It makes my heart sink every time I recall the moment. My heart beats faster and my left hand goes on my chest—just as it did when I made the mistake. I am a noncommissioned officer and a corporal in the Marine Corps. Corporals are the backbone of the Corps, striving for the best and upholding its standards. I have made a mistake; I realize the weight of my error, and it changes me as a Marine.
It was the most glorious day four years ago when I discovered that my military occupational specialty was field artillery. It was love at first sight when I saw the M777A2 Howitzer weapon system. I was determined to master and study every detail of it. As one of the very first female Marines in field artillery, I was proud to learn how to handle this magnificent cannon, and I worked hard. I made connections with Marines who were intelligent, compassionate, and understanding. Senior Marines taught me with encouragement and wisdom. Comradery in field artillery is unmatched.
Two years passed—two years of challenging times and fond memories. I learned and worked my best for the gun section to which I was assigned. Each gun section contains six to ten Marines and a section chief. A section chief is responsible for operating and maintaining the M777A2 Howitzer weapon system and its crews, and it was my goal to become one. Every section chief I encountered demonstrated the utmost job proficiency, intelligence, leadership, and—most important—passion for field artillery. In the spring of 2021, I was given an opportunity to attend the section chief course. Graduating was the most notable milestone in my career.
Being a section chief in field artillery was exhilarating. My Marines worked hard, and I worked hard for them. I was proud of the weapon system and gun crews to which I was assigned. I maintained my position as an artillery section chief for about ten months—until the day I made a mistake.
It was a week-long field exercise that took place at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, in December 2021. I was proud and confident. The first few days went by without incident. We would emplace our Howitzers and wait for fire direction control to send us fire missions. We moved from position to position.
The mistake was, without a doubt, completely my fault. When the fire mission came, I failed to notice that the charge (the amount of gunpowder) had changed. I announced the wrong charge to my crews, and my crews loaded it to the Howitzer. It breaks my heart and makes my fingers heavy as lead to even write this. I said the words, “Stand by, fire,” and shot the round. There was no excuse. I shot the round with a wrong charge, and it did not hit where fire direction control intended.
There was no point of an apology, hindsight, tears, or excuses. It was simply that I made a mistake, and the weight of the mistake was grand. While no personnel or equipment were harmed, they could have been. The sense of responsibility and guilt was nauseating. I was afraid of what was to come. I was afraid to lose my title as a section chief. I also was afraid of being permitted to continue as a section chief. I had lost my confidence. I felt as though my incompetence was apparent to everyone.
I lost my title at the end of the field exercise. It was the consequence I deserved. It was in this moment that I realized how much that position had meant to me. It made me who I was, and “section chief” was part of my identity. Granted, I was still a noncommissioned officer, but I had been immensely proud of that title.
I wished thousands of times to go back to the moment I received the fire mission. What if I had looked at the data more carefully? What if I had relaxed and taken more time? What if I had thought things through? I questioned myself over and over. A peer was kind enough to say, “You are a perfectionist. That’s why it is hurting you so much.”
For a couple of weeks, I felt useless. I was not a section chief. I did not have an assigned gun. I did not have Marines to oversee or supervise. I felt as though my value as a Marine was gone. When my superiors told me they were going to send me back to the section chief course, it was hard to believe. It was a chance to redeem myself. If I graduated, I could be a chief again.
Caution, Not Fear
I graduated the section chief course for the second time in March 2022. It would be a lie to say I am not wary of making the same mistake again. However, I believe this is good. It makes me more deliberate, careful, and dedicated to the safe firing of the weapon system I fell in love with four years ago. The mistake did not define me. It forced me to be more aware and cognitively engage with my fire missions.
I am not afraid; I am cautious. I am nervous in the sense that I am excited to still be an integral part of field artillery. I am thrilled for what is to come, and I am grateful to be given a second chance. There is no place for the weak or timid in the artillery.