Marine Sergeant Applies Childhood Experiences to Military Career

By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 25, 2007 - A childhood dream became reality when a missionary couple's daughter joined the U.S. Marine Corps four years ago.

"I fell in love with the thought of being a Marine when I was 14 years old," Sgt. Paula Payne said.

Payne is one of eight servicemembers selected by the Defense Department to participate in the "Why We Serve" outreach program to share their personal experiences with the American public. Program participants are traveling throughout the nation to speak to veterans organizations, schools and business groups.

The 23-year-old, who lived outside of the United States for the first 15 years of her life, said she realized at a young age that she needed to find a way to pay for her secondary education.

"Being missionaries, my parents didn't make a lot of money," Payne said. "Since going to college was important to me, I knew I had to find a way to pay for it."

After talking to her father about several options and doing a lot of research, Payne said, the natural choice for her was to join the Marine Corps to pay for schooling down the road; so she signed up for the Delayed Entry Program while still in high school.

Within seven months of being assigned to the 1st Marine Division, at Camp Pendleton, Calif., she deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraq Freedom.

While deployed, Payne was one of the first female Marines to man checkpoints in Operation Lioness. Up until that point, Iraqi women were passing through checkpoints without being searched due to cultural sensitivities. Payne said some were being used as "mules" to traffic drugs and weapons.

"The experience was great," the radio operator said. "That's when I realized being able to have contact with another culture was really awesome."

She said she was surprised that many of the Iraqis coming through the checkpoints seem to love Americans. "They let their kids out (of the cars) to come and see us," Payne said. "The kids always wanted to be held, and mothers wanted us to kiss their babies."

Payne said she was also surprised at how giving many of the Iraqis are. "They were always giving us fruit, baklava and candy," she said.

Mission work and military service may seem to be opposite ends of the spectrum, but Payne said they have much in common.

"My childhood up-bringing and the Marine Corps go hand-in-hand," she said. "Being a missionary kid and pastor's daughter, I was taught to care about others, be humble and self-sacrificing."

Payne said those are principles that play a large role in being a Marine.

Marines take care of their fellow troops, they care for the people they are trying to protect, and they are willing to lay down their lives for their country, she said.

"A lot of the values and morals I learned as a child really have carried over to the Marine Corps," Payne said. "I've been able to apply my childhood experience to my current job."

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