Sunday, September 29, 2013

Let the Work Begin

We feel like our real work has begun.  Through our turnover from the previous couple that served here, our discussions with lots of local missionaries and ward members, our training in Utah, and of course our personal prayer and discussion, we have determined there are five major activities that will consume our time. Last week we really got started on all of this, but this week will be our first full Marine week.

1. First is Officer Candidate School (OCS). These are the candidates for becoming marine officers. They are college graduates or enlisted marines who will be going to college if they pass OCS.  The 10 week school is  basically designed to "weed out" any candidates that cannot deal with extreme pressure and stress, such as they would be exposed to in battle, or who cannot demonstrate good leadership skills under pressure. As you can imagine it is extremely difficult and stressful. They get very little sleep. They are allowed an hour and a half on Sunday and one hour on Wed for "Spiritual training," and so we are responsible for giving a Sunday morning Sacrament meeting on base as well as a Wed night Family Home Evening.   We just had our first experience with the OCS group this morning.  It was so humbling!  When we arrived early (6;30 AM) the marines were outside marching around loudly, like they were having marching contests. I do not know how long they had been up drilling.  The McGraths, the couple from our ward that have been called to carry out these services for the OCS marines, explained to us how the services are conducted, and we moved chairs, got out books and materials, and set up for the sacrament.  We were ready and awaiting the arrival of the students by 7am.  In walked the first “candidate” (that is what they are called here) at attention, saying yes sir, yes mam.  We had to tell him to relax, have a seat, and don’t worry about anything for the next 90 minutes.  Pretty soon a few more came in, and we went through the same thing.  Eventually we had 9 at our little meeting – 5 guys and 4 girls.  They seem so young!  But they were happy to be there and they thanked us over and over again for providing the services.  During introductions we learned that 4 of them are returned missionaries, and 3 are not members of our church.  However, the ones that are not members had Mormon friends or distant family members , so they wanted to meet with the Mormons.  All of them were happy and excited when we told them we would deliver messages via email or phone to their loved ones.  After a song and prayer we had the sacrament.  Then Scott McGrath gave a nice message on "Dare to Stand Alone."  It was about standing up for what you believe even when it is hard, and you will be rewarded.  All of the candidates seemed to enjoy it and were smiling and nodding.  Then after a song and prayer Angelina McGrath broke out about 3 dozen warm cinnamon rolls.  The candidates were much more relaxed by then, and chatted with us as they consumed all of the cinnamon rolls and even licked the pan clean.  They are a great bunch of kids.  We are so awed by what they are doing and their dedication to serving their country in the Marines.  They told us about their backgrounds and their families, and wanted to know all about us, why we were there, where we were from, etc.  All too soon they had to go back to being candidates, and as they stepped back outside we could immediately hear they sergeants yelling at them to get back to work. It felt like we gave them and hour and a half of the real world and let them know that it is still out there waiting for them when they graduate from this school. They are all really strong young people, but some will not make it.  One of the candidates made a comment I thought was very insightful. The other non LDS candidates were discussing how at the other services that they still had to hold attention and listen to lectures like they were not human. The candidate said, I think that is because we know we are all LDS first, LDS who have decided to become marines. The others are marines who are trying to fit their religion into the world of marines. We love these OCS candidates and can't wait to get to know them better.

2.The Basic School ( TBS). After the officer candidates either pass OCS, or graduates from the Naval Academy, they must graduate from this 6 month course before they can be commissioned a Marine officer. It is also very, very difficult and stressful, however, the married students can have their families here, and they have liberty sometimes. We will hold weekly family home evenings for the single bachelors of this group, and visit the families who do live here- they do not have much family time during this 6 months.  However, a majority of this group lives off base or ( this school is on the)other end of this huge base) and attends regular wards in another stake , so we do not have quite as much interaction with them. A problem with this group is that part of the training is an unpredictable schedule.  At any time they can be told they are having maneuvers in the field with almost no notice, and they don't have time to contact us to tell us they cannot come to family home evening.
3.Third is our responsibility to look after the military folks in our ward.  We have about 20 families in various stages of commitment and activity in our ward that are Marines, Navy or Army.  We have several sisters with children whose husbands are deployed overseas or away at temporary assignments.  One mom has 4 kids under 6 and her husband is away for 4 months.  Another has a new baby that was born very premature (1 pound) and has multiple health problems; her husband is away for 2 months.  We made them our first priority, and visited with meals, treats, and toys for the kids.  Once again it was very humbling to see the sacrifices of these moms so that their husbands can serve in the military.  When Dan was in the Navy we knew many people such as these and we are glad we can help out in these situations.
4.A collateral responsibility is to support the young missionaries in our area.  Up to now this has mainly consisted of hauling them places in our car.  For example, we had our first District meeting, which is an organizational group of about 30 missionaries.  We meet once a week for training, reporting, and passing information along.  We had to haul 2 sets of bicycle missionaries from different locations to the church, then go get 2 more and take them to the church.  Each of these sets of missionaries lived about 20 minutes away from the chapel.  We put about 45 miles on the car that morning.  The District meeting was great.  It was so impressive to see these young missionaries conduct and lead their own meeting, providing excellent lessons and instruction.  We were so impressed by them.  They are all very nice young men and women and have given up so much to serve. We have enjoyed getting to know them all. They are very nice to include us in everything, even if we don't fully participate ( like their stake sport day...) It is like we are back in the Young Single Adult Ward again!

 5. Our next role is to provide service in the community. We stopped at the vet and I tried to convince them that STAR puppy classes would be a good service, but they said they didn't have any problems with dogs on the base because if they were a problem they were kicked off.....This brought back vivid memories of the SUBBase Dog Training Club we started with Swailes at the Submarine Base in Groton, Ct many years ago.  So we dropped the dog class idea.  Then we had a chance to stop at the Marine Center for Family Services.  We found the office of the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society there.  This group helps young military families with financial needs by giving budget training, providing emergency loans, helping wives cope while husbands are gone, etc. They need volunteers badly so we are going to try to work there one afternoon a week.  They will give us training so that we can conduct financial and budget training with individual families.  In addition to the help with budgeting we will just help around the office.  This was another humbling experience, to meet with these folks that volunteer their time to help young marine families.  We also got to participate in an excellent ward service project on Saturday.  We spent two hours weeding the playground (mom) and power sanding picnic tables (dad) at a local Boys and Girls Club.  It was wonderful to see dozens and dozens of ward members, including kids, giving up their Saturday  to volunteer. And it was fun to play with power tools for a couple of hours!


All of these activities involve a lot of planning, reviewing, organizing, scheduling, phone calling, texting, emailing, and "regrouping."  We have studied and studied our ward roster to try to learn names and family circumstances.  We have made spreadsheets and marked up calendars. And we have prayed and studied our scriptures and other materials to plan lessons and prepare spiritual thoughts.  But we are enjoying this part of the work as well.

In spite of being very busy, we did find time to visit a historic site one day last week.  We drove to Manassas, about 25 miles away.  It is the site of the first and second Battles of Bull Run, both important and pivotal battles in the Civil War.  There was a nice visitors center and an excellent movie portraying the battles.  It was interesting to hear about American history, but sad to hear about so many deaths at Manassas.  The fields, trees, and rolling hills were beautiful.  We spotted three deer across a field that were enjoying the grass, seemingly unconcerned about our presence.  We had a nice walk around the site.  Then we found the Bull Run Regional Library, which had an excellent genealogy section.  Mom got some one-on-one help about how to research Virginia ancestors, but still has not found that elusive second source to prove James Conaway’s lineage.  She is still working on it.  It was a lovely day away from Woodbridge, and we enjoyed being away from the traffic and noise for half a day.

We also got to have a nice spaghetti dinner with the Cullimores (the other senior couple) at our apt. It was funny to try to make everything work- we only had 4 dishes, so they all had to be clean,  and then realized we didn't have salad tongs or an ice cream scoop etc. But we improvised quite well and it was a fun evening.

We will have a very busy week this week, ending with Dan's Naval Academy Reunion ( we are only going for one day) in Annapolis. Should be fun.


1 comment:

  1. Yay! I love Manassas. If you ever make your way to Linden, VA there is a funky little country store just off the exit next to the gas station that has terrific mini-apple donuts.

    Rex, Anne, and I have a friend who desperately wanted to be an officer for the Marines but didn't make it through OCS there in Quantico. He busted his ankle and they sent him home a week before it was over. I wonder what the stats are for those who make it versus those who don't? They must be so, so grateful for your service. I sure would be.