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January 11, 2008 / Maleesha Kovnesky

Character Assassination

It’s hard to be a female Marine.  To be the fewest of the few is to hold a bouquet of roses in one hand and a cluster of thorns in the other.  I don’t have many complaints about the male Marines I served with, oh, there were some doozies alright, but for the most part they were brothers.  And those doozies I mentioned?  Well the brothers thought they were doozies too.  That’s something that doesn’t get pointed out a lot, I’ve noticed.  That for every female in the military that screws up, there are ten males doing the same or worse.  “Slipped through the cracks.”  “The ten percent.”  Whatever we used to call it.  Just before my enlistment was up, our battalion had the esteemed pleasure of a getting hit with a major drug bust.  Seven of “our” men were running a major GHB (that’d be the date rape drug) business, which including recruiting a sixteen-year old Onslow County teenager to assist in their sales.  That wasn’t on CNN, if I remember…

So let’s take a week when there aren’t any assassinations of political leaders, exploding airliners, or hurricanes.  And let’s face it, hearing the presidential candidates vote for change is already smelling stale.  Now let’s add an attractive blonde Marine who was in a legal battle with a man she accused of assault.  Let’s say she disappears, and wait for the news outlets to attack.  Let’s quote her presumably evil mother calling her a “compulsive liar” and watch as the picture gets painted…woman gets pregnant by man who outranks her and takes off on a bus, eight months pregnant, to hide from her lies.  That’s pretty much the story I’ve been reading.

Being about eight months pregnant myself, let me tell you there isn’t much running from anything.  That little detail in itself was enough to make plenty of people question the accuracy of the reporting.  What, was she planning to deliver in a bathroom?  Up until the time, she had made all of her prenatal appointments (even though dear mommy was pressuring her to give the baby up for adoption). 

Well it’s good that people questioned it because she is dead.  She didn’t run away.  She and her nearly-born baby were murdered.  It’s probably too early to tell whodunit, but my money’s on Mr. Assault.  Didn’t have anything to hide, did you?  Well apparently you did.

It’s unfortunate that we’ll never really know what happened, not everything, to LCpl Maria Lauterbach.  We’ll only know the warped version we hear through the news.  The Marines in her battalion will only hear the rumors and the speculation, and inevitably take sides with either she or the others involved.  As groundbreaking and human-interest driven this story seems to be to the public, I can tell you from my four years in the Marines that it’s not anything new.  Maybe the details are different…it’s not always a death, it’s not always a rape, it’s not always a particularly good-looking individual.  However, one common theme – woman cries foul, investigation ensues, woman pressured to drop charges and “remember what really happened,” everyone starts questioning woman.  Until woman ends up buried in a shallow grave. 

“Oh, damn, we must have missed something,” say the investigators.

I got to see a lot of changes at the time I enlisted in August of 1996.  My boot camp (excuse me….recruit training) platoon was the very last pre-Crucible platoon.  Halfway through boot camp, our female drill instructors lost the lame red cords and were allowed to wear the Smokeys like their male counterparts.  The PFT run time for females went from 1.5 miles to 3 miles while I was in boot camp, making the PFTs equivalent (let’s not get started on arm-hang vs. pull ups, shall we?).  

One thing that becomes apparent right off the bat when you join the Marines is that you better be good.  This should be more apparent to the women than the men, but your personal reputation follows you everywhere you go in the green machine.  Screw up on your first day and it will never be forgotten.  I was a lucky one, and I have an older, wiser female Marine (let’s call her Q) who visited me on my first day on duty, post boot camp, to advise me to hide out in my room for at least three weeks until my newness died down and someone else replaced it.  She was a quite the intimidating one, that Q, and I followed her advice.  It was probably the best advice anyone ever gave me during my time in the service.  I repeated it with each duty station.  I turned down every offer that was made to me “to go out and party” or “come hang out in my room” until I had made my own group of friends and over-protective brothers. 

But I was lucky.  Let’s take a look at those who are signing enlistment papers, shall we?  Straight out of high school, typically these are Generation Y kids who may have never held jobs.  Fueled by freedom, hormones, and a paycheck, temptations lurk at every corner.  Would someone like LCpl Lauterbach have been easily pressured by an older, saltier Marine who pressured her into something?  Or just the first person who took her side?  It’s often the older, crustier “women shouldn’t be in the Marines” men who pull this crap, from what I’ve seen. 

However:  Nothing a person does in their own life, whether you agree with or not, entitles anyone else to threaten or hurt them.  Nothing. 

I can name three women in my battalion who had experiences similar to this (of course I won’t name them).  Guess what.  At times, there were only 5 women out of 500.  Those aren’t good odds.  The odds get worse too as the “good women” pull away from the “bad women” because it’s too easy to be guilty by association in the military.  So the “bad women” (whether they’ve done anything to deserve the title or not) end up having no one to turn to.  Might make it pretty tempting to turn to the first predator that offers a hand…especially if your mommy is the kind who would talk smack about you to CNN.   

Then again, we can’t trust the picture the media paints.  I mozeyed over to the Jacksonville Daily News, where Maria’s uncle is quoted:

“She was a very beautiful, athletic young lady. She volunteered to join the Marine Corps. She was very committed to the Marines, and she is being portrayed in a way that does not look well. She was petrified; she has been continually intimidated and harassed by people (Marines). She was not protected; she was not well looked after.”

We’ll never know.  I do have friends that were in that still carry the mental scars of not being believed.  I even admit there were times I didn’t believe it all.  Until one accused man eventually got himself in trouble somewhere else, getting shot down from an E-7 to an E-3 must have really stung, eh?  Or one of the other ones, who lost a stripe and a hefty chunk of his future retirement checks.  Those women are at least still alive to carry their scars, though.  When I moved into my barracks room at Camp Lejeune in 1997, one of the first things I was warned about was to not go out at night alone.  I guess a few years before, one woman from the battalion was raped and murdered on the stairwell fifty feet from my room.  What a warm fucking welcome that must have been.   

Would I do it all over again?  Hell, yes I would.  Joining the Marines was the best thing I ever did in my life.  If you find this blog in a Google search, and you’re pondering joining, and especially if you are of the female persuasion, just do it.  But please, I beg you.  Be good.  For yourself and for the other WMs that you’ll be working with. 

Some of my best friends in the world.

And please, please don’t turn on each other. 



Leave a Comment
  1. maleesha / Feb 4 2008 11:33 am

    Hello! I’m still not sure why I went in, it was kind of a feeling of being drawn to do it. I had never considered the military and one day I walked by a recruiter’s booth and just walked up and said “Where do I sign?” It was definitely the best thing I ever did up until that point…if you believe in cause and effect, that decision has resulted in everything that has happened to me since! My mom was happy and said that she wished she could have done something like that at my age, my dad cried (he is a Vietnam marine) and most of my friends just rolled their eyes and said “you would.” My teachers were horrified and felt the military would drain my creativity (not true!) I was a waitress at the time, and one older guy who I used to bring pancakes to was so upset by my joining the military instead of going straight to college, well, he walked out of that restaurant and never came back in. And he was an everyday pancake sort of guy. What can you do?

  2. wpm1955 / Feb 3 2008 8:57 am

    Sorry, I forgot to ask, how did you decide to go in to the Marines? What was the reaction of family and friends at that time?

    Madame Monet

  3. wpm1955 / Feb 3 2008 8:49 am

    Dear Maleesha,

    I didn’t know you were in the Marines, and I really enjoyed reading this post. I also enjoyed seeing you in the photo you posted.

    Madame Monet (in Marrakesh)
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine

  4. Cherikooka / Jan 15 2008 12:58 pm

    Well said.

  5. ianthealy / Jan 11 2008 8:14 pm

    Great, powerful post, Maleesha.

    And you look absolutely like an Authentic Bad-Ass. 🙂


  6. gypsy13 / Jan 11 2008 5:57 pm

    Very well written

That's what she said!

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