As a research investigator for a major Marine Corps study on body composition standards, Marine Corps Capt. Lara Soto has been away from home for the past year.
She’s spent many Fridays on the road to squeeze in some weekend time with her family, driving to a halfway point between Quantico, Virginia, and her home in Indiana to meet up with her husband and two children.
You won’t hear her complaining. The work is important: The study will help shape the future of Marine Corps body composition standards, ensuring the Corps strikes the right balance when it comes to health, performance, fitness and military appearance.
And when it comes to balancing her duties as a Marine Corps reservist with her civilian work and family life, it’s definitely doable, she says. It takes discipline, but as a Marine she’s got plenty of that. She even took the time to answer some of our questions.
Talk about your path to becoming a Marine. When and why did you join?
I grew up in a small rural community that was very patriotic. Any form of service to our community and to our country was greatly encouraged. My upbringing definitely set me on the course to continue serving others in some capacity.
I was initially drawn to the Marine Corps because I really admired the discipline and drive that so many Marines had. I graduated from Officer Candidates School in December of 2011.
You served four years within the Selected Marine Corps Reserve before transitioning to the Individual Ready Reserve and ultimately its Individual Mobilization Augmentee program. Can you talk a little about the differences between these, and explain why you decided to make this transition?
The Selected Marine Corps Reserve is probably what most Marines picture when they think of continuing to serve as a reservist. Most units will drill or train approximately one weekend a month and two full weeks each year. There are also opportunities for Marines to attend additional training, deployments and volunteer for various active-duty orders.
The IRR, or Individual Ready Reserve, is meant to be a “temporary layover” for Marines transitioning out of their units [who] have not completed their military service obligation. Some Marines transition to other units and others choose to stay in the IRR until their time has completed.
I made the decision to transition into the IRR after having our son. We had two small children, and our family business was starting to really take off. I thought I was done and ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. The flexibility within the Individual Mobilization Augmentee program was a great fit at the time.Tell us about your civilian job.
My husband and I own a training facility in Indiana. When you’re truly passionate about something, it’s contagious. We offer a bit of everything under one roof: Brazilian jiujitsu, wrestling, strength and conditioning, kickboxing and a little bit more. Our team is very diverse; within a normal day we work directly with children, the local police department, ROTC students and champion members within our local community.
And your work within the Corps?
I’m a communications officer. For the last year, I’ve had the opportunity to be a member of a great team collecting data for the Marine Corps Body Composition Study. I spent six months on active duty for operational support for the Human Performance Branch, Training and Education Command. The last six months I’ve been fulfilling the same role as a research fellow with the Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.
How do you balance these? What’s your typical work week like?
This entire past year I have been on the road and away from home. I have leaned heavily on the support from my husband, family and our business team. While working in Quantico, each Friday I would drive over five hours and my husband and kids would drive over five hours to have family weekend time in West Virginia.
When you’re on the move it’s important to be flexible with your plans to find balance. I think you need to have a cornerstone to set your priorities and your non-negotiables. With the right amount of faith, planning and discipline you can usually balance things out beautifully.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I love being busy and productive. If I’m not working on typical work products, then I’m working on a random side project.
I strength train every day, and I like to be on the mats training Brazilian jiujitsu as much as possible. I enjoy doing anything outdoors and teaching our children how to enjoy the simple things in life.
What are the most noticeable differences working with active-duty Marines and reservists?
At the end of the day, we are all Marines. I think Lt. Gen. David G. Bellon [commander of Marine Corps Forces Reserve/Marine Corps Forces South] states it best, that Marines “will continue to answer their irrational call to service while maintaining highly skilled and difficult civilian careers.” I think all Marines have this, but our reservists have the honor and privilege to demonstrate this day-to-day in their civilian careers and within their communities.
On any given drill weekend, there will be at least one Marine in the room that is taking a huge pay cut in their civilian career to serve. Within your enlisted ranks, you will have engineers, physical therapists, electricians, plumbers and a few jacks-of-all-trades.
The only way to explain their reasoning for being there is that they have an irrational call to service. The opportunity to wear the uniform and work alongside other Marines makes the long road trips and time away from home worth every minute.