Patriot Profiles: ‘You wouldn’t last five minutes in the Marine Corps’

This column presents “Patriot Profiles” to provide readers insight into the lives of our country’s heroes.

Although the world may take little note of one Marine, his or her role is no less diminished. Willing to lead and be led, learn, toil — even wash themselves in combat’s blood — each Marine is an integral cog in the human freedom machine.

First Sgt. Christina Ann Grantham had no intention of fitting into that. She was her high school salutatorian, and a local news reporter asked her, “You’re so accomplished — what are you going to do?”

“I’m going to go out and enlist in the Marines,” she said jokingly, because her father was a Marine and she thought that would be funny.

Grantham went on to college to be a teacher. After her first year, she found it boring — not challenging or interesting, and no laughing matter. The mid-’90s Marine Corps advertising campaign worked on her. A knight wielding a sword and a guy climbing a mountain appealed because she saw herself as “small and kind of wimpy.” She thought, “You wouldn’t last five minutes in the Marine Corps.”

“Maybe you can be one of us,” said an ad slogan. She said, “Oh, yeah.”

On Nov. 10, 1997, the Marine Corps’ anniversary, Grantham signed up. Now a first sergeant in Ammunition Company, 1st Supply Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, Grantham is a senior enlisted adviser to the Company Commander (CO).

“You’re his right-hand person,” she said. She’s the advocate for all enlisted Marines. “I’m in charge of having the pulse on (their) morale and welfare.” Add daily personnel accountability — reporting anyone missing and why.

“Marine first sergeants kind of have a bad rap,” she adds. “We’re in charge of getting you in trouble — you being a junior Marine. I process non-judicial punishment packages. If somebody does something wrong, I’m the person they tell. It’s an administrative process to ensure the CO maintains good order and discipline. These things sounds so military and clinical, but really what we’re all about is making sure people are taken care of. These Marines will work so hard for you, if they believe you care about them.”

Grantham conducts “intake interviews”’ and keeps a box of 5-inch-by-8-inch cards to help her remember the Marines she’s supervising. Head down, jotting notes at the end of a long day, she asked one of her “5x8ers” a favorite question: “If you found out you had cancer tomorrow, who would you call?”

He replied, “Well, First Sergeant, I’d call medical.” She laughed, realizing she asked that question all wrong.

“Not all of them are going to call their mom or their dad. They’re going to call a girlfriend or boyfriend, an aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather. One kid said, his high school football coach. If something horrible happens to you, the first person you call — says a lot about who you are.

“You can’t remember every single detail on 258 people, but you sure as heck can pull up their card. You get a Red Cross message because someone’s cousin died, but it’s a lot more horrible than you realize because you pull his card (and read) he was raised with his cousin by his aunt. So no wonder he’s in a Port-a-John, crying, out in the field. You need to send him home.

“Your job (as first sergeant) is not something you can put on a bullet-typed list. My biggest motivation is to ensure that every single day when these Marines come to work — that they know how important they are. This is what I mean …

“A lance corporal in an ammunition company goes to the Ammunition Supply Point. He or she gets there at 6 o’clock in the morning and works sometimes until 6 o’clock at night. It’s mostly manual labor — physically moving ammunition from one pallet to another.

“It may be easy for them to forget what they do is important — it’ll get monotonous after a few months.”

She reminds them the entire Marine Expeditionary Force can’t do their job without them: “‘Bullets don’t fly without supply.’ Nobody can do anything without us giving them the ammunition to train, and ‘God help us all — go deploy to war.’”

In 1999, Pvt. First Class Grantham was trained to be an air radio repairman, and evolved with advanced radio networks, GPS, satellites and operator interfaces. After more schooling and promotions, she was deployed to Kuwait in 2002, filling the billet of communications chief at Direct Air Support Center. Maritime prepositioning forces were being offloaded from ships in Doha, Qatar, to set up on the border and kick-start Iraq. Attached to 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Grantham and DASC were the comm link between air and ground forces.

From Kuwait, Grantham was sent to Marine Security Guard School. She was indignant, not wanting to miss out on the invasion. Grudgingly, she went, and was posted to defend assets at American embassies in Cypress, Malta, and Jordan from 2003-2005. “The war was happening … There were demonstrations all over. What concerned the MSG attachments in those three embassies was ensuring we kept them safe.” She reps it as “the coolest job ever,” yet still hoped to fit into forward combat.

“I’m a person of faith. I said, ‘God, I want to go. If I’m not supposed to go, then don’t let me go.’”

Then, Grantham was on a plane saying thanks, praying, “Stick with me, and if it’s my time, I’m ready. If not, I’m going to do your will.” She made the combat fit — sent to Iraq in 2006, right after the palace was captured and 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing moved in to Fallujah, where threats of IEDS and ambushes were around her.

In Afghanistan 2010, she was a cog in the freedom machine, taking hits. “We’re all in bunkers and the chapel and chow hall trailer got hit by mortars … But even when you feel like you should be afraid, I’m not … I was filled with this sense inside, ‘Oh my gosh, is this really happening?’”

She thinks everyone is “hilarious” because they could have been killed, yet they were mad because they couldn’t eat cereal for two weeks. “That’s the beauty of the Marine Corps; we take the craziest situations and just laugh it off.”

Returning Afghanistan in 2012, Grantham loved acting as comm chief at Tactical Operations Center, Camp Leatherneck.

“You’re in charge of giving (the ACE Commander) everything he needs to run the air war, which is everything from voice comms, to chat, to UAV feeds. You have to take all of it — and spit it out in one interface. So many things can go wrong. It was stressful, but cool.”

At Camp Pendleton, Grantham takes all the feeds on her Marines and spits that out into leadership.

“You talk to them. You’re there before they show up. You’re here after they get off. Marines can spot a fake … Half of being a leader is just being there. It’s showing up and caring about them, then get out of their way and they will distinguish themselves on their own.”

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