MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE. North Carolina --
A petite, 55-year-old woman, probably not much taller than five feet, stands tall in front of a crowd of family and friends. Her personality is much bigger than her stature. She's wearing white trousers, a nautical striped shirt, a red jacket and matching red heels. Today she's not worried about her daily duties as a supervisory management program analyst. The only thing she's worried about is the next chapter of her life.
After 38 years of civil service at Marine Corp Base Camp Lejeune, Debbie Martin retired April 30.
In a sweet southern draw, Martin spoke to her friends, co-workers and loved ones.
"I put this ensemble together quite a while ago when I was getting my speech ready. When I was first hired here at 17 years old and two weeks out of high school, it wasn't long before I realized that I was not in Fountaintown, N.C. anymore and I felt a little like Dorothy in her ruby red slippers in the Wizard of Oz."
"At that time, my life was a little bit in black and white and then all of a sudden I got sent down to building 33, Human Resources, and everything became in color and I was like Dorothy going down the yellow brick road with all kinds of twists and turns."
In April 1973, Martin was recruited by the human resources office and went to her first interview at the main gate.
"I remember practicing in front of the mirror how to smile and act like I was worthy for some kind of job," said Martin.
Along with 19 other high school students, she was hired as a GS-1 clerk typist trainee.
"I started June 11, 1973 and my starting salary was $4,798 a year," she said with a giggle.
Without even having a higher education, she worked her way to a GS-13.
During her time aboard the base she has worked for Marine Corps Community Services, human resources, helped create the Interactive Customer Evaluation program for MCB Camp Lejeune, and directly coordinated or assisted in putting together the Commander Achievement Awards Package for 19 years, winning six times and bringing over $300,000 dollars to the base.
"While I was there I had all kinds of scarecrows and tinmen and lions who became my teammates and at any given time they could trade places, because sometimes they had brains, sometimes they had heart and sometimes they had courage, depending on what the requirement was at the time," Martin said. "I always had team players that came to my side through those times."
She has moved from office to office, been promoted multiple times over the years, and a little more than three years ago, she graduated with her bachelor's degree.
"I went to night school. It was not a requirement for my job but a personal requirement," Martin said. "That was August 2007 and I walked across the stage."
"It's great to have the education and it's great to have that kind of package but I really made it more on having a willing attitude," she added. "Just always anticipating ... what it is that someone's going to need. It's about ... being ready to step up and really not being selective or choosy about what it is you want to do."
Most recently, she worked for the largest department on the base, with some of the most complex recruitment challenges. She was responsible for recruiting the most-qualified employees as quickly as possible to fill vacancies.
But the attribute revered far above her professionalism and dedication to duty is the positive energy she exudes on a daily basis.
"The thing that shines about Ms. Debbie Martin is frankly her attitude and her character and the way she approaches everything at work," said Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune. "Anyone who served in Building 1 knows that it can be a dreary place, but Ms. Debbie comes at you with this positive energy and positive attitude. She always has something nice to say and it makes you feel good."
Above all, she has made it clear that her family is the most important aspect in her life.
While working full time, Martin also took on the responsibilities of a single mother. She spent all the time she could with her only daughter, whether it was playing at the playground when she was young or helping with her homework.
Her daughter now lives in Tucson, Ariz., and is pregnant with Martin's first grandchild.
Next week, Martin will hit the road to be with her daughter for two months after her grandson is born.
"I'm just going to be more available for my family," Martin said. "My priorities will shift. I'm getting a promotion in life and my new title is going to be grandma. It's time to let go and move on and let others step up."
Keeping with the Wizard of Oz theme, Martin had a few last words in closing.
"When she came time to come to the end of her journey Dorothy was asked, ‘But what have you learned throughout your journey?' I have learned to be kind to others, because you never know what kind of struggles people are going through. Another lesson I've learned is you never get a second chance at a first impression, and the last thing I've learned is that you're not really judged by how much you love others, but your heart is judged by how much others think of you. So after all of that I have consulted with the greatest wizard I know who is my good Lord above, and the second greatest wizard I know is my mother. They have both assured me that it is ok for me to click my ruby red slippers, because there really is no place like home."