May 2012. This month’s featured veteran is Candace E. Hardnett. This is her unedited story, in her own words.
Pictured below is Pastor Candace with her lovely family; her life partner in the middle and daughter on the right.
My name is Candace E. Hardnett. I was born in Faquier County, Virginia. I grew up in a small country town called Remington with my mother and grandmother mostly. My grandmother was a strong woman who taught me how to be the person I am today. She taught me at the age of three how to fight; she taught me how to cook at the age of four. She taught me how to pray long before any of that. There were things that she promised to teach, including how to shoot my grandfather’s rifle which she kept behind our bedroom door.
I was about fifteen when I decided that I wanted to join the Marine Corps. I think I always knew that I wanted to join a branch of the service since my grandfather had retired from the Army. I never met him; he died two weeks after I was born. My family always said that they believed that somehow our spirits crossed because even as a child I took on uncanny personality traits to the man that I’d never met.
I graduated high school at the age of 17 and when I brought the enlistment papers home for my mom to sign she refused. Instead I attended college but soon found that it wasn’t a good fit for me. I later transitioned to Florida where I worked as a personal trainer and fitness consultant. I wasn’t always in the best shape, as a matter of fact on my 21st birthday I was wearing a size 16. I made a conscious decision to make a lifestyle change and I began working out diligently. I dropped 10 dress sizes by my next birthday. A month later my grandmother passed away. I wanted to die.
We were on the brink of the one year anniversary of September 11th. When I returned home from my grandmother’s funeral the first thing I did was call the recruiter. In a way joining the Marine Corps fulfilled more than just a life-long dream, it was supposed to fulfill a death wish as well. However, I didn’t want to die and not leave a legacy. I wanted my family to be proud of me; I wanted to make my grandmother proud.
I shipped off to Parris Island in March of 2003. I had one goal in mind and that was to be the honor graduate of my platoon. When things were hard I thought of my grandmother and how my entire life she had trained me for everything that I would endure. I could fight, I could run, I was strong, and because of my grief, I was mean. I executed every move, every obstacle, and every command with intensity. I was confident until we reached the rifle range. This is something I never learned, but I heard my grandmother’s voice telling me that she would teach me. When I graduated basic training not only was I the honor graduate, but I was the company high shooter.
As much as I wanted to deploy I never did. I stayed stateside my entire enlistment; I now know it was for a reason. While I was stationed in Camp Pendleton, California I began attending a church in San Diego. It was there that I began to realize that my life had purpose and that dying in Iraq was not in the plan. God had called me to ministry at the age of four however I had denied His call. Who would have known that after all I had done in my life that He would still want me? I began studying the Bible, a book that I hadn’t touched since I was eight years old. As if by osmosis, in three months time, I was able to discuss, recite, and preach as if I had been reading it my entire life.
I met my best friend and life partner at that church. She and I left San Diego once I discharged from the Marine Corps. God led us to Savannah, GA to start a church. The doors of our church, Agape Empowerment Ministries were opened January 2009. Our church provides a safe place of worship for all people. We believe in the inclusive love of God. We believe that God’s love is toward all of his people regardless of age, gender, sexual preference, disability, education, or social class. We are one of the only inclusive churches in Savannah and the only non-denominational, ethnic church.
My partner and I also own a weight loss business called C & E Total Living. We sell a product called HCG which promotes a healthy lifestyle while reversing many weight related diseases. Our clients see tremendous results and are taught to retrain their bodies to burn fat efficiently. Most clients boast of losing 30 or more pounds in a month and are able to maintain easily with proper exercise and diet.
My goal is to use the time I am given on this earth to make a difference in as many lives as possible. I am an activist, a writer, a speaker, and an all around good person. I try to treat people fairly and with love. I seek to be kind and gentle. I believe that it doesn’t take fancy words to change someone’s life; it takes love which is expressed not through words at all, but through actions.
As a veteran of the US Marine Corps I have learned how to harness each of my attributes in order to be effective. I am no less intense than I was in basic; however my focus is on the people around me. I am no less mean when it comes to injustice and inequality. I am still a warrior but with a different cause. I have been fighting since I was a child and I have not stopped. Only now my opponent cannot be punched or kicked, but can only be defeated with love.