Always a Marine

In 2006, I was a junior at Virginia Tech, majoring in computer science.  I was a good kid, but didn’t make friends easily, which naturally led to being a loner.  Which itself led to being lonely.  I had recently realized that I was not cut out for a job as a computer scientist, and something needed to change.  I just didn’t know what.  So, despite the fact that I lacked direction, I began to search.  I liked movies, so I thought maybe I could go to film school.  But, they didn’t offer that major at VT, and I wasn’t too enthusiastic about paying $40,000 to go to film school, so I set that idea aside.  My best friend Matt had just come to a similar crossroads the year before, and had decided to continue his family tradition of serving in the Marine Corps, so, lacking any other ideas, I went to the library and picked up the first book about the Marine Corps that I could find.

“Brotherhood of Heroes,” by Bill Sloan is the tale of one of the Marine Corps’ most ferocious battles of the Pacific Campaign in World War Two.  During the battle, the 1st Marine Division fought a heavily entrenched Japanese foe, who was determined to fight to the last man.  The Japanese on the island nearly matched the Marines in fighting spirit and lethality, but the Marines fought through razor sharp coral, severe jungle conditions, heavy casualties, and intense dehydration in order to win the battle.  It was through reading the story of these Marines that I pinpointed the qualities that my life was lacking: courage, spirit, tenacity, altruism, and most importantly, brotherhood.  I headed to the nearby recruiting office the next day, and despite the Marine Corps recruiter not being there on my first visit, and the Air Force recruiter attempting to lure me into his office, I was enlisted within the week.

Along with being well known as the greatest fighting force the world has ever seen, the Marine Corps is famous for its prolific maxims.  Semper Fidelis.  The few the proud.  Adapt and overcome.  First to fight.  Honor, Courage, Commitment.  Each describing its own facet of what constitutes the Marine Corps ethos. 

One of my favorites, and the one most applicable to me now is “once a Marine, always a Marine.”  Like most Marines, I first heard this in boot camp.  And, at the time, much like my understanding of most aspects of life at the age of 20, I had a shallow understanding of what this phrase actually meant.  At that point in my Marine Corps career, I thought it meant that once a person earns the right to call themselves a Marine, they had that right for life.  And in fact, this is true.  However, eleven more years of experience has given me a much deeper grasp.

It is not only that when a person becomes a Marine that they get to call themselves a Marine.  They are in fact a Marine forever whether they like it or not.  They couldn’t change that if they tried.  Or if anything or anybody tried, for that matter.  A person’s DNA is made up of sequences of letters, TACG, GCAT, AGCT.  Once a Marine leaves boot camp, all of those sequences are rewritten as USMC.

The title will remain, and so will the behaviors and capabilities.  No matter how many years pass after a Marine’s term of enlistment ends, they will always be willing and able to accomplish any mission they begin, and endure whatever is required in order to do so.  No matter how old they get, a Marine will forever remain proud of their service.  In fact this pride most likely will increase over time.  No matter what happens, a Marine will always be faithful to America, to the Corps, and to fellow Marines regardless of the circumstances, consequences or sacrifices.  And until the day they die, Marines will remain able and willing to fight.

The motto of the Wounded Warrior Regiment is “etiam in pugna,” which translates to “still in the fight.”  The job of the Marine Corps and each individual Marine is to fight America’s battles.  The clearest example of this is direct combat with America’s enemies.  However, there are many more aspects to this fight than simply that.  For Marines, and for all veterans, the fight is not over once we leave the battlefield.  It stays with us on the home front as well.  We must fight just as hard for each other on this front as we did in combat.  Personally, I am no longer fit to engage in direct combat.  However, the circumstances that make me unsuitable for combat make me perfectly suited for the fight at home.  And now this is where I fight.

So when I get asked by people, how could you fathom, let alone complete running 31 marathons in 31 days, I give them the same simple answer: because I am a Marine.  And my mission to fight for my my fellow veterans has not changed.  And when a Marine is on a mission for his fellow Marines, he is capable of anything.  Therefore when people ask me, “haven’t you done enough?  Sacrificed enough?”  I remind them that not only do I have the capability to accomplish my mission, be proud of my Marine Corps heritage, stay faithful to my fellow Marines, and keep fighting, I have the responsibility.  I have the responsibility to keep fighting for my country, my corps, and my fellow veterans.  So no, it will never be enough.  The day that I have done enough will be the day that six Marines lower me into my grave in Arlington Cemetary.  And how can I do it?  Because it is my duty.  And to do my duty is my honor.