PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. — Since his mother became a Marine drill instructor, 11-year-old Marcus Simms has learned to appreciate life's smaller pleasures.
"He's so glad when I'm still in bed when he wakes up in the morning," says Staff Sgt. Kimberly Simms, who is serving a two-year stint at Parris Island, S.C., in what is arguably the Marine Corps's toughest job.
Attention all parents who think you have a hard life juggling work and family: Take heart from the case of Sergeant Simms.
A single mother, Simms works from 80 to 100 hours a week. She spends hour after hour, day and night, trying to drill military discipline into dozens of often troubled teenage girls - not to mention leading them on midnight marches in full battle gear.
Simms has zero social life, and barely any time to spend with her son.
"He's a latchkey kid. After school he spends a couple of hours at home alone, then goes to a friend's house," says Simms, who used to work 9 to 5.
To become a drill instructor, Simms had to undergo a widely feared, 11-week training school so physically arduous that many women are injured and 26 percent drop out - nearly triple the attrition rate of men.
Indeed, women such as Simms who volunteer as drill instructors are in many ways the heroines of the Marine Corps. Yet full recognition for their sacrifice has come slowly.
Only 19 months ago were they first allowed to wear the famous trademark of the male drill instructor: the Smokey Bear hat.