Sometimes, You’ve Just Got to Jump

Grace Webb 2015 sq

“Hey, Grace, I can see our house from here!” I craned my neck to look over my sister’s shoulder and out the window of the cramped Cessna Supervan 900. Sure enough, as we hovered 13,000 feet above the ground, I could faintly make out my parents’ farm tucked into the green hills of western Wisconsin. It was a comforting sight during a rather uncomfortable ride—a ride that was about to abruptly end as soon as my sister, my dad and I hurled ourselves out of a perfectly good airplane to celebrate my dad’s 50th birthday.

Skydiving has been on my bucket list for years. (It wasn’t top of the list; that would be shark diving in Africa. I have yet to fulfill that dream.) When my dad suggested going in late 2015, I agreed without a second thought. I’ve always been a bit of an adrenaline junkie, bridge jumping and zip-lining over gorges. This was going to be beyond exciting.

Yet, as the day drew closer, the excitement got mixed in with a hefty dose of nerves. Growing up, I refused to even ride the Power Tower at Valley Fair. How on earth could I force myself out of a plane for a 60-second free fall? What if my chute didn’t open? What if I chickened out at the last minute, and had to take the ride of shame back to the airfield? The extended safety video warning us that we could die, along with the thick packet of liability forms we had to sign, did nothing to soothe my fears.

But as they opened the plane’s doors and the first diver rolled out into the open air, I found myself surprisingly calm. I’m sure part of it was the adrenaline, but part of it was just my decision to enjoy this experience. “You can do this, and you are going to do this,” I told myself.

Seconds later, my tandem instructor and I shuffled our way out to the opening, and I looked down into a sea of space. Then we were out, hurtling toward the earth in a minute of free-fall that is the closest to flying I’ll probably ever be. And honestly, it wasn’t scary at all. It was wonderful. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. The closest I could describe it was the way it feels to ride my motorcycle, but a hundred times better. There’s such a sense of freedom, of complete relaxation, of totally letting go.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to jump.

When it comes down to it, life is a series of continual risks, and it’s up to you to choose whether to take them. It’s not always smart to dive in whole-heartedly, but sometimes it is. Sometimes, you won’t even know if it’s smart until after you do it. The trick is weighing the risk with the possible reward—and having the guts to go for it if it’s worth it.

I know all about risks—of leaping out of my comfort zone and hoping that I planned my landing well enough to catch me. There was the time my sister and I bought plane tickets to Europe and showed up for two months of backpacking without having any clue what we were doing. There was a semester studying in Ecuador, even though I feared my Spanish was not nearly good enough to get me through daily life, let alone an internship at the city newspaper down there. Even taking this job was a risk, one that I decided to tackle even though I had no business experience and had never run a publication before.

And now, for the past several months, I’ve begun preparing to take the biggest risk I’ve ever faced: joining the U.S. Marine Corps.

If you read my November 2015 column, you know that I come from a military family. My dad was a Marine, and my grandfather was in the Army. I’ve grown up with their same love for my country, for the freedoms and rights that we are blessed with. Here, we can say what we want, worship whom we want and be who we want. Ours is a country like no other in the world, and it needs to be protected.

I have always admired those who served our country, but for a long time, I didn’t think that could be me. Everything I knew about the military was filtered through my dad’s Marine Corps stories, and those were about rough-and-tumble men who could run fifteen miles with eighty pounds on their backs. What use would they have of me, a scrawny girl who enjoyed studying English? I figured I could do the next best thing and find a way to report on the military and veterans.

But, while I was studying at MSU-Mankato, a friend of mine dragged me to the Marine Corps recruiter’s office in the Riverhills Mall. She wanted to join, but she was too nervous to go alone. After we talked to the recruiter, my friend ended up losing interest—but I didn’t. It turned out, you didn’t need to be able to repair a tank or navigate a submarine to serve. There were all sorts of positions, and some of them—such as public affairs and intelligence—were surprisingly up my alley.

Since then, I’ve been slowly but surely working on applying for a commission. There were a few detours as I studied abroad, took time off after graduation for an extended mission trip and started my career at my first full-time job. It also took me a while to settle on which branch I actually wanted to join. Honestly, the Marine Corps was my last choice.

“If I ever manage to join the military,” I said countless times, “it won’t be the Marine Corps. They are the best of the best, but they’re too intense for me.”

That all changed in December 2015. I had been working with the Army, but they were having some complications because of my medical history, so I thought I should at least do some research (I am a journalist, after all) and see if another branch would have an easier time. I went back to the Marine Corps recruiter in the Riverhills Mall, who spent two hours that day and four hours the next day talking with me. He only oversaw the enlisted side of things, so he had an officer drive all the way down from Fargo to talk with me about commissioning as an officer. I was grateful for how much time they both spent with me, explaining the program and what I would need to get in. It felt like they actually cared about me and were invested in my success. Slowly, I began to think that maybe I was good enough for the Marines. Maybe I did have the grit I needed to get through the program. Maybe I could be part of the few and the proud.

From there, things sort of snowballed. They invited me to work out with their ROTC candidates at MSU every morning, so I started going to those PT sessions. Now that was intimidating: showing up for a Marine Corps workout session alongside candidates who had been in the program for months and who already were in peak physical shape. I’ve never even been on a sports team. I was last in everything, and I was pretty sure I was going to pass out after the first day. But I kept coming. I’m still last, but I’m getting better—and that’s all they care about.

In February, we took things even farther by attending a practice drill event up in Fargo. We drove up on a Friday night and stayed all day Saturday, learning and training with about 40 other Marine Corps candidates. Most of that training consisted of far too much running, including a section when they strapped us into 30-pound packs, slung fake rifles over our shoulders and had us slither through the snow to attack an “enemy outpost.” We were covered in mud, sweat and grime by the time we climbed back into the van for the six-hour ride home, so exhausted most of us fell asleep immediately, but we fell asleep mighty proud of ourselves.

By the time you read this, I’ll have completed a weekend-long mini-OCS (Officer Candidate School) event, complete with screaming staff sergeants and disgusting MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat). After that, the next big thing is the actual Commissioning Board, which meets in July. If they accept me, I’ll ship out to OCS in September and graduate in November—if I make it through.

That’s a question I still ask myself, sometimes daily: Will I make it through?

OCS is 10 weeks of some of the hardest tests you will ever have to do. There will be 12-mile hikes, obstacle courses and a 3.5-mile combat simulation course. There will be early mornings, late nights, and precious little sleep for long stretches of time. There will be stress levels that make my bi-monthly worries about magazine deadlines look like child’s play. In other words, I know without a doubt it will be the most challenging thing I’ve ever attempted.

And, between you and me, I don’t know if I’ll make it through.

I think I will. I think I’ll dig deep within myself and find that well of determination that has served me all the other times I was facing a seemingly impossible obstacle. I think I’ll be able to grit my teeth and tell myself, “Just one more mile. Just one more mile. You can make it just one more mile,” ten miles in a row. I think I’ll be able to keep getting up every time I fall down.

I think so, but I don’t know it. And honestly, I don’t think I can know it with 100 percent certainty. I don’t know what it’s going to be like, not with firsthand knowledge. I don’t have other really similar experiences to compare it to. I might fail spectacularly. I might wash out of OCS and have to face everyone who knew what I was trying to do—and how, in the end, I couldn’t do it. I’m not going to lie—it’s scary.

But I can’t let that stop me. For me, the reward if I succeed—the ability to serve my country with some of the finest men and women in the world—is far greater than the risk of failing. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I have to try.

Sometimes, you’ve just got to jump.

Grace Webb

A former Editor of Connect Business Magazine