with regard to the weather. Hurricanes and typhoons are not that uncommon there. The buildings have been modified to withstand harsh storms.

Jessica enjoyed her assignment in Okinawa. She really took in the ocean and beaches. She traveled the area whenever an opportunity came about. She married another Marine and in not a long time, left the Corps.

Living outside the Corps and in a hard marriage and having had a child, became too much for her. She was unable to leave alcohol and/or drugs alone. Reaching an alcohol level that produced blackouts was not unusual. She reached out for help; called the Veterans Crisis Line; went through treatment and failed again. She entered the VA residential treatment program and in a couple of weeks left and failed again. She was directed out of the program and sent to another one in Sheridan, WY. A counselor from the Cheyenne VA Treatment program recognized Jessica and spent quality time with her.

That Counselor did great work in getting Jessica back into treatment in the Cheyenne VA facility. This connection likely saved Jessica's life. Clean and sober now for weeks, she is heading for a new life.

Jessica wanted a change in her life as a somewhat rebellious teen. She made the best of it! Lance Corporal Jessica Rhods, thank you for your service!!


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