CAMP BLUE DIAMOND, AR RAMADI, Iraq -- During basic training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., Joanna Lael Baker met her nemesis as she stood atop of the rappel tower and peered down at her certain doom. Her fear of heights was being challenged in a finale that meant the difference between her passing the test with the other recruits and falling back in training. She took a deep breath, grabbed the rope and jumped 40 feet down – stopping short just a few feet from the woodchips.
Lance Cpl. Baker finally conquered her fear of heights and now she’s standing a post 40 feet on top of the combat operations center here, guarding the commanding general and his staff during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Aside from standing sentry duty, Baker works as the 2nd Marine Division’s maintenance management analyst, reviewing reports from the division’s units on the status of their broken equipment and vehicles. Her contribution to mission accomplishment is indispensable. Without her, the division wouldn’t know where it stood against the insurgency.
Her journey began Sept. 12, 2001, the day after America was attacked by the suicide skyjackers. She was on the Temple University, Philadelphia campus walking to class when it occurred to her. She wanted to be a part of the effort to help her country fight terrorism.
“I walked into the recruiter’s office the next day,” said Baker, a 22-year-old Downingtown, Pa. native. “I had a lot going on at that time and it was a real sacrifice. But it was worth it. I felt like I needed to do something.”
And she has. Baker has a heart for competition and the Corps was the right place for her. For the past nine years, Baker has been studying Shoto-Kan Karate. She paid for her four-hours a day, six-days per week lessons with baby-sitting money.
Now she’s a black belt instructor, and prior to enlisting, she was on the U.S. Karate Team competing internationally. She eased right into the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, which teaches a mixture of martial arts disciplines specifically designed for modern combat.
“I do a kata or practice punching any chance I get,” said Baker. “Sometimes my room mates make fun of me for it.
“It was a hard decision to decide to stay in or get out,” said Baker, for her love of the Corps. “I hate seeing injustice most of all, and I wanted to be a part of the effort out here to bring terrorists to justice.
“That, I have helped to do. Now, I think I’ll continue what I started back home.”
Baker plans to finish her pre-law degree at Temple University. As a lawyer, she wants to continue her fight for justice.
“I love the competition and the camaraderie the Marines have to offer,” said Baker. “I can’t wait to get back into my karate and school, though. It’s the same as being a Marine; it requires discipline and it reminds me I’m part of a huge team.”