Yuma Marine traded dancing shoes for combat boots
The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.
YUMA, Ariz. — After a career as a professional dancer, Yuma Marine Cpl. Jessica Holland decided it was time to trade in her dancing shoes for a pair of combat boots to pursue another of her passions: serving her country.
“I wanted something more. I wanted more educational opportunities and more challenges,” said Holland, a native of Glen Burnie, Md. “I had always had a passion for the military through my dad, who has been in for a long time. I just wanted to give the armed forces a try.”
Although there is a long history of military service in her family, with an uncle and both grandparents who served, Holland said it was her father, who spent eight years on active duty in the U.S. Air Force and is serving his 24th year in the U.S. Army Reserves, who inspired her to do her part for her country.
“He never really talked much about it. But he absolutely loves it. It breaks his heart that he has to get out soon because he is getting old. He has always had a passion for the military and he has always been patriotic. I guess it grew on me.”
Holland, an information analyst, is deployed with Yuma's Marine Attack Squadron 211, known as the Wake Island Avengers, at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. However, prior to enlisting, she was a dancer on cruise ships for seven years.
“I absolutely loved it. It was a lot of fun. On one of the ships, we were even taught to do the Cirque du Soleil flying on the ropes stuff. But at the same time, it's kind of surreal, because it's like being on a working vacation.”
Holland said the years she spent dancing on cruise ships was a great opportunity to travel the world and get paid to do something she loved. During her time on the high seas, Holland has been to the Caribbean, North Africa, Alaska, South America and even cruised the Mediterranean.
“We went to a lot of places, and hit a lot of ports in all those areas.”
Holland explained that a typical cruise ship contract is for six months and that when she was in between contracts, she would return home and teach ballroom dancing. At one point, she decided to live in New York and took dance classes.
“I have been dancing all my life. When I was little, it was the only thing I really liked. Back at boot camp, my senior drill instructor made me dance in front of our whole platoon. That was weird. I had never been ordered to dance before.”
The highlight of her dancing career, she said, was at age 17 when she spent a year dancing for the Pennsylvania Ballet. A close second, she added, had to be dancing in a featured role in a show while on the cruise liner the Norwegian Sun, a show that seven of her family members got to see.
“I loved that ship and the shows on the ship. There are a lot of memories on that ship, for sure.”
Accomplished in ballet, tap, jazz and ballroom, Holland said being a performer all of her life taught her how to cope with the stress of unexpected situations, which in turn helped prepare her for the challenges of becoming a Marine.
On her second deployment, Holland called it a bit of a family affair, with her father and husband all being deployed to Afghanistan within a short span of one another. Her father, who returned to the states first, was stationed at the Air Force base in Baghram, while her Marine husband, who is attached to an adviser team with the Afghan National Army, was at nearby Camp Tombstone.
“It really helped having them close and being able to see them,” Holland said. “Seeing my husband has been great. But it is also hard only seeing him about an hour and a half a night and then have to say goodbye again. That has been the hardest part.”
She explained that since her husband, who is stationed in Miramar with Marine Aircraft Group 11, is only about 20 minutes away, he drives from Camp Tombstone to Camp Bastion almost every night so they can spend some time together.
Holland also got to spend some time with her father during their deployment, meeting him while he was in Kandahar.
Unfortunately, since her husband's deployment began a few months before her own, he returned home about two months ahead of her.
“I will just work more,” Holland said. “I will be staying longer at the office.”
While Holland would like to get involved in dancing again sometime in the future, both she and her husband are pretty sure they want to re-enlist for at least another term.