HARTSVILLE, S.C. -- Kim Hamilton, an eighth-grade English language arts teacher at Hartsville Middle School, said she became a U.S. Marine almost by happenstance.
At the time, her family was living in Texas. She said her father worked with nuclear power plants and the family moved around a lot.
The Hartsville High School graduate had moved to Illinois, and she started attending Joliet Junior College, she said. Later her father’s job took the family to Texas.
Hamilton said she wanted to get back into college.
“I was looking for money for school,” she said.
“I was, I call it ‘young and dumb,’” she said. She was working at a Walmart shopping center where a military recruiting center was located. One day she walked in. Four branches of the military had offices there, but the only one with a recruiter on duty that day was the Marine Corps office.
She recalled the conversation she had with the recruiter.
“I told him, ‘I know what the Army does. I know what the Navy does. I know what the Air Force does. What do the Marines do?’ He said, ‘We do it all.’
“It was the late ‘80s,” she said. “I was wearing a blue sundress with white polka dots, a white ruff and white sandals. I don’t know what he must have thought.”
Hamilton said she wanted some time to think about a decision. But the Marines, she said, were persistent. That year, 1989, she enlisted. She spent the next four years as an active duty U.S. Marine.
She said becoming a teacher was always in the back of her mind.
“Even in the Marine Corps, when people would ask me what I wanted to do, I always said I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
Hamilton completed basic training at Parris Island. Many things stand out in her mind about that experience, she said. Among them, sand fleas.
She remembered one hot day swatting at a sand flea when it bit her. She said her drill instructor let her know in no uncertain terms that sand fleas need to eat, too.
After basic training, Hamilton said, she trained as an electrical equipment operations specialist.
“I thought it was going to be computers,” she said.
Instead, she became a mechanic working on diesel-powered electrical generators.
“I didn’t even know what a wrench was,” she said.
Not long after completing that training, she was assigned to duty on Okinawa Island, Japan. There she did the work she was trained for.
After Okinawa, she was sent to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where she finished out her enlistment. She said she also spent a lot of time washing dust out of equipment sent back to the United States from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm.
Hamilton attained the rank of corporal before her discharge. After leaving, she said, she missed the camaraderie of belonging to a group.
“But life moves on,” she said.
After the Marines, Hamilton finished school, receiving a bachelor of arts degree from Coker College, and went straight into teaching. She has been teaching now for 23 years, starting her teaching career in Florence. She has been at Hartsville Middle School for several years now.
Her husband, Andy, is a former Hartsville High School classmate, and they have a 14-year-old daughter, Ainsley.
Hamilton said the Marine Corps was a good choice for her. “I’m very happy. I wouldn’t change it,” she said. But she added, “It’s not for everyone.”
And what did the Marines teach her that prepared her for working with middle school students?
“Composure,” Hamilton said. “Control of myself and my reactions when all heck is breaking loose.”
That age group can be demanding, she said.
“Teachers ask me how I can remain so calm,” Hamilton said.
It was the Marines, she said.