News: Baltimore native, mother thanks Corps
Story by Cpl. Kenneth Jasik
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – The hardships Marines face together build a bond between them, and that brotherhood is so strong it brings families into the fold as well.
Not many know this better than Sgt. Latoya A. Gaines, a warehouse chief with I Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters Group (Forward). When she had her daughter during March 2008, it was about three months too early, and her newborn, Kahmille, was in dire health.
“When she was born she was 1 pound, 3 ounces, and she had a long road to recovery,” said Gaines, 25, from Baltimore. “She had 13 surgeries before she was 1.”
The level of care required for Kahmille demanded a lot of personal time from Gaines. The Marines she worked with understood and gave her the appropriate time off to care for her newborn.
“When she first was born, the whole first year of her life she was in the hospital,” said Gaines. “It was just a continuous battle trying to juggle the Marine Corps and juggle her and be a good mom. It was really hard.”
At the time, her supervisor was Gunnery Sgt. David M. Anderson, now serving as the I MHG (Fwd) field mess chief at Camp Leatherneck.
“While Sgt. Gaines was under my wing, we gave her the moral support to be a good mother and the support she needed to be a leader of Marines,” said Anderson, 33, from Roanoke, Va. “We taught her how to balance life out with the good, the bad and the ugly. No matter how bad the situation was, it would always get better.”
While Kamhille was in surgery during her first couple years, the Marines Gaines worked with supported her with cards, hospital visits and meals.
“When the surgeries first started happening, it was really hard to see my kid go through something like that,” said Gaines. “The cards I got from Gunnery Sgt. Anderson and the rest of the Marines were what I needed to get me through and let me know I wasn’t by myself.”
A few Marines in her shop who understood the struggle Gaines was going through as a mother did what they could to help out.
“When I needed some downtime, they would always be there to support me or watch her when I needed to sleep,” said Gaines. “They would invite us on outing when she was able to go out. When I was at the hospital, they would come and bring me food, and they even stayed at the hospital with me a few times.”
Gaines is grateful for the Marines who helped her out. She doesn’t know what her life would be like without them, she said.
“It made me feel I wasn’t alone, it made me feel like someone actually felt the things going through, somebody knew I needed that support,” said Gaines.
Anderson knew how important Kahmille was to her mother, being a father himself.
“When she told me she was pregnant with Kahmille, she came to me and asked what is it like to be a single parent,” said Anderson. “I told her that it made me grow up and respect life because it is not the child's fault that they are here in the world now.”
Today, after more than two years of care from Quantico-area health professionals, Kahmille is a happy and healthy child.
“When she turned two, things started to come together and her health had dramatically improved,” said Gaines. “She went through so much I’m a little surprised. If you see her today, she is so full of life.”
Although the challenges may have taken Gaines away from work at times, her leadership stayed by her side and an even stronger Marine blossomed.
“Sgt. Gaines has earned the respect and trust of me and my family because her and her daughter have been through it all,” said Anderson.
When Gaines joined the Marine Corps, she found a place where she fit in, and she knows that no matter what happens the brotherhood of Marines has her back.
“It felt like the job I had to do for the Marine Corps, I couldn’t do because had my kid,” said Gaines. “It was like I had to choose sides. The support I had from the Marine Corps let me know I wasn’t by myself.”
With the improvement to Kahmille’s health, Latoya was finally given a chance to deploy with I MHG (Fwd), and she is proud to serve her country in Afghanistan.
“This is the first time being this far away from her,” said Gaines. “I feel like a part of me is missing. But, I feel like now I have a chance to be in Afghanistan where I need to be.”