I was grateful, though. She was giving me one fabulous wedding gift — an extra $1452 a month, tax-free, basically doubling my pay.
Will and I held hands, she began reading wedding vows. That was when tears streamed down my face. That’s how hard I was laughing. The vows were brief, but not brief enough. I could barely contain myself by the time I stuttered, “I-I d-d-d-o!”
We kissed, a tight peck on the lips.
“No chemistry,” I thought.
Will and I agreed on that one.
My face was flushed from laughter.
“I can’t believe I married you,” Will muttered, shaking his head.
As a little girl, I visualized my first wedding as a romantic experience, with me dressed in a beautiful white gown, reciting vows to the one I loved. I never would have imagined a 20-minute session for $100. Then again, I never would have imagined that my job would consist of outdoor labor in the scorching summer of the Persian Gulf. I sanded rust, chipped paint, and repainted a U.S. Navy ship, kneeling on the burning, rough deck. I ended a work day with paint and dirt under my nails, my uniform drenched in sweat.
I recalled the theme from the Navy recruiting commercials: “Accelerate your life.”
Accelerate your life! Yeah, right! Those back-stabbers. What had I gotten myself into?
I shocked my family by joining the Navy. I shocked myself, but I was desperate. Born in South Carolina and raised in Tennessee, I was never a Southern girl at heart. I came from a great family, but something about me felt out of place. I was that typical teenage girl with problems: insecure, never cool enough, never pretty enough, anorexic at 12, and obsessively bulimic from 14 to 18.
I was an experimental young partier and vicious toward my sweet mother. I moved in with my boyfriend Jerry when I was 17, living in a house I called the “box in the middle of nowhere.” It was in Sale Creek, Tennessee, surrounded by run-down trailers, mangy chow dogs, neighbors with missing teeth, and all the crystal meth you could snort. One morning, I awoke from my love spell to see that Jerry would never match my ambitions. My bulimia had become so bad that I was vomiting four times a day and bleeding from my ears. Something inside of me said, “Get out, Maggie. Get out of the box and leave everything, quick!”
I made my decision and never looked back. My recruiter was a big, husky African-American man who reminded me of a grizzly bear. I timidly walked into his office.
“Hey, you!” the big guy shouted. “You ready to join the Navy?”
He caught me off-guard.
“Well, yeah, but I need money first.”
“No, you don’t. The Navy pays you. You don’t need nothin’!”
A month later, I was shipped off to Knoxville to take my military entry test and get every inch of my body poked and prodded to make sure I was ready. When it came to my job assignment, I wanted to be a Navy journalist. They told me no. I started to walk away.
“No. Wait!” A masculine, dark-haired woman with a stack of paperwork in her hands stopped me. “You can enter the Navy undesignated, without a job. Then you can choose later. You can wait a few months to be a journalist.”
Eight months later, on my knees chipping paint, I remembered her lies.
That was just the first time I got screwed over by the Navy. Everybody has a story about getting screwed over, every one of us.
I endured boot camp in frigid, windy Great Lakes, Illinois. Four months after that, I was shipped to the USS Higgins in San Diego, a place with no Navy journalists aboard, where I would be doing what we called “slave work.” I wanted out. I was broke and hard work meant nothing.
“If the government can utilize me, I can utilize the government,” I decided.
My Navy honeymoon lasted 18 months, until I became a statistic in an unwinnable war. I’m not talking about Iraq. I’m talking about trading marriage for a decent paycheck. We didn’t cheat the system, we used it. My pay went from $1384.30 (not including taxes) to $2836.30 a month, tax-free. This is not counting the extra $250 a month of family-separation pay when I was on deployment. Sure, I wasn’t in love. It wasn’t your typical marriage, but what marriage is? We were buddies, we communicated and shared. I supported him, and we got along much better than the majority of Navy couples that I have known. Life was much more comfortable for the both of us, and finally I had an escape from the ship and the coffin rack. I gained a little bit of sanity and lost a little stress.
But low-stress life never lasts long in the Navy. On September 12, 2006, I walked into the NCIS office and sat down with Darnita Brown. She was a young, attractive, pregnant African-American woman. She looked sweet, maternal, not intimidating — at first. We began talking about her baby and other casual things that women talk about. Then Brown told me that we were being recorded. I began to get nervous.
“Do you know why you’re here?” she asked.
“No,” I said. I had an idea, but I was in complete denial.
“You’re being accused of committing fraud,” she said. I was terrified. My body grew weak, and my hands began to shake. I wanted to run, cry, scream, and throw up, all at once. I was interrogated for several hours. According to the documents she gave me, I had the basic criminal rights. I could remain silent and end the interview, but a combination of the investigators telling me it would look bad on my record and my own fear made me do otherwise. I thought I could fake my way through it. I overestimated myself. I tried to tell a false story of my marriage, but lies have never been my greatest skill.
Click here to see interview with Maggie Young on Fox News.