I left for the Marine Corps at 17, demanding to be infantry and insisting my recruiter guarantee it in writing. This insistence paid off as I had a (mostly) amazing four years in the infantry, even getting to serve with Force Recon and earning a Combat Action Ribbon as part of Operation Silver Wake in 1997.
I’m not going to lie. I was pretty much nuts as a Marine. I lived it and breathed it, and rarely turned it off. I didn’t drink and was constantly studying and lifting, trying to become some kind of super Marine. I wanted to make a career of it, try to make it in Force Recon and eventually perhaps even the CIA. (It’s why to this day, I don’t have a Marine Corps tattoo. And almost EVERY Marine gets a tattoo. But not me. I knew the CIA wouldn’t want an operative going into harm’s way who had American, military-service tattoos on their arms.)
My absurd work ethic — in hindsight, I wish I had relaxed and enjoyed it more — did somehow allow me to win Marine of the Quarter for the entire 2nd Marine Division. (4th Quarter of 1997 for the fact checkers out there.) Winning this involved me going before numerous review boards at the company, battalion, regiment, and division level. And at these boards, you get grilled by senior enlisted men who are checking your knowledge, military bearing, ability to handle pressure, etc.
The boards were GRUELING. And not fun after about the second one. (Your uniform had to be spotless, the amount you had to study was insane, etc.) I’ll be honest, I wanted to win the company and battalion level, but after that I knew I was in over my head. I felt like a fraud and wondered what they saw in me to pick me over so many other incredible Marines. To this day, I consider it luck I won beyond the battalion level.
I also somehow pulled off Honor Graduate of the Corporal’s Course in December 1998. But by then, my extreme focus and desire to be the best was starting to wane. I managed to earn Sergeant, which is no joke in the infantry, where promotions are pretty rare, but I was completely burned out and running on fumes. Too much study. Too much lifting and exercise. Too many thoughts of being the best and going Force Recon or joining the CIA.
Turns out that some of my buddies who went drinking and used their free time to enjoy Myrtle Beach for the weekend proved to have far more staying power. Several stayed in to make a career of it, but I was utterly through with it by the end. (And my earning one of the very limited number of Sergeant stripes available and choosing not to stay in didn’t sit well with quite a few of the higher ups.)
But it is what it is. I had given all I had. I will always be super proud of my time in, and especially two other things:
- Earning a Combat Action Ribbon in ’97, while serving with Alpha Co., 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. (Operation Silver Wake.)
- Serving as the Covering Force for the elite Marine Force Recon Unit that deployed with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Special Operations Capable (MEUSOC) — also in 1997. My platoon was often attached to Marine Force Recon, where we practiced perfecting Direct Action missions. We also had the privilege to operate with the Navy Seals, training at the art of fast roping and ship take-downs. High speed stuff, as they say, and I learned much by being around these elite warriors. (In sum, spent roughly six months in a training “work up” with them, plus our six months on ship.)