COLUMBUS, Ohio –
On this, the 245th Marine Corps Birthday, I like to reflect on what it is that truly makes the Corps something special to those who haven’t worn the uniform. I’d like to tell you about a time when I was on recruiting duty and a young man came into my office seeking to find out about joining the Corps.
He came into my office after returning from the Military Entrance Processing Station and taking his Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test and physical. He “informed” me that he had just taken his ASVAB, scored really high, passed his physical, and proceeded to tell me that “if the Marine Corps can match what the Army offered” he might consider joining.
I asked him what they offered him. He replied that they offered an enlistment bonus, college fund, guaranteed specialist rank, assignment to the duty station of his choice, and a job “working on computers.”
I said, “That’s a really good deal. You should take it.”
He looked at me puzzled and asked, “Don’t you want me to sign up and be a Marine?”
I told him “No. If you’re looking for college, a job, a bonus, a guaranteed promotion, this is not the place for you. I would be doing you a serious disservice as well as all the Marines who currently serve.”
I asked him what he thought of when he thought of a Marine. He said, “Well, you know they are the first ones in, they are the toughest branch, and they carry themselves with a sense of pride, they have confidence, and they wear the dress blue uniform.”
“Exactly,” I told him. “Nothing you said has anything to do with money, duty stations, promotions, jobs, etc, so why would you want to be a Marine when that’s not what you’re looking for? This is what I offer you: the chance to be one of us. I will give you an opportunity to earn the title of Marine. I will put you on an open contract, as a private, no job guarantee, no duty station option, no promotion. Since you’ve already graduated, I’ll send you to Parris Island in three weeks since I have an opening, and when you get there the drill instructors will do everything in their power to break you down and make you quit. But if you make it, you will earn the title of Marine and become one of us and you will live forever. You should take the offer the Army has. It’s a good deal for you.”
He thanked me for being straight with him and I watched him walk out the door. His mom was waiting and they sat on the bench smoking cigarettes. Thirty minutes later he came back in my office with his mom and said, “Sir, I’d like to join the Marines.” I asked him “why be a Marine?” He looked at me and said, “It’s what you said, I need that. I think that’s why I didn’t sign up with the Army. It was missing something that I couldn’t quite figure out. I want something that will make me proud. I want to do something special that not everyone can be part of. Something that I’m not sure I can do but I want to try. I want to be more.”
So I sent him to Parris Island three weeks later.
The Army recruiter was baffled. What did I offer? What did I give him that he couldn’t? I looked him in the eye and said “I gave him the chance to be one of us.” He walked away and didn’t understand.
Twenty years later, the young man retired as a Gunnery Sergeant. He sent me an invitation to his retirement and wanted to let me know that the day he walked in my office changed his life forever and gave him more than money, a job or promotion, and that he was thankful for the day I had asked him “Why be a Marine?”