My Life, My Story by Jean - Minneapolis VA Health Care System
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My Life, My Story by Jean

Graphic with tan background and the US Marine Corps and Navy seals; it reads My Life. My Story.

My Life. My Story.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

When Veterans share their stories through the My Life, My Story project we build stronger connections between Veterans and their health care teams. We'd like to thank all the Veterans who have shared their stories so far and for sharing their stories with you.

My Life, My Story believes that stories heal, teach and are powerful. You have a story that we want to hear, contact Casey Gunderson at vhaminmystory@va.gov or 612-629-7618.

Jean's My Life, My Story

I was born and raised in Minnesota – the youngest of 5 kids born within 5 and a half years. We moved around a lot. I never went to the same school for more than a couple of years. It’s hard being the new kid, but I believe it prepared me for life in the military…always moving. Running also prepared me. I have been a runner since I was in the 7th grade, trying to keep up with my siblings. My parents did foster care. As the youngest, I got the brunt of it. As my siblings moved on, we could add more foster kids.

I got my love of airplanes from my father, also a Marine. For my 16th birthday, he rented a one engine airplane. We flew up north and had lunch. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do with my life – I wanted to fix airplanes – not fly in them but fix them. At age 18, I figured I could do what I wanted and so I enlisted in the Navy.

I went to bootcamp in Orlando, Florida, then A School in Millington, Tennessee. I had hardly been out of Minnesota before joining the Navy. I did well in school and at the end, we were able to have our choice of a duty station depending on how well we did. Where’s the furthest one away? Hawaii – because I just needed to get away from Minnesota and my family and be on my own. I knew I wanted to fix airplanes, but the Navy also filled my basic living needs – all the needs that I had no clue how I was going to fill myself. It was my favorite job, even to this day.

When my squadron was decommissioned, I had the option to end my contract early. I got out and moved to California and met my first husband. At 23, and married, I joined the Marines and went back to boot camp. There were two times in my life that I actually thought I was going to physically die. One was Marine Corps boot camp. I thought “Take me now Jesus, cuz I’m done!”. But you have - to - keep - going. You can’t stop. Even when you think you’re at the end, you have this strength that comes up from nowhere and pushes you through. Every time we turned around, we had another challenge that had to be overcome. And the only way to get out of this hell was to do it – you had to do it. The other time I thought I was going to die was when I had pneumonia, but that’s a more boring story.

In the Marines, I was a helicopter electrician stationed back in Hawaii – this time on the other side of the island. When you are born and raised in Minnesota, you associate things with the changing of the seasons. As much fun as Hawaii can be, there is only one season. Christmas lights on palm trees is just weird. When it came time for our contracts to be done, we realized we had missed all births, deaths, and weddings in the family – things that you can’t ever go back to. We decided to settle in Rochester, MN.

I worked for IBM until the decision was made to move the manufacturing from Rochester to Mexico. There was a program for displaced workers, to retrain us. I took them up on the offer to go to college for 2 years. It was a fabulous experience, and fun being around 18-year old’s who still care what people think of them. During this time, we divorced and sold the house. I moved to St. Paul.

When school was coming to an end, I started applying for housekeeping jobs at the VA. My mom said I was more capable than a housekeeper. I told her that after 2 solid years in college, I didn’t want a desk job. I was finally hired at the VA doing housekeeping. Then, something completely unexpected happened – I fell in love with my boss. I was not planning it. I didn’t even want to date. I had just been dumped after 21 years of marriage. At the end of the day during the second week, people were talking about what they were doing that evening and my boss said something about going to dog training and I said: “That sounds like fun”. He asked if I wanted to go. We talked the whole way out to Hugo and I didn’t even think love at this point…I thought “this is someone fun to hang out with”. But by August we both were moving into the same apartment complex and started carpooling. And then we realized: “we’re not getting any younger” and we were married by October 2016. Probably the best decision I’ve ever made. I had to find a different job because you can’t work for your husband. That’s when I got the job in education.

There were people and there were circumstances that were dropped into my life at the right time. That’s how I made it through the tough times. You don’t always see it right then and there.

I don’t think I realized what I had in me until then. I’m sure it was always there and I didn’t know it. It was survival mode and when you’re in survival mode, you’re just getting from one day to the next without losing your shit or hurting someone or yourself. I am starting to see that I developed survival skills as a child. I don’t think I would, if I had the choice to, nitpick and pull out all the icky that happened in my life. I don’t see my life as incredible because this is mine. I don’t know any other life.

I am very much at peace with where I am in my life. I have good days and bad days, just like everyone else. A wise person once said, “You are where you are, because of the decisions you have made.” I firmly believe that to be true.

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