29 June 2014

Why I went and what it meant

There was an article the other day about why Marines stay or leave the Corps; chief among the answers for staying were the chance to train and lead Marines and pride in being a Marine. It got me to thinking about what it meant to me to be a Marine and an officer.

My life before I joined: I had just finished grad school and, after a bit of a job hunt, found myself in the midst of the tech boom/dot-com frenzy on the west coast. I had a series of incredible jobs, including working with Quokka Sports, hired by NBC to create the first ever interactive online Olympics. I was racing with adidasTranSports (now absorbed into the BATC) and competing with the Manatee Masters as well as in triathlon and open water races. I took international trips for fun every year and was in a long-term relationship. I had a pretty sweet, selfish life and something was seriously missing.

Almost five years after initially submitting my officer package, I finally signed on the dotted line.

A big part of what made me walk back into the Officer Selection Office was someone I met while racing the Marathon des Sables in 2000. He was a British officer, then a paratrooper and eventually a Pathfinder, David Blakeley. I remember him having to leave on 48-hour notice as part of a Rapid Reaction Force to Sierra Leone and we communicated about what his unit was doing. We kept in touch and visited when he occasionally trained in the States; we lost touch after he was injured in Iraq in 2003 (although I have archived somewhere the image he emailed of letter Prince Charles sent him, along with some recovery libations!). But, I will always remember the things he told me about his deployments to Kosovo and the training he did back in garrison, along with really enjoying hearing about his time at Sandhurst - and always thinking, how does one have the conviction to put their life in peril for others, to go because you are told and because you volunteered? Meeting him gave me the final nudge I needed to finally do what I had been wanting to do. (I don't think I ever told him that.)
Thank you, David. 
Over the 11 years I was in, I learned much about myself and found that while I had many shortcomings that needed attending to, the ethos of the Corps was in tune with my own personal goals, and I worked hard, on all fronts, to live up to the standards I believe the words "Honor, Courage and Commitment" encompass. I felt honored to be wearing the uniform and if I was  a bit too rigid in my professional demeanor early on, it was only that I confused always being serious with being a dedicated officer (turns out you can be humorous and be a great leader, right, Sideshow?). I recognized that as a pilot, my job was to support the infantry, and that as an officer, my primary task was to be there for the enlisted Marines, those under my charge and especially those who worked with me in the aircraft. It was never about me; I stood up for what I thought was right, picked fights for some who couldn't, and constantly worked at understanding both the small and big pictures. For me, being an officer meant serving others and seeking to better myself in all facets, so that I might fully meet the needs of those in my charge and surpass the expectations of those commanding me.

When I lost that, when I had to retire, the thing that stung the most was knowing that I would no longer be with those men and women who inspired me, who made me push myself, who made me a better person. I was in such a privileged position: to be tasked to truly care about the entire aspect of the Marines - both in their careers as well as in their personal lives. It's hard to explain, and certainly, I had the humbling responsibility for only a short time, but it is one of the things that I will miss the most - and I only hope that I never forget the lessons my Marines taught me about being both a good person and a good officer. It is what I  remember to carry with me as I go forward into my next venture.

No comments:

Post a Comment