Twentynine Palms -- When Gunnery Sgt. Ira Heide first enlisted in the Marine Corps he never imagined he would become a father. As he quickly rose through the ranks, his focus was on being an exemplary Marine and having children wasn’t ever in the cards. Everything changed at 4:01 a.m. the day before Halloween, when his son, Jessen, was born and he held him for the first time. Military careers change, as do family dynamics, but in the years to come, Heide would learn to master the craft of balancing the responsibilities of a Marine Corps gunnery sergeant and those of a single father.
“I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest,” explained Heide. “I always told myself that I never wanted kids. I didn’t think that I was going to be prepared for it. The first time I held him everything sank in. It clicked. I’ll never forget that feeling for the rest of my life.”
Marines adapt to and overcome any challenge thrown their way. From the moment they step on the yellow footprints, Marines are taught an unwavering commitment to honor and doing what’s right.
Heide was born in a small town in Utah and joined the Marine Corps believing it was the best fit for him. Feeling drawn to the brotherhood by which Marines are bound, he made a career out of his profession. He then took the experiences he learned from his time in Corps and applied them to all facets of his life.
Heide’s primary military occupational specialty is fire-direction controller but throughout his career he has fulfilled many other billets and responsibilities such as working in civil affairs, as a combat instructor and staff academy instructor.
“What I consider to be achievements are some of the lessons I’ve learned,” Heide said. “I have a better sense of self-worth, more confidence in my ability to do day-to-day tasks whether it’s work-wise or personal.”
After 16 years of service and seven years of fatherhood, Heide has strived to find the best way to manage his duties as a Marine and his obligations as a parent.
“It’s kind of hard, you know, being a single father,”Heide said. “You have to have a healthy balance. I go to work and then I leave it there. When I go home, that time is for him. I don’t bring [work] with me. That is the biggest key to balancing the two and I think the biggest problem with some people, they can’t do family things, it’s just work, work, work.”
Heide has worked hard throughout his Marine Corps career to keep the ideals of a good Marine and leader close to heart. The lessons he learned throughout his time in the Corps helped him overcome many of the challenges he now faces as a father.
“It’s helped me on a morality stand point,” Heide remarked. “What’s right and what’s wrong and what I expect out of my son. It has also helped me to be more compassionate. That is a big one I feel that our society today can be uncompassionate. The Marine Corps has definitely pulled me in that direction.”
Heide’s grasp of how other people think and his exposure to a myriad of psychologically, culturally and socially diverse Marines has given him the patience to be an empathetic parent.
“It allows me to be more understanding. We work with so many different people with mentalities, different backgrounds, not everyone is going to have the same thought process I do,” Heide said. “I also have to remember that my son is a little boy. There are a lot of things he doesn’t know. He’s going to have his moments and it took a lot for me to realize that he doesn’t think a certain way and the Marine Corps has definitely helped me work on that.”
Even before the Marine Corps, Heide was taught the importance of determination and a hard work. The experiences he had growing up and the lessons imparted upon him as a child helped him develop his outlook on being a thoughtful and effective father.
“To be honest, I never knew my natural father. I had my step-dad but my parents worked a lot,” Heide said. “When it comes down to it, I think the biggest father figure I had in my life was my grandfather. He was a World War II vet and a good man. He imparted a lot of good things on me like manners and an innate drive to be something and do something.”
Heide has worked hard to pass these values and ideals on to his son the same way his grandfather passed them on to him. Heide believes it is his responsibility as Jessen’s father, to raise him to one day be a good man.
“In my opinion, a dad needs to raise a boy,” Heide said. “I could never understand how, as a man, you can walk away from your own blood. I couldn’t imagine not being an active part of who will one day become.”
Heide makes a point to take Jessen to parks and spends time playing games and building epic projects out of Legos. At times, they spend hours together in the garage working on a shared passion, repairing and working on cars. All of this is part of a conscious effort to give his son the things Heide did not have growing up.
“I try to expose him to things that I never really got to do,” Heide said. “I try not to spoil him but I still want to give him the things that I never had growing up. I definitely want to impart on him that being a hard worker is a good thing.”
When Heide talks about his son, beaming with pride he describes a child that is bright, kind and thoughtful. He explains that even at the age of seven, Jessen excels in his mechanical skills and likes figuring out how to take things apart and building then anew. To Heide, his son’s potential opportunities are vast and he is determined to show him that he can aspire to anything.
“I want him to grow up and do what makes him happy,” Heide explained. “I don’t expect him to join the military or anything like that. If he keeps things up, I can see him going to college and doing something pretty spectacular with his life.”