There are a few reasons why, at this point in my career, I’m looking to transfer overseas to Japan, despite the challenges it will present in terms of my family and relationship.
First, I have spent the better part of my ten years in the Marine Corps thus far in Southern California (minus school on the east coast and a deployment to Iraq in 2007-08), so the option to stay in Southern California is not open to me right now. The Marine Corps encourages moving around, partially to broaden the experience in officers, and partially because it isn’t fair to let only a few of us get all the great duty stations. In the Marine Corps, we have, essentially, three options when it comes to major geographical areas where we can be stationed: West Coast (Southern California), East Coast (North Carolina), and Okinawa, Japan (Note: There are other assignments in other places, but the vast majority of duty stations are in these three places). I have between little and no desire to spend any more time than required in North Carolina, so Japan is the next best option for me.
Second, one of the unofficial ways to shape one’s career is to accept what most Marines consider “hardship” tours. Tours to places like Twentynine Palms, CA or Okinawa, Japan, are considered by most Marines as undesirable, and so accepting them frees up someone else from having to make the sacrifice. This can often be looked at as worthy of “payback” later in one’s career. Essentially, taking a duty station most people don’t want can mean an increased possibility of getting a coveted assignment later.
Third, I’ve always thought the adventure of living in a foreign country would be fun. It’s not often someone in a government job can afford to visit places on the other side of the world, much less live there for a few years. To be able to experience the local population and culture as a resident rather than as a visitor is completely different, and one I’d very much like to have. I can even take the opportunity to learn Japanese (I’ve recently started Rosetta Stone to get the basics down and hope to progress to a point where I can at least hold a simple conversation by next summer).
Fourth, the timing is right for an overseas tour. With 11 years in the Marine Corps, a tour in Japan will take me to 13 or 14 years in, and then I can safely plan to spend the remaining six to seven years before retirement in the United States. This is significant especially in my relationship with Ben, because by taking the time now, when we get back and he settles into a career there won’t likely be any more international moves involved (although moving cross-country may still come up). Of course, this means that he may need to suspend his studies in nursing (or get creative with it by studying abroad, or stay here to finish and join me in Japan later), but overall we both think it’s preferable to uprooting later.
It’s a difficult decision to move so far away from family, especially as my parents and my grandmother get older, but everyone will always get older, and there’s always the chance of missing things anyway. Thanks to modern technology, internet voice and video calls are getting cheaper and cheaper, and it’s not impossibly far, just inconvenient for getting back very often.
What is the likelihood that I will get orders to Japan? Very high. As I said above, people aren’t exactly fighting to go to Japan, particularly Okinawa, and my monitor (the officer who manages assignments) said, “If you want Okinawa or Twentynine Palms, I’ll cut you orders right now” (meaning it’s pretty much a sure thing I could get orders there if I want them). The issues to work out at this point, however, are how long the assignment will be, whether I can officially be accompanied by Ben, and what both of those things mean for Ben and me. The adventure continues, so stay tuned.