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(Reprint from, March 21, 2007)

Marine balances career, life

 Lance Cpl. Kari D. Keeran

QUANTICO, Va.(March 19, 2007) -- Imagine what its like to be a single parent juggling college classes, a part-time job, a 19-year-old son and playing sports'all while serving full time in the Marine Corps. It may sound incredible, but for one woman here, it is just another day.

Master Sergeant Charissa R. Howard, administrative chief, Prior Service Recruiting Section, Marine Corps Recruiting Command, has been actively playing volleyball for the Marine Corps, attending college classes, raising a son and taking time to represent the Marine Corps at various high level events for the past 20 years.

Howard is originally from Belton, S.C., where she enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1985. She grew up having two uncles in the Army and another in the Navy, so the military was familiar to her. She said she chose the Marines because she wanted to be different from everyone else and was looking for a challenge.

'I used to be a bookworm when I was in college and played volleyball, and just woke up one day and said, 'I want to join the Marine Corps,' because I got burnt out on books and I just wanted something different,' said Howard.

The six-foot tall Howard started playing on the base volleyball team for the Marine Corps in 1993 while stationed at Headquarters Marine Corps, Henderson Hall, Arlington, Va. Teammates and one of the athletic directors told her about the All-Marine volleyball team and suggested she try out for it. This team combines the best players in the Corps with Marines from different bases playing on the same team. She never even knew the team existed.

She didn't make it through tryouts her first year, but she didn't give up there. She tried out the next year and has been playing for the All-Marine volleyball team for the last 10 years.

'For me to be as old as I am, still playing for the Marine Corps, setting an example for the younger girls out there, that's what motivates me, showing them I can do it. A lot of younger athletes don't realize they have the opportunity, and by me being out there at my age shows them, 'Hey she can do it, I know I can do it,' said Howard.

Howard has also been selected and played for the United States Armed Forces team for 10 years, which combines the top players from each service. Competition for spaces on the team is difficult each year. Coaches and officers in charge of each service team select players based on performance in the Armed Forces Tournament, where the services play each other.

'In 2006, Master Sergeant Howard was selected to play for the Armed Forces Women's Volleyball team. She was selected for her leadership on and off the court,' said Steven A. Dinote, director, Marine Corps Sports, Manpower and Reserve Affairs. 'She is not easily rattled under pressure. She is very good at calming the team down and making them focus on the task at hand.'

Armed Forces games are played against other countries in the Counseil International du Sport Militaire (International Military Sports Council). There are also games against different collegiate teams when international games are not available. The 2006 CISM games were played in Arizona. The US team took silver behind undefeated China.

'That was a big highlight because of the fact that everyone suspects China to have little girls, but they are all six feet and above. The players and fans alike from team China said we were the most competitive team they played,' said Howard.

Howard, a middle blocker for the Armed Forces team, said blocking is one of her favorite things about volleyball.

'I love to block! I'm the big defensive player for my team, so when I make a block I feel good cause that's my job. When I do (make a block) I'm totally excited,' said Howard.

Howard loves to play volleyball, but she also takes time out of her busy schedule to dabble in the modeling business and singing.

She began freelance modeling in 1987 for a local agency out of the Washington, D.C., area. Howard has also been published in magazines for shows and has done some volunteer work for a website promoting beauty, strength and intelligence. She has also done a Bronner and Bronner hair show in Atlanta.

As if her schedule wasn't busy enough, Howard even finds time to sing for different events.

Howard grew up singing at church. She has been invited to sing at the Library of Congress three times, and the president of the National Medical Association of the United States, which promotes the collective interest of physicians and patients of African descent, flew her to San Diego to sing. She has also sung for numerous Marine Corps Birthday Ball celebrations.

As if volleyball, modeling and singing, were not enough, Howard has also worked hard to pursue higher education.

She received her bachelor's degree in business administration from Averett University in 2006, and is now working on her master's in business administration with a concentration in human resources. She said it can be difficult juggling two night classes, a part time job, and working at the recruiting command.

'I just do it because I know I have to. It's a goal I'm trying to achieve, so I put things aside that I really don't need to do and I just focus my time on what I need to do,' said Howard.

Howard has set high goals for herself. She hopes to achieve her master's degree and go into business for herself, although at this time, she is unsure exactly what she wants to do after the Marine Corps.

'My main goal and the reason why I'm doing all of this is for my son. I want him to say, 'If my mother can do it, then I can do it.' My goal is to get him to see what I'm doing and for him to achieve a higher level,' said Howard.

Howard spent most of her childhood growing up in her grandmother's house. Her grandma was her mentor until her death. Howard's inspiration, however, is her mother, Etrulia Howard, who has cancer and is currently in remission.

'Just seeing her go through that and being strong and not giving up inspires me, because at one point she was falling to the wayside saying, 'I can't do this' and I'd say, 'Remember when you told me don't give up,'' said Howard.

With her mother by her side as her inspiration Howard has been able to achieve many goals while in the Marine Corps.

The highlight of Howard's career came when she reached the rank of gunnery sergeant, but has since been promoted to her current rank of master sergeant, Aug. 1, 2006.

'When I first joined the Marine Corps my main goal was to make it to gunnery sergeant, and when I made that I was like 'Wow, I have to make another goal and achieve another goal.' Now that I'm a master sergeant, I'm totally overwhelmed with it,' said Howard.

She said there are many things she enjoys about the Marine Corps, but one thing sticks out in her mind more than anything else. Howard said one of her favorite things about being a Marine is helping people, not just junior Marines, but those above her as well.

'I'm there for everybody, and it has made me become more of a people person, based off the events that I've attended. It's educating me being in the 'limelight' per say to be a better person and I value that a lot,' said Howard.

Howard has represented the Marine Corps at various high-level events, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conferences. When she was asked the first time she had no idea what to expect until she got there. She has been representing the Marine Corps at the conference ever since.

Despite her very busy schedule and life Howard stays motivated and challenges herself to do her best.

'Stay motivated, don't give up on your dreams no matter how many obstacles you come across and don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do (something),' said Howard.