With childlike wonder and anticipation shining in his light-brown eyes, 2-year-old Jaylen looks up at his mother, JaLisa, as she pours melted chocolate into a dinosaur mold. JaLisa pauses to look at her only child while they sit in miniature chairs around a tiny children’s table in their comfortable dining room. Jaylen’s eyes should have been one pair in a set of three looking back at his mother around that table. However, she miscarried twins while her husband, Sgt. Kendall Joseph, was on a deployment in Afghanistan.
The Joseph family has fought hard for harmony with determination to succeed as Marines and as a family. Their struggles have brought them closer together, even when it seemed the odds wanted to tear them apart.
JaLisa, a sergeant herself, finished making her son’s dessert as he watched intently. Playful banter and ensuing laughter of family time echoed in the peace that being with loved ones brings.
The battle in their lives and their story began with an epic storm that brought them together.
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, Kendall Joseph relocated to JaLisa’s hometown of Dallas. They met in high school when they were both 15 years old. JaLisa said most people assume they met after enlisting in the Marine Corps, like most Marine couples do.
“It was love at first sight for her,” Kendall said teasingly. “She was like, ‘Wow!’ when she saw me.”
The Josephs said they view Katrina as a blessing in disguise, since they otherwise would not have met if Kendall didn’t relocate. Their plan to spend their lives together developed as their friendship and bond grew. JaLisa said she would often consider enlisting, but Kendall hadn’t until she mentioned it. When she finally talked about it to Kendall, his response was, “Yeah, let’s do that.”
“I always thought of the military,” JaLisa said. “But my brother was in the Army at the time, and I knew I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. So I spoke to a Marine recruiter, and Kendall was all for it as well.”
After being together approximately eight months before enlisting, Kendall would be the first to leave for boot camp before JaLisa.
“He had to leave before Christmas in 2007,” JaLisa said. “I tried to get the same date as him, but I couldn’t. I left in January. We had a going-away party for the both of us with our family and friends.”
After boot camp, they attended combat training separately, and weren’t reunited until military occupational specialty training as food service specialists in Fort Lee, Va., in May 2008.
“This is strange, but we never talked about our military occupational specialty,” JaLisa said. “We just so happened to get the same one, and it’s a job we both love. It’s weird, but we are lucky.”
When it came time to get their orders to their first duty station, Kendall was told he would be going to Yuma, Ariz., and JaLisa originally had orders to Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“I wasn’t thrilled about the thought of driving all the time to visit each other when I first heard my orders,” JaLisa said. “But then, most of my class had our orders changed. A lot of orders changed from West Coast to East Coast. This is crazy, but I ended up with orders to Yuma, and I was so excited. I wanted to surprise Kendall by just showing up in Yuma, but I couldn’t keep it to myself.”
Kendall said he didn’t believe her when he first heard the news.
“I still think she asked someone to change it for her,” he said.
JaLisa’s playful response was, “Who is going to listen to a private first class?”
Kendall was again sent first, arriving in Yuma in July 2008. After a month apart, JaLisa joined him. While working separate shifts at the Yuma mess hall, Kendall learned of his first deployment.
“I was told I would deploy to Afghanistan in March of 2009,” Kendall said. “We wanted to get married that April, but realized because of my pending deployment, it would have to happen sooner.”
Kendall was deployed to Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, right after they married. While he was away, JaLisa attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York after winning the Chef of the Quarter competition. JaLisa said while she was in New York alone, she miscarried her twins.
“That loss was devastating,” JaLisa said. “I couldn’t contact Kendall. My mom ended up staying with me the rest of my time there. At first, it felt unreal, but everything happens for a reason. When I got back to Yuma, I kept myself busy with the empty house we got right before he left. I would go to my friend’s house and help her take care of her son, and work on our house. It was completely finished by the time he returned.”
After Kendall’s homecoming, the couple decided to re-enlist with the hopes of being stationed in Hawaii, and she became pregnant with their son Jaylen.
“It’s difficult to get stationed places together being the same rank in the same field,” JaLisa said. “And it will get more difficult as we pick up rank.”
After some difficulty with re-enlisting, they finally got orders to Marine Corps Base Hawaii in 2011. As they continue their path together in life, they struggle with typical domestic worries like taking care of their child and the nontypical worries they face as Marines.
“I know everybody works in the world,” JaLisa said. “But when Kendall went on ship while I was doing Corporals Course, I had to be at physical training at 5:30 in the morning and day care doesn’t open until 6. I don’t want just anyone to look after my son, but thankfully I had a friend I could trust to look after him. I would have to wake up extra early and get us both ready. Most people here have family or a stay-at-home mom. We have each other, but when he’s gone I feel like a single parent.”
Through supporting each other and having a plan to stay in the Marine Corps, the Josephs are focused on their ambitions and a combined “40 years” as Marines. While speaking of their future, their playful attitude is readily apparent as they smile and laugh together.
“I’m just looking forward to see what Kendall looks like as an old man,” JaLisa said with a laugh.
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