US Marine Vet Jenn Calaway on Coming Home


My name is Jenn Calaway. I spent six years in the marine corps as a military broadcast journalist, and now I study on the GI Bill here at the University of Colorado. I study public relations and event production.

When I joined the marine corps I was twenty-three; I turned twenty-four years old in boot camp. So, I was much older than the average eighteen-year-old, and really, I had just tried so many different things, travel and school, and nothing had really stuck up until that point, and so this idea of travel and adventure that the recruiter had talked about really caught my attention, and so I honestly had no plan.

It was like the best idea at the time; it was exciting; I felt like I could be of service in some way even though I did not know what that meant at the time and just went for it. One of my favorite stories from the marine corps was. I was a broadcast journalist – we would attach as individual augmentees to units who were out doing special missions, humanitarian aid missions, disaster relief, and I got attached to an army medic unit heading into Bangladesh in 2009, and it was such an eye-opening experience.

I mean, poverty and things that I have never experienced before; it was so intense, and then at the end of our exercise, I believe it was a two-week exercise, a cyclone hit, Cyclone Sidr, which killed I believe fifteen thousand people overall.

So my mother, my poor mother, is terrified because she knows I’m in Bangladesh and a cyclone has hit, but she turned on the TV that morning and President Bush had gone on the news and said: “Don’t worry, the cyclone has hit but America is on the job. We have a team of army medics in country.” And my mom knew that that was the mission that I was on, and so that moment just fills me with pride because, just, you know, my parents being proud of me—that was the penultimate experience.

In Afghanistan, I saw things… not that I did not want to see but that I just was not prepared for. The biggest one was the kids, the children’s eyes as you would drive through the towns. I mean, they would just look up at us so…I couldn’t get a read on what was in their eyes; it was like hatred or wonder or just nothing at all…

Just the injustice was overwhelming to me; it was so hard to think of coming back and being happy in this beautiful life we get to live here in America. I remember sitting on the plane coming back from Afghanistan and, to be honest, my eight months in Afghanistan were the first eight months that I had been sober in my life, and I knew, sitting on that plane, that I had no idea how to deal with what I had just experienced, and I knew exactly what I was going to do to deal with that, and I just dove right into anything I could get my hands on to try to wrap my head around the injustice of it all.

I just went to anger, and I didn’t know what was going on underneath. It took me a solid six months of just sitting there. I was like kind of non-functioning for a while, and so I think what enabled me to move through that was the community. I found a sober community that I could move my body with and be active with and that, it was called Phoenix Multisport, and moving my body and talking through experiences with my peers is what got me through.

Self-care is so important for us veterans because we’ve always been part of a group and never thought…never taught to take care of ourselves. My advice for both men and women is to find self-care in whatever ways it looks like and drop the military ego.

My current plans are to get into event production. It’s been a really interesting process to find out what parts about the military I loved and really made me feel alive and find a way to replicate that in a way that I can be of service to the world. So event production is where it’s at for me in creating events were people can get together and change the world.

Eric Shannon

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