First Lady of the Marine Corps Bonnie Amos serves with heart

For Bonnie, the role of the wife of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is about service. Photo: Jim and Bonnie Amos

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2013 – First Lady of the Marine Corps, Bonnie Amos, walks into Bethesda Naval Hospital, steps up to a wounded warrior bed and says, ‘I’m here to help you and your family. We’re not going to forget about you’.

For Bonnie, the role of the wife of General Jim Amos, 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, is about service to servicemen and women and to her country. Bonnie is cheerful and engaging and clearly loves all things Marine.  She is one of the first spouses of a service chief to visit a conflict area, touring Afghanistan and several other countries last year, and is an untiring ambassador of good will.

Commandant James Amos (L) Bonnie Amos Sergeant Major Michael Barrett (R) / Sergeant Mallory Vanderschans

Commandant James Amos (L) Bonnie Amos Sergeant Major Michael Barrett (R) / Sergeant Mallory Vanderschans

Amos shows a brave, determined face to the men and woman she connects with. She delivers her heavy pack of love and reassurance to wounded warriors regardless of their injury, working to make them comfortable and safe. They are her mission. 

Growing up indigent poor in Pensacola, Florida, the home of Naval Aviation, Bonnie Amos set her sights on college after which she landed the position of manager at a small bank. One day, First Lieutenant James Amos, then a flight school student, walked in.

“He came in to apply for a car loan and I’ve been managing his finances ever since,” Mrs. Amos says. “He promised me we would see the world and go to wonderful and fabulous places and I had the ridiculous uncommon sense to believe him.”

The hometown girl was swept off her feet by the handsome jet pilot who made her laugh. That pilot eventually became the 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps with a sky-rocketing career that landed them in desolate and remote regions, and also in grand and glorious duty stations.

For Bonnie, moving 29 times in 42 years of marriage was more annoyance than sacrifice.

“I’d jump up and down and say ‘you can’t make me do this ever again’,” Mrs. Amos says. “Then we’d get to somewhere like Hawaii and I’d say ‘this is terrific – it’s the most amazing place in the world’.” 

Bonnie admits her “gypsy life” has not been easy. “When we talk about the people who have sacrificed in the military lifestyle, it’s really our children.” Her daughter’s is fond of reminding her father, “Dad, do you have any idea how many boyfriends I’ve left for you?”

Yet her daughter admits it has helped form who she is. For Bonnie’s more introverted son, “It made him reach from inside and project out more.” 

Now, home for General and Mrs. Amos is a 16,000 square foot estate in Washington DC, occupied in turn by every Commandant over the last 200+ years. Here, she sleeps by night and plans by day how to better employ herself for the good of the Corps.

Bonnie has been a key player in the Marine Corps evolution of providing support to families.

“When Jim left on his first 13-month deployment to Japan, we did not have family support structures in place,” she says, “We were living in Hawaii and I no longer belonged to that squadron or group of pilot’s wives. I thought I would shrivel up and die. Not having the skills or maturity to cope, I packed up our one year old baby girl and went home to my parents in Pensacola.”

In time, the Marine’s wife settled into her life, becoming active in programs for the betterment of Marines and family lives. As an Officer’s wife, she worked with Corps leadership to organize and direct ‘Volunteer Family Readiness’ organizations which assess, educate, and provide assistance. Mrs. Amos has also worked with skilled civilian ‘Family Readiness Officers’ hired by the Marine Corps to help struggling families.

Passionately immersed in the community, she is able to assist if a washing machine goes out, someone has to meet the press or disturbing news came in about a loved one. Mrs. Amos gives support and, when trials hit home, as when General Amos had to eject from a failed aircraft into the frigid Pacific, welcomes the support of others as well. 

When Operation Enduring Freedom I kicked off in 2003, it was the most nerve-wracking time for Bonnie. “As a two-star General, Jim had the Wing - all the airplanes and aircrews and their families west of the Mississippi. Responsibility to educate people during wartime was very strong for me”, remembers Bonnie. Then based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, she praises San Diego as a loving, supportive community.

“My daughter tells of when her dad came home after nine months, a large earthquake that was reported on the West Coast wasn’t really an earthquake. It was her mom taking off her pack.” 
During the epic battles for Fallujah and Ramadi in 2004-06, “We had a lot of losses and injuries on the ground side.” explains Bonnie, “Our severely wounded were coming back to Bethesda Naval Hospital and those who could rehabilitate were sent to Camp Lejeune or were alone in their Enlisted Bachelor Quarters.” There was no centralized care or follow-up. 

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Maxwell was an Operations Officer in a Marine Expeditionary Unit  battalion when a missile came into his tent. People were killed around him and he sustained a traumatic brain injury, along with other severe injuries. Bonnie and Jim were instrumental when a recovering Lt. Col. Maxwell and his wife, Shannon, sought help telling them, “We joined the Marine Corps - we’re part of a team. We work, train, and fight as a team, but we don’t rehabilitate as team.”   

Bonnie and General Amos started a series of events, gathering resources with the help of Major General Bob Dickerson, Commanding General, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune. “We were able to create this ‘Wounded Warrior Barracks’,” gushes Bonnie. “Our wounded began to rehabilitate, train, and do therapy together. Doctors and nurses came to them and people were there to manage appointments, medications, and therapy.” 

It’s been life-changing being part of this life-renewing concept. Retired General James T.Conway, 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps, turned the Wounded Warrior Barracks into a Wounded Warrior Regiment that cares for their wounded. Bonnie is a regular visitor at Bethesda and assures when rehabilitation is complete, they keep tabs on their Marines, even after they leave active duty. Bonnie didn’t stop there.

While at Camp Pendleton, Amos and two other wives created the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, a charity that helps all Marines, their family members, and service members attached to Marine Corps units in need. Bonnie’s been the driving force helping friends distribute books authored by military spouses that can educate, entertain, and edify all ages.

She recently created the first-ever First Lady of the Marine Corps Recommended Reading List and is working hard getting the books and her list into Marine Corps Exchanges, libraries, and online. 

First Lady of the Marine Corps Bonnie Amos plants seeds of goodness in a vast military forest. She nurtures young seedlings and cares for broken and needy trees, her love growing them into stalwart giants. With her around, sunlight filters through the forest on even stormy days.

Next Patriot Profiles – we’ll go with Bonnie to Afghanistan. It’s the first time a Service Chief’s wife has been allowed in the theater. She fought to go and brings home the good news stories we crave.

Patriot Profiles can also be read in the Del Mar Times


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Jeanne McKinney

Jeanne McKinney is an award-winning screenwriter, journalist and a patriot at heart. Her column, “Patriot Profiles”, gives a personal eye-opening view to the amazing men and women who are actively serving and protecting America, earth's beacon of freedom. Experience their harrowing jobs, close-call combat experiences, steel-clad brotherhood, heartbreaking sacrifice and more from the battlefields and training grounds and at home where families have to manage survival. Winner of San Diego Press Club "Excellence in Journalism Award" 1st Place - Military, 2012 and 2013.

 

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