By HUEY FREEMAN – H&R Staff Writer Herald-Review.com | Posted: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 12:01 am
DECATUR – Carmen Hatton didn’t mind when her classmates elected her homecoming and prom queen during her senior year at Maroa-Forsyth High School.
But those were two honors she concealed from her fellow recruits during her 13 weeks at Marine basic training, which she completed Sept. 3.
“I didn’t want anyone to know that,” said Hatton, a catcher who also was selected captain and MVP of her school’s softball team. “I was the class clown. That was the thing I was proudest of in high school.”
But Pfc. Hatton, who received more honors for the ways she triumphed over adversity in boot camp, does not want anyone to have the mistaken impression that lady Marines are shaped into the image of their male counterparts.
“They want you to be combat ready, but they want you to retain your femininity,” Hatton told a prospective Marine during a visit to the recruiting center in Brettwood Village while on a 10-day leave.
Hatton, an articulate blue-eyed blonde with a serious demeanor, said the Corps allows its female recruits to keep their hair but does not tolerate behavior it considers unladylike.
“Female Marines are supposed to portray modesty,” Hatton said, adding that the emphasis is on being professional, especially while in uniform. “You aren’t supposed to be making out with someone in public or spitting.”
Hatton was raised in and around Maroa and already embraced the principles of modesty and commitment before reaching boot camp. She also was well-prepared physically after years of regular athletic training as a member of her school’s softball, basketball and cross-country teams.
Although her recruiter had been forthright with her about what she would encounter at Parris Island, S.C., nothing could have fully prepared her for the deprivations and assaults on her dignity that she would endure.
Just one week after graduation, at which Hatton, the honor graduate for her platoon, led 63 newly minted Marines across the parade ground, she revealed what it was like to undergo her transformation.
“We started out as individuals, as selfish, disrespectful recruits,” Hatton recalled, adding that her fellow recruits came from a wide variety of backgrounds and joined for many reasons.
Hatton said she joined because she wanted to serve and protect the nation. She made her decision after she saw “United 93,” a movie about the airplane passengers who fought 9/11 hijackers.
“How much more can you contribute when you are part of something, in an organization like the Marine Corps,” Hatton said.
She was willing to pay the price to serve: an eight-year commitment, including five years active duty. But she admits some training aspects caught her off guard.
“Going into the military at all is a complete shock,” Hatton said. “It’s not normal life.”
For example, one day, the recruits were on a six-mile hike to the rifle range when a drill instructor yelled at them for acting tired and hungry.
“They guilt-tripped us,” she said. “It made us feel like crap. They guilt-tripped us a lot. It worked.”
The point is to inculcate abhorrence to weakness.
“They try to purge you of all weakness. They make you disgusted with yourself for being weak,” she said.
While Hatton was broken down through constant harassment, she was also built up as a member of a fighting unit.
“Boot camp is a lot of building confidence,” Hatton said. “My confidence increased tenfold.”
Hatton said she was not a confident speaker prior to boot camp. In camp, recruits had to request permission to speak at all.
“I would request to talk to people, and I would start stuttering,” she said. “The DIs would scream at me, and I’d sit there and stutter. Eventually, I would talk to them and request to talk to them. It just builds your confidence, that you could do it.”
Minor infractions, such as moving slightly or scratching during inspections, resulted in IT, or intense training, sessions of pushups, crunches or other calisthenics.
“They don’t tell you a set amount,” Hatton said. “They make you feel like it’s going to happen forever. The fear of being IT’d is you don’t know when it’s going to end.”
Training for male and female Marines is virtually the same, said Maj. Shawn Haney, Marine public affairs officer.
Hatton said minor differences included women doing flex hangs rather than pull-ups and having different diets.
“There’s always a drill instructor with you,” Hatton said. “You’re constantly being corrected. I was always paranoid at boot camp. They’re not allowed to hit you, but they can take corrective action. If your hands are wrong, they take your hand and wrench it.”
Hatton said being named the honor grad of her platoon, essentially a valedictorian who assumes a leadership role about two weeks before graduation, added pressure.
“I was very stressed out in boot camp. I was stressed out until the very end,” she said. “Especially being an honor grad, because that’s a high-stress position. That’s the point: They put stress on you constantly. You have to be able to function under it.”
She said the hardest thing that happened to her was receiving news of the accidental death of a friend in a letter.
“I opened it, and I just started sobbing and I fell against the wall,” she said.
Her drill instructor got in her face and screamed at her, telling her that people die every day.
“It was so cold,” Hatton said. “I never felt anything like that before. I kind of felt my body go numb.”
She later realized why the drill instructor, who had served in Iraq, treated her like that.
“We weren’t there to be people,” she said. “We were there to become Marines.
“We have to function when people are being blown up. When we see people being blown up, we have to be numb. We have to be numb so we can push forward and be strong, to finish the mission, because that’s the point of everything, accomplishing missions.”
Sgt. Brandon Gibson, Hatton’s recruiter, said she stands out because she is highly competitive and goes all out in everything she does.
“Second place is not good enough for her,” Gibson said. “She was always seeking self-improvement. She wanted to be the best.”
Hatton had intended to join the Navy, the branch in which her father, Randy, had served during the Vietnam War. Hatton credits Gibson for persuading her to join the elite fighting force.
Gibson said that Hatton, who was also named outstanding Molly Marine by her fellow recruits, is a good leader who could become an outstanding officer.
It wasn’t easy for Edye Hatton to hear the news that her daughter wanted to become a Marine. She didn’t think women belonged in the military, and she hoped her daughter would go to college. She discussed the possibility of going to officer’s training school with her, but Carmen Hatton wanted to experience what raw recruits undergo.
When she later realized her daughter’s heart was set on it, her mother encouraged her.
A payoff came when Hatton’s parents saw her leading her platoon across the parade ground on graduation day.
“She rocked it,” Edye Hatton said. “She seemed 2 or 3 inches taller. I don’t think I could have been prouder. To hear the national anthem played and her to be a Marine and what she has accomplished, it was one of those moments I will never forget.”