When I first decided to join the Marine Corps back in the early 1980’s, I had spoken to my Recruiter.
In the hour that we talked, I looked at a man, wearing a freshly washed and ironed khaki shirt and same for his blue trousers, with a red stripe running down the side. He was barrel chested and just looked tough. He was what every Marine Corps recruiting poster looked like, and when he spoke to me, his voice was soft but firm, and confident with his thoughts. We spoke of what I wanted to do, where did I want to go. He spoke of the history and traditions of the Corps, and by the time I walk out of his office, I had signed up for 4 years, and volunteered to be a “Grunt”, a Marine Infantryman. I wanted to be, what I thought at the time was a “Real Marine”, a “John Wayne (from the movie, Sands of Iwo Jima)”. I also wanted to travel the world, and well, as anyone knows…The Marine Infantryman does get to travel the globe.
For the next three months, I went through “Boot Camp” in San Diego, only 10 minutes from my home. There was times, when I was thinking, “What the hell have I done?”, but it was those Drill Instructors, who kept me going. For as much as they tore us down and seemly pushing us to the point of breaking, they also built us up, and instilled in each and every one of us recruits, that some day we would become “Marines!”, the history, the tradition of the Corps, would follow us throughout our military careers, and even for the rest of our lives. They made us believe that we were the best that America could produce, and that the world respected us, no, feared us, and “Once a Marine, Always a Marine”. When I did graduate from Boot Camp, my family was so proud, and I have to tell you, I was proud, that I had survived and had earned the title of “Marine”. To this very day, all of these years later, I am still a proud Marine.
I served my years, at various post, in various units, and traveled around the world. There was one thing that never changed. That ooh rah!, ooh rah! feeling of being a Marine Infantryman. It was instilled in us, reminded to us by our Staff NCO’s and Officers. We were constantly being motivated that we we’re important and America’s Best.
Well, after getting out of Marines, I have several different career paths, and some led back to working with the Military, mostly the US Navy and the Marines Corps. Now as a photojournalist specializing in the Military, I deal with all of the services and spend time with all types of service people from all MOS’s (Military Occupational Specialty, or jobs). I am so proud of those who serve our Country today, but I keep running into one issue, the one issue that I never realized would ever exist.
Again, while you are in Marine Boot Camp, you are pumped up all of the time about what a Marine is, the history, the tradition, the ooh rah! 7 days, 24 hours a day, it is engrained into your very soul, but unless you stay in the Combat Arms side of the Corps, the Infantry, the Tankers, the Artillerymen, etc. The ooh rah, ooh rah seems to stop at all of the other MOS’s.
I run into Marines, who have been in for a few years, and when I ask them, what their MOS is? I hear back, “oh I’m just a clerk, a cook, supply guy, maintenance, etc.” There is no enthusiasm in their voice. There does not seem to be that “Espirit de Corps” (A common spirit of comradeship, enthusiasm, and devotion to a cause among the members of a group), that they all once held, on that last day of Boot camp, and the first day, they were called Marines.
After speaking with these individuals, I suddenly realized what the problem is? No one is telling them that they are important to the Corps any longer, it’s a just a job. No one needs to remind them that they are Marines. they know this every day, they put on that uniform.
The problem is that the leaders, the Officers and Staff NCO’s are not reinforcing the proud tradition and history of the Marines to the enlisted. Their job, is just a job supporting the combat arms side of the Corps.
Back in the 1980’s, the Marine Corps averaged a total of 190,000 members, of which 60,000 were combat arms related, and the other 130,000 were support for them. Without that support, the Mission CAN NOT BE COMPLETED! Here we are in 2013, and with Iraq basically over and Afghanistan winding down, the Marine Corps in dropping in size. Predictions are looking at a Corps of only 184,000 Marines with the possibilities of further drops to 175,000. This means, that jobs are not going away, but the Marines will have to do more with less.
This issue is what I now have taken as a crusade, when I am able to speak to these young men and women. When I run into that Cook, who works 12 hour days and does feel appreciated. The first thing I tell them is, “Marine, I am proud of you”, I tell them, “You have the most important job in the Corps”. They usually give me that “yeah right!” look, but to them I say, “if you were not working hard, and feeding your fellow Marines, that those Marines can not go into combat on empty stomachs”. For the Supply Clerk “You have the most important job in the Corps- who’s going to get boots, ammo, etc to the frontlines to keep your fellow Marines in the fight?”. To the payroll clerk, need I say it? if a Marine does not get his paycheck, he isn’t happy, and his morale suffers.
To the Marines from the Air Wings to the Marines sitting behind the desk at the Public Affairs Office, or a Clerk pushing paperwork at a Division Headquarters. EVERY JOB in the United States Marine Corps is important, Every Marine is needed and important. It is up to the Officers and Senior NCO’s to tell your people this, and tell them everyday. Remind them that they are serving their Country, a Country that is proud of them, for sacrificing their youth for a greater cause. Also, every Marine should remember that unlike any other service, you are all trained to Infantrymen.
Now while I have oriented this article towards the Marine Corps, this goes for all of the Armed Forces of the United States, as a former Marine, I am proud of all you who have served and currently serve. Thank you and Semper Fidelis!