Patriot Profiles: ‘My husband’s gone. I don’t know what I’m doing – Help.’

Mary Jean (MJ) and Lt. Col. Howard F. Hall
Mary Jean (MJ) and Lt. Col. Howard F. Hall

This column presents soldier stories to provide readers insight into the lives of our country’s heroes.

By Jeanne McKinney

Being married to a warrior is no easy task. Beyond the military theater or training ground is a wife managing her own battlefronts, learning and living the term “selflessness.” With her husband dedicated to a dangerous job that takes him away from family for months on end, she keeps the home fires burning, and her tears and concerns to herself. A vital ally in a career of sacrifice and service to country, she follows him around the globe — supporting the “mission.”

I first heard about Mary Jean Hall and the way she spends her time when I met her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Howard F. Hall, the Commanding Officer of the 3D Assault Amphibian Battalion — 1st Marine Division. We were engaged in conversation on Red Beach, Camp Pendleton, after filming a massive launch of amphibious assault vehicles during Dawn Blitz, a ship to shore joint Marine Corps/Navy training exercise. I found it impressive while chatting with this charismatic high-ranking officer that he found his wife’s work as important as his.

Growing up in Dearborn, Michigan, MJ (as she likes to be called) graduated from Eastern Michigan University and worked her way into the world of Information Technology (IT) and mergers and acquisitions. Here, she honed project management skills she could transfer to a future role. That role would change from working with highly-trained professionals and overseeing satellite offices to working with volunteers supporting a loosely formed organization, with no budget or direction and unfulfilled needs – all within the confines of a military setting.

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Gator” family fun. Photo: Shawna Lockwood

MJ met Lieutenant Colonel Hall online, who was then a Major with an established 15-year Marine Corps career. She had to consult with a girlfriend about the rank of “Major,” asking “Is that good?” They dated briefly before he was deployed to Iraq and grew their romance through emails and internet video chat. She eventually signed up “to share every joy and hardship to an equal degree right alongside of Chip” (as she affectionately calls her husband).

Lt. Col. Hall, MJ, and their daughter, Remington, arrived at Camp Pendleton in June 2011, and were challenged with a low level of family participation in the seven companies that comprise the 3rd AABN. In over 1,600 Marines and 1,400 dependents, there were only six active and dedicated volunteers to carry the huge load of helping one another.

“I was amazed,” recalls MJ. In addition, military rules constrained her husband’s allocation of government funds for Unit Personal and Family Readiness Programs (UP & FRP). These funds (green dollars) could only be used for battalion group events. To use such monies on individuals would be a violation and come with stiff consequences. Creative solutions were required to meet individual and family needs.

Facing this pretty and blond CO’s wife was the daunting task of filling the gaps the battalion couldn’t. A working system was yet to be devised to help the young Marine’s wife who moves in, feeling scared, alone and unsure how to navigate through thousands of resource/instructional documents, or how to lend a hand to a family with an emergency. A way to help kids cope with the challenges of constant moves and deployments was needed, along with creating a network to connect moms learning how to be independent and fight loneliness. For this and more, MJ quit her corporate job of 24 years.

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