Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms Calif. --
Gunnery Sgt. Cecil Melton is a Marine tough-guy. He has been deployed with Marine tough-guys. For the last 17 years, he has trained Marine tough-guys. And Melton plays with dolls. Laugh at your own risk. There is a 6-year-old girl that can bring him down to his knees when she wants to.
Her name is Nijah. His daughter.
“I plan to take her on her first date and buy her first diamond.”
Nijah is the youngest of the brood, the baby girl of the bunch.
“I have three boys and she’s my baby girl. Because she’s the only girl, we have a special bond,” Melton said. “She has made me actually enjoy playing with baby dolls – with her of course.”
Finding time in a military schedule with family can be a daunting task. The Melton household emphasizes the importance of family time among busy schedules and the unpredictability of military life.
“My wife and I both work,” Melton said. “I am in school and my children are involved in many extracurricular activities. Since our day is so busy, I ensure that we make time to pray as a family. We kneel around my bed and pray every night at 8:45 p.m. This is a great time because after our prayer, we always seem to have the craziest conversations before the kids go to bed. It’s our bonding time and the kids really look forward to it. So do Tamika (my wife) and me.”
Melton does find that special time to spend with Nijah. She remains special to him, his ‘Baby Girl’ as he affectionately calls her.
“I tell her I love her every chance I get,” said Melton. “She will never have to wonder how it feels to be loved because I am going to make sure she knows she’s always loved.”
However, a special day is on the horizon. Melton is taking Nijah to her first dance. They are going to get dressed up, dance with other fathers and daughter, and have a good time. Melton is taking her to the Combat Center’s Father Daughter Dance. It’s not a costume ball, but they are going to be in character. Melton as a super dad and Nijah as a princess.
Nijah twirled around in the middle of the dance floor. Her world is perfect, just her and him. Her first dance is with the one man that will mean the most.
She dressed in an aqua blue dress with black floral accents with matching earrings, makeup and hair done and feeling like a princess.
“I truly feel it’s my responsibility as her father to show her what to expect from her future husband,” said Melton.
The dance, sponsored by Lincoln Military Housing, gave the dads across the Combat Center a chance to take their little princesses out for a special night away from the family.
“We’ve never had a base-wide father daughter dance,” said Jessica Arthur, the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Family Readiness Officer. “I never expected the emotion from seeing all these dads taking their little girls to an event that we were fortunate enough to put on for them. Not only was that very touching, but that says a lot about how much an event like this was needed.”
A date night out also helped the fathers step away from their busy work schedule and focus on their children.
“They are a healthy male role model, but not only that, the majority of them are active duty service members,” Arthur said. “They are gone so much more than we realize. Being able to spend that time with each other and enjoy their little daughters. Giving their daughters opportunity to have one-on-one time with their dad is priceless.”
Nearly 400 father and daughter couples attended the dance. Photographers took portraits of them, the dance floor was decorated with colorful flowers and balloons, a DJ played the kids’ favorite popular songs and refreshments were lined up, complete with juice boxes.
The dress code was formal with no specific uniform or outfit to wear. The goal was to focus on family.
“I don’t care if you’re wearing dress blues or if you’re wearing a suit,”Arthur said. “You’re coming there to make memories with your daughter, have fun, spend time together and enjoy time together.”