A family tradition

November 08, 2013 09:54 am

Alix Christman of Enterprise returns safely from eight months at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.
Alix Christman of Enterprise returns safely from eight months at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan.

Enterprise woman chooses the Marines to make an impact 

The first big decision in a young person’s life is what to do after high school. Alix Christman of Enterprise made a choice far different than her friends who went off to college — she joined the Marines during wartime.

Not many pretty young women from middle-class backgrounds choose the service, but almost 20 members of her family call the Marines their alma mater. Her great-grandmother, Agnes Roberts,  has a picture of every one of  the family’s Marines on her dining room wall.

 “I joined the Marine Corps because I was going down a dark path. I thought if I went to college, I’d end up being a dropout and doing nothing with my life. I knew I needed a change, and the Corps ended up being it,” Christman said.

Her description of boot camp at Paris Island, S.C., sounds like a movie with 13 weeks of insults and zero freedom. It’s when the military strips a recruit of his or her individualism and builds up a soldier, sailor or Marine.

“Boot camp was the worst, but best experience. It sucked so bad, but I’d do it again,” Christman said. “You go from having everything taken from you, things you take for granted like what and when you eat or go to the bathroom. You are told you are trash and disgusting. If you are caught smiling, you are told, ‘Put your fat teeth away.’”

With comments like that, it would be hard for a teenager not to smirk.

“They break you down, get rid of all the nastiness, instill you with Marine Corps values,” Christman said.

She said boot camp gave her leadership skills. 

“I have confidence I never had before,” she said.

Today’s women Marines don’t learn to pour tea and take a backseat to the men. During advanced training, they shoot the big guns, learn to patrol and study tactical warfare, Christman said.

In early 2012, Christman was deployed to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan, to work in supply. She carried an M-16 everywhere she went, including to bed. She worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, for eight months. “The days blurred together. When I got back to Camp Pendleton, life was not normal. I was a hermit for two weeks,” she said.

While she was there, the camp had distinguished visitors such as Prince Harry, Toby Keith and President Barack Obama. During Harry’s visit, the base was attacked.

“That was nerve-wracking, but all our training kicked in — it was what we were prepared for and we all handled it extremely well,” she said.

During her deployment, Christman realized the difference she could make. She discovered and corrected a multi-million dollar mistake when some Marines received gear they did not order.

While at Camp Leatherneck, Christman also learned about the vast culture difference. 

“Afghanis are not used to seeing women, especially in uniform,” she said. “They would stare, eyes wide open, as if to say, ‘Where are you going?’”

She said she also learned the fine art of bargaining at the shops set up on base by the locals.

This summer, Christman was going to leave the Marines and be a normal girl — wear whatever clothes she wanted, highlight her hair, wear nail polish, but she said she got to thinking that she hadn’t done what she had intended.

“I did my job did and did it well in Afghanistan, but I came in here to make a huge impact, whether that is to impact a junior Marine, someone I could form into being a better person or help them have a better outlook on life. Whether I stay in for 20 years and affect an entire company — that depends on what happens day by day. I know it sounds cliché, but I have the next four years to find out if I’ll make my impact or if I’ll change anyone or anything,” Christman said.

In just more than three years, Christman has exceeded the Marines’ expectations as a shooter; she’s a second- year expert. In martial arts, Marines are expected to be gray belts; she is a black belt. She has taken advantage of Camp Pendleton’s proximity to the ocean by kayaking and snorkeling. She has also taken up rock climbing, spending most days after work at a local rock-climbing gym. She even entered a body-building competition.

Outside of the typical physical accomplishments, Christman is spending her time stateside giving back to the community. She is a Big Sister to a 7-year-old daughter of a Marine and a Sunday school teacher at a nearby church.

Her second deployment to Afghanistan looks to be put on hold for now, and her next duty station will be in a southern state. She is enrolled in her first college course online and while enlisted as a Marine, will be able to complete both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.

On the weekends? While in the U.S., Christman can do what she wants — curl her hair, wear nail polish, don frilly dresses. During the week, she’s Corp. Alix Christman, in uniform, with her long red hair piled into a neat bun on the back of her head, proudly carrying on her family’s tradition of service.