An unbreakable bond

Steve LeBlanc has military service in his blood. The trait must be partly genetic, given to him by his father and passed down to his oldest daughter.

LeBlanc is a second-generation Marine and retired lieutenant colonel who now works for the Government Printing Office (GPO). His daughter, Molly, is a junior in the ROTC program at Villanova University near Philadelphia.

Like her father, Molly signed up right out of high school. Unlike her father, her decision drew surprise. “I’m pretty girly,” she said. “I’m not the typical Marine.”

LeBlanc, who studied at Villanova decades ago, was shocked but thrilled Molly had chosen his alma mater.

“You don’t know how much you are rubbing off on your kids,” LeBlanc said. “Sometimes you run away from it and sometimes you embrace it.”

Molly decided to embrace it when everything fell into place — she fell in love with the campus and could not pass up the scholarship.

“This is what I want to do, and it happens to be what my father does,” she said.

She admitted, however, she was not any better prepared for the mental and physical breakdown of boot camp than her fellow soldiers.

“I told my dad, ‘Why didn’t you tell me it was like this — that I would be yelled at all the time?’ ” she said.

The comment drew a kind smile and quiet laughter from her father. “It was important that Molly got through it herself,” he said.

Steve said he had long seen Molly’s “mental toughness,” starting when she ran cross country and the one-mile relay in high school.

“She’s 5-2 and 110 pounds. But she’s got a gut fortitude,” he said.

That fortitude may explain why Molly insists she “does not mind” waking before dawn and running several miles before breakfast. But she concedes she is “a little nervous” about an upcoming marathon she is running.

Steve thinks she will be just fine. Running 17 miles every weekend in her quest to complete a 26-mile run should be enough, he said with a laugh.

The unpopular Iraq war did not change Molly’s resolve to be a part of the largest volunteer military in the world.

“The war itself did not exactly influence me, because no matter where I go there is always going to be conflict,” she said.

As Steve sees it, however, the nature of the Iraq war has made her experience drastically different from his. He joined the military in the late 1970s. The Vietnam War was over and America had entered a period of relative peace. “The training she is going through is much more focused [and] intense,” he said.

Although both father and daughter said the decision to join the military was Molly’s entirely, neither denies that it was influenced by the decision he made before she was born.

“I had grown up with the military lifestyle,” she said.

Molly grew up in North Carolina, Florida, California, New York, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Australia. The LeBlanc family, including Molly’s mother and two younger sisters, moved every two or three years.

While based in the states and abroad, Steve flew missions during the Gulf War and during Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in the early 1990s.

Whether in a time of peace or war, being in the military is always a sacrifice, Steve said.

“The first five years of my marriage, I was easily gone three years. As the kids were born, [my wife] did a lot of single parenting,” he said.

Steve had moved the family to Virginia when he saw that his daughter longed to stay in one place. So he looked for work in the area, landing a position as manager of packaging and distribution for The Washington Post.

In 2005, he found a job that fused his two great loves: service to country and printing production. That job was at the GPO, as managing director of the security and intelligent documents unit. The agency produces more than 2 million passports each month.

“It’s a critical document that is helping to keep America safe. It’s a piece of art,” said Steve.

Molly said her future job is also to keep America safe, although in a different capacity. She heads off to officer candidate school this summer and then on to basic training for six months.

“It’s been an amazing transformation in her. She’s gotten older and more self-confident,” Steve said.

Years of training and education in the art of war have given Molly a new respect for her dad. “Now I’m doing this and I see what I sacrifice,” she said.