By DeAnn Wandler
Staff, American Military University
My story is one of many you hear in the military. It is a legacy of service. My father served three years in the Air Force, followed by 21 years in the Marine Corps. He was a grunt who served multiple combat tours (the Korean War and two tours in Vietnam) and was decorated with two Purple Hearts. He was a true “Marine’s Marine.” He embodied the American spirit of selfless service displayed by so many, especially during a period when military service was not truly appreciated. Towards the end of his military career, he served as a USMC recruiter in upstate New York. I still remember the sense of awe I felt as a young child when I would see him in his dress blues. He was larger than life.
At an early age, my brother, sister and I were introduced to the values of patriotism, integrity, discipline, hard work and selflessness. Moreover, the nomadic subculture of military families, which consisted of frequent moves and living within the self-contained wall of military installations, taught us resiliency, adaptability and an appreciation for diversity. I’ve even heard some people refer to a military B-R-A-T as being Born Rough and Tough, and I would agree.
From a Military Brat to a Marine at Heart
I knew I wanted to join the Marines when my brother followed my father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Marines in 1980. Due to my young age, my parents agreed to sign the consent form if I would commit to one year of college first. Always eager to find a solution on my own terms unbeknownst to them, I took my SATs in my junior year and was accepted as an early admission to college. As a result, I skipped my senior year of high school and attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) at the age of 16. Even while enrolled in the college Army ROTC program, I would come home on school break and physically train with the local Marine recruiting station “poolies” singing “Mama, Mama, can’t you see – what the Marine Corps has done to me.” Although not a Marine yet, I already was a Marine at heart. Every single one of us scrawny, over-zealous “poolies” mastered that heartfelt cadence and were quickly energized, bonding with each other before we ever earned a stripe.
DeAnn is pictured in USMC colors for AMU’s new ‘Our Athletes Don’t Play Games’ collection.
Following the Legacy
True to their word, my parents signed their consent at the end of my first year of college, and off I went to boot camp at the impressionable age of 17. Back then in the early 80s, I didn’t get a sign-on bonus for qualifying for a certain MOS. The philosophy at that time was that you get what you earn. We’ll give you leadership skills and those leadership skills will transfer to any job you want to do. The Marine Corps promise was of chance and opportunity.
I’ve even heard some people refer to a military B-R-A-T as being Born Rough and Tough, and I would agree.
With sweaty palms and a racing heart, I took my first step into destiny on those yellow footprints at o-dark-thirty. After completing over three demanding months of training, our platoon developed into smartly disciplined, trained and physically fit Marines, thoroughly indoctrinated in love of Corps and country. I earned the coveted title of United States Marine and the right to wear the Marine Corps emblem.
Now and again, I remember the intense feelings of empowerment, extreme sense of patriotism and commitment to our country that I felt while I stood on the graduation parade deck listening to the Marines’ hymn. When my parents came to greet me afterwards, I will never forget my surprise at seeing my father – in essence, for the first time. This man, this larger-than-life character who appeared as tall as Paul Bunyan to me throughout my childhood, was actually only 5’2”. Why I finally noticed his true physical height in that moment, I’ll never understand. What I do know is this: that short, broad-chested man with his sharp wit and charisma was proof that size doesn’t matter when it comes to protecting and defending the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.
My Life as a Proud Veteran
Even though I’m no longer in uniform, I will always be a Marine. I’ve taken the skills and lessons I learned while in uniform and applied them to my civilian life and career. Military experience provides veterans with training and work skills valued by many employers. Veterans have a proven ability to acquire new skills and concepts quickly, enhancing an organization’s productivity. They’ve experienced the demands of a tight schedule and working with limited resources, learning how to prioritize and work well under pressure.
Veterans understand how authentic teamwork stems from a responsibility to one another and working towards organizational strategic plans, instead of their own individual ambitions. They possess a wide range of technical and professional skills vis-à-vis real-world experiences, rigorous military training schools and higher education. More importantly, the military imparts a mindset adapted to working towards an objective, irrespective of the level of difficulty and the demands that participants be winners. Organizations who harness that winning psychology can leverage that intrinsic motivation to achieve company goals. I highly encourage employers seeking to build their future talent pipelines to take advantage of the unique hiring opportunity that veterans offer.
Pay Tribute to Your Peers
On the homefront, let us pay tribute to our servicemembers. I have the utmost respect and gratitude to my son, my nephews, and those brave men and women who continue the legacy — who make a career out of making a difference and who selflessly bleed for the freedom for which we so humbly acknowledge. In contrast to the coziness and comfort we share at home, they are on patrol scanning the horizon for IEDs and terrorists. While we enjoy family dinners and mingle with loved ones, they’re away from theirs. As I share my thanks for my fellow brothers and sisters in arms, I’d also like to recognize the pain, suffering and sacrifice of the families of our servicemembers. They are the backbone to the most powerful force in the world. Thank you.
Even though I’m no longer in uniform, I will always be a Marine.
With sincere humility, I’d like to share a quote from President Ronald Reagan: “We must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors. As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people; we will negotiate for it, we will sacrifice for it, we will not surrender for it now or ever, we are Americans.”
How You Can Show Your Colors
At AMU, we don’t field sports teams and you won’t find a stadium with our name on it. We’re a worldwide team of students and alumni who proudly serve their nation and their communities. AMU’s slogan, Our Athletes Don’t Play Games, illustrates how every day is game day for our students and alumni.
For our second story in the #OADPG series, we are putting our boots on the ground with the Marines. We encourage you to show your pride, like DeAnn Wandler, and your colors. Check out the new AMU ‘athletes’ gear today!
About the Author
DeAnn Wandler is responsible for American Public University System’s Corporate and Strategic Relationships with the finance and insurance industries. Prior to joining APUS, DeAnn served as Vice President of Admissions Operations, overseeing the strategic direction and management of 24 career-college campuses throughout the United States. She has more than 15 years of increasingly responsible and successful experience in all areas of higher education, including Vice President of Education Outreach, Vice President of Enrollment Management and Director of Admissions. Her background includes positions at University of Phoenix, Grantham University and Vatterott Educational Centers.
DeAnn currently serves on the National Contract Management Association (NCMA) Board of Advisors. She has served as Vice President of Educational Standards on the Greater Kansas City Association of the United States Army (AUSA) and sat on the Board of Directors for the Kansas City Executive Women International (EWI).