In 1992, a young woman decided to follow in her father’s steps and stand on the yellow footprints to become a United States Marine.
Her down-to-earth leadership style and positive outlook made her successful no matter what challenge came her way.
Now she is a master gunnery sergeant and the legal services chief at the Legal Services Support Section on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.
Here we borrow fragments of Master Gy. Sgt. McLaughlin’s experiences in her 22 years of service.
(As told to combat correspondent Lance Cpl. Kathy Nunez)
It began with my father. My father was a prior Marine, enlisted. Ever since I was small, it was more of a, “Mija, you’re going to join the Marine Corps, right?”
I went to high school in El Paso, Texas. I loved school, loved sports but really wasn’t looking at going to college. Sure enough, my junior year, I reached out to a recruiter.
When my mother and father found out, my dad was ecstatic and immediately contacted the recruiter and the recruiter was invited to dinner.
I went to boot camp on Parris Island in ‘92. That was my first experience on the East Coast.
I got orders for my first duty station. It turns out that I met my husband there. We got married in ‘96, but the Marine Corps realized, “Wait a minute, we haven’t sent this Marine overseas yet.” So, I went to Okinawa unaccompanied.
I had just gotten married. My husband got out of the Marine Corps, stayed in the Reserves, had a job, wanted to go to school, and that’s the whole reason he got out — he wanted to go to school.
I honestly figured I was going to hate life, but I got to Okinawa, and that really opened my eyes.
I decided to re-enlist. I called back home, and I asked him, “Thinking about reenlisting, you good with that?” He goes, “Yeah!”
So I ended up going to Kaneohe Bay there at the H&S Battalion and worked at that legal shop. My son and daughter were born in Tripler Hospital.
My husband’s really sacrificed a lot. With all of my movements and what have you, he wasn’t able to latch on to jobs, especially when we got here to DC. He had some hard times finding a job. The kids were newborns, and he’s taken a big bite of the bullet on that one.
When I was in Hawaii, I arrived there as a sergeant and left there as a staff sergeant. My staff NCOIC was experienced as MSG and as a det commander. He told me out of any other duty assignment, that was the one. That was the breadwinner.
I went through school; it was a great experience. When it came down to identifying what was available for posting, you get options, just like with anything else. I gave it to my husband and said, where would you like to go, and I think Stockholm was his fourth choice.
I’m from the southwest, I don’t appreciate cold weather. Lo and behold, what do I get? Stockholm, Sweden for 18 months.
There have been some hard knocks. Stockholm, Sweden as a det commander, that was tough.
After Stockholm, Sweden, another 18-month post was South America — Montevideo, Uruguay. I think that was our best post as far as being on the MSG program.
I deployed for just about seven months in 2010. That was rough for the kids. They were alone with dad. Within our MOS it’s very hard to deploy unless you’re in the right spot. It helps just to stay in communication and just let them know that, hey, it’s going to go by fast, and it did.
Each area has always been an experience — just being a Marine. Coming in daily to work, helping out and enjoying the time with my Marine Corps family.
Just enjoy every single moment, every day.
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