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U.S. Marine Corps Natalie Francisco
Spouse Helps Foreign-Born Adjust to Military Life
By Lance Cpl. Kaitlyn M. Scarboro
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego
SAN DIEGO, Aug. 7, 2006 — Known for being shy and reserved by her colleagues, Natalie Francisco, depot Family Team Building coordinator, has dedicated herself to the orientation and education of depot military spouses.

As a coordinator for the depot’s Lifestyle Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills program, a sponsor for the depot and Western Recruiting Region Key Volunteers program and other military-spouse volunteer programs, Francisco has touched the lives of many spouses through her desire to help those in need.

Her dedication to family began as a child. Living with her maternal grandparents in Belize, Central America, Francisco was surrounded with a neighborhood of relatives. Her grandmother would spend hours cooking a large feast for her children and when dinner was served, Natalie would visit with some of her 13 aunts and uncles at the dinner table.

Natalie’s grandparents had two sets of children, one set the age of her mother. The other set of children attended the same schools at the same time as Natalie.

“I went to school with my aunts and uncles. I’m actually older than two of my aunts,” said Natalie. “I was the first girl on my mom’s side to graduate high school. It was a big deal for my family.”

Though it was a common practice for girls in the community to marry at 13 years old, Natalie said she was not ready to settle down and continued her education. She earned a tourism scholarship to America, where she received an associate’s degree in restaurant management, setting the example for her younger female relatives to continue their education before marriage. Later, Natalie used her degree in her aunt’s restaurant and catering business in Belize.

Throughout her childhood, Natalie spent her time reading, playing marbles and climbing trees on the beaches of Belize with her best friend and neighbor, Mark. Later, after Mark joined the United States Marine Corps and Natalie graduated from college, they married and Natalie’s world was turned upside down. She had no idea what to expect of America off the college campus or in the military.

“There was no Family Team Building when I became a spouse,” said Natalie. “When I first came to the states I had no family here. It was just me and Mark.”

Frightened to leave her house and step into a completely different world that she didn’t understand, Natalie almost never left her Virginia house. Her home was not on base and she was unsure how to drive on the streets, how to write a check or how to purchase anything.

Natalie said she didn’t understand the way America worked. Mark worked constantly and rarely had time to help her with the simpler things.

Through their marriage, Natalie’s friendship with Mark continued to flourish and Mark felt blessed to have a companion who gave up so much for his career.

“Our friendship is one of the most important parts of our marriage and it’s part of what makes our marriage successful,” said Master Sgt. Mark R. Francisco, operations chief, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Battalion, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif.

After giving birth to her first of two children, it wasn’t long before Natalie was left to take care of her son alone.

“Kyle was one year old, and Mark got orders to Okinawa. I couldn’t go because I didn’t have my green card,” she said.

Natalie was still settling in to her new lifestyle when she lost her military dependant identification card. She had relied on it for entrance to the base where she lived and worked and as her only form of residency or ID.

Unable to get a hold of her husband by phone because he was training, Natalie said she was scared, confused, frantic and hopeless. She was unable to write a check for two weeks, and was nearly out of diapers for her son until her husband was able to return her phone call and ship all of her paperwork to receive a new ID.

In her quest to help foreign-born spouses adjust to life in the United States, Natalie Francisco has taken on several responsibilities to include the Lifestyle Insights, Networking, Knowledge and Skills program. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Charlie Chavez

Natalie vowed that she would never let another foreign-born spouse experience such anguish.

“It’s important for us to be self-sufficient,” said Natalie about military spouses. “I never met a Marine that worked nine-to-five every day. You have to learn to cut the lawn yourself, change the oil in your car … You have to learn to do some of the stuff you take for granted when they’re around.”

When she moved to MCB Camp Lejuene, N.C., with Mark, Natalie decided she couldn’t stay in the house anymore and took her first steps to being a more confident Marine wife and helping other foreign-born spouses.

Natalie spent her time with any base spouse-support group she could find and volunteered at the Navy and Marine Corps Relief Society nearly every day of the week. One day Natalie spoke with her friend Victoria Green, a sergeant major’s wife who worked at the society, about how unhappy she was about her past experiences. Green advised her to go out and make a change. Natalie has allowed Green’s advice to encourage her family programs, and works tirelessly to help others.

“As much as I work with her, it’s hard for me to conceive how she gets it all done,” said depot Deputy Semper Fit Director, Kelley L. Sitar. “She works until the job’s done.”

After several meetings at different base clubs, Natalie and a friend came up with the idea to start an organization to help welcome and orient foreign-born spouses. Together they taught check-writing classes, self-defense classes and tried to help the spouses become more comfortable living in America.

“This is a wonderful life. I’m not going to say this life isn’t hard, but there’s a lot of advantages to this life,” said Natalie.

Now, as the depot and Western Recruiting Region’s Family Team Building coordinator, Natalie contributes hours to helping new spouses prepare for the trials they will face on the drill field or out in the recruiting districts. Though she started her work on the depot while her husband was a drill instructor, she has stayed here after he left because she knew her experiences were valuable.

“I don’t think she’s replaceable,” said Sitar. “They would probably have to get two people to replace her.”

Growing up, Natalie admired her teachers, who were Peace Corps volunteers from different countries, for their dedication to the women and children who needed it most. She always dreamed of traveling to a different country and helping those is need. She never realized it would be a country so close to her own.
Last Updated:
08/07/2006, Eastern Standard Time
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