by Gloria Nesloney
My earliest memory of military life was when I was 4 years old while living in Long Beach, California. I remember the strong mildew smell of canvased tents and metallic smell of ammo cans. I remember the sound of the P38 opening the canned MCI meals. The smell of chlorine coming from the swimming pool near the base at Camp Pendleton in 1978 is still ingrained in my memory. I could hear the cadence of the morning PT runs in a distance that echoed with deep tones of men’s voices. I remember going to the office where my father served as a United States Marine Military Police. He worked in the Customs Department on The Queen Mary. After visiting my Father at the base, joyfully I said, “When I grow up, I’m going to be a Marine.”
After my Father retired from the military we moved to Freer, a small town in South Texas. Freer was known for oil, ranches, and rattlesnakes. The option to go to college was out of the question because we grew up poor and our financial situation was bleak. If you were going to be successful, you had to either already own a business or join the oilfield. I had worked as a dishwasher at Grandpa’s Cafe, our family owned restaurant, during my younger years. I knew that is not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Though the customers flowed in daily, the finances always seemed to decline as did the economy during the oil boom.
My Mother’s advice paved the way for my wandering and wondering mind was: “If you fail, it’s your own fault. If you succeed, it’s your own fault.” See, my parents did the best they could with what little they had. But this simple phrase pushed me to never blame anyone for my failures or successes. I had to get out of my comfort zone and start working and stop complaining. I had to learn not to just go with the flow and wait for things to happen. I have become someone who is determined to find ways to succeed in my life.
On January 9, 1992 for my birthday, I went to the closest recruiter’s office in Laredo, Texas. Just a couple of months before I signed up for the military, my older brother joined the Army. He already graduated from boot camp and was on his first tour during the Gulf War in Kuwait. When I told my brother that I signed up for the military, he said he was proud of me and warned me that the Army was difficult, especially for women. I told him I joined the Marine Corps and I could hear him gasp. He encouraged me to stay in touch because the Marine Corps was one of the toughest training to go through. I wasn’t going to change my mind about my decision. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to serve my country and be a Marine.
I completed Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, South Carolina and was stationed in North Carolina to the Motor Transportation department. The words I spoke over myself came true of finally becoming a Marine. I was told stories about my great-great grandfather, my great-grandfather, and my grandfather during their tours of duty as they served in the Army and Air Force. I was told only of the heroic or victorious seasons. I knew my father joined the Marine Corps right out of high school. He served in several tours during the Vietnam Era and he never told us what happened there, but I knew he didn’t come home the same. He kept silent about anything that happened to him while he was in Da Nang.
Every Marine will know what J.J. D.I.D. T.I.E. B.U.C.K.L.E means. I still live by this acronym today. Here is the breakdown of what the acronym stands for: justice, judgement, dependability, integrity, decisiveness, tact, initiative, endurance, bearing, unselfishness, courage, knowledge, loyalty, and enthusiasm. It was easy to live by these characteristics because I was raised by a Marine. I learned leadership skills and with the ingrained J.J. D.I.D. T.I.E. B.U.C.K.L.E. traits, helped me through my services in the military, community, and in ministry.
After the military, I was able to attend a junior college in 1994 and graduated. While I was there, I also received Jesus in my heart and became a Christian. I had a desire to serve my country, travel the world, serve people from different countries, and now serve the Lord. Why did I have such a passionate drive? I was destined to serve in any way that I can, anywhere that I was, to anyone who needed help. I learned that all those odd jobs weren’t really odd at all, they were just shaping me to become successful at anything I put my hands and heart into.
While in college, one of my assignments was to trace my genealogy. When researching my family history, I saw there were several generations who joined the military. Some family history records date as far back as 1600’s. Some during war, some during peace. Some on home front and some in foreign territories. I was interested in learning more about these family members. I found a book called “Capitán Blas Maria De La Garza Falcon: Colonizer of South Texas” that was written by one of my relatives who was an author, historian, educator, and physician, Dr. Cleotilde Garcia.
The book describes the conquests, defeats, and victories of territories gained in the South Texas area before Texas was part of the United States. I also found that in my genealogy there was a priest named Padre Jose Nicolas Balli who served as a missionary in the South Texas area. With continued research, I also found that a journalist who was my grandmother’s brother was shot in public for writing the truth about political conspiracies in South Texas.
Along with famous military leaders, missionaries, and writers, there were many stories of service that had not been mentioned to me until after I was much older. Somehow each story seemed intangible, unreachable, unattainable, until I decided one day I would take initiative to try some of these gifts of service. I wasn’t the famous military leader; but I took initiative to follow in my forefathers footsteps.
I was stationed with the Motor Transportation unit that was responsible for various logistics and resources. Though my service was only in the United States, I did my duties with the utmost respect and honor. No one ever told us about the hard times that were experienced in the military, the separation of family, and the horrors of war. We just didn’t talk about anything negative or unpatriotic.
Even on the home front, I was faced with helping in catastrophic events from hurricane cleanups, emergency response, or mitigating riots that broke out during the Rodney King trial. The traits that were heightened during these events were justice, courage, integrity, tact, endurance, and bearing. So, when I returned home from the military, I too didn’t speak about my experience.
After college, I attended a couple of bible institutions where I became a licensed minister. About two years into doing full-time ministry, I was invited to do missionary work in Texas, Uganda, San Blas Islands of Panama, Guatemala, and Mexico. The leadership skills needed for being able to function during ministry was dependability, knowledge, loyalty, unselfishness, and enthusiasm.
Now I serve the Lord in songs of worship, while cleaning toilets at one of my businesses, folding clothes at a children’s home, or when I am washing the feet of those who are in the hospital or unable to leave their home. I serve people in my community, where I work, and even online. This type of service fills my heart with joy. As I learned to take initiative to serve, doors of opportunity swung open in different denominations or countries.
One of the challenges of serving is when a person is working for the church, working the church like a business, or like a job. They have lost the true reason why they are in the church in the first place, to serve with joy. It is understood that there is business in ministry, and ministry in business, it is called the ecuministry. It’s when serving no longer is a joy. It becomes a job. I have seen ministers hurt, fail, fall, give up, or give up hope because they tried to do God’s work man’s way instead of allowing man to work God’s way. I have observed the same happen to individuals in the corporate world. At first, it seems like a joy, and because of all the stresses corporate world can bring, a person losses sight of serving and ends up feeling like a slave to their job. No compensation can be acquired to gain joy at a job you aren’t feeling satisfied in. I had learned to serve, not work. This is when I was stretched and began my own ministries. Yes, work has to be done, but it doesn’t have to feel like work when things are getting accomplished.
I wrote in several journals for a couple of years in hopes that one day, maybe one day, I will write my first book. There was a song written by Martina McBride called “Anyway” and this gave me the encouragement to follow my dream. My hope was not about getting my story read by millions, but to take the initiative to get it out of my heart and onto the paper. Then as the process of writing began, my dream grew wings and I self-published my first book in 2018. Once I pushed past the fear of what someone might say or think, I gained confidence to continue to write to this day.
I don’t know about you, but I believe in divine connections and it would seem to me that once I finished what I felt I was called to, I received a phone call from Gina Alderman to be part of a project she was leading with 18 other women veterans. I submitted my chapter and waited. At that point it wasn’t fear that held me back from sharing my candid story, but rather anticipation as to how many people would read it. On the day that Veterans Unchained: Breaking the Chain of Trauma One Link at a Time, Kindle Edition released, it made #1 International Bestseller. This was an amazing accomplishment for me and those who were part of the project.
As I look at the various odd jobs I have done, the different hopes, dreams, and desires I have had, I am able to see that the Lord knew all this time was not wasted. As military, missionaries, and journalists have been in my family line, I can now see how all of these generational blessings have always been for me. I just needed to follow my heart. I learned that sometimes you have to get out of your comfort zone. That day I said, I’m going to be a Marine, never stopped echoing in my ear. When I desired to travel around the world and help people, it is now a testimony of a passport stamped a couple of times. The day I said, I’m going to write anyway is now a dream come true.
See, it wasn't about being from a small hometown that kept me stagnant, it was lack of vision, it was a lack of learning how to push through the noise and listen to my heart. I have learned how to serve in my community. The Marine characteristics that carry over to my everyday life are good judgement on how to evaluate my intentions to see what is best for my life. I still make quick decisions with little or no information about what is involved. If I am undecided, I don’t regret my choice. My wandering and wondering heart became settled when I finally understood to take initiative over my own life. What a freedom it has been! Knowing what I know now has allowed me to be anywhere in the world and see beyond the potential roadblocks in my mind. Wherever I am, in all that I do, I am destined to serve. How may I serve you?
Lessons Learned: Even if no one else is watching, serve anyway. Serve in whatever you do, no matter the title or the job. You are also destined to serve, take initiative to lead where you are.