Tuesday, April 29, 2008
1 March 2008 the day I was retired from the Marine Corps after 25 years. I spent my first 8 years on active duty and the last 17 as a reservist. I have come a long way since I first set foot on Parris Island back in Jan of 1983. I still remember asking myself "What have I done" as a Sgt jumped on the bus I was on and proceeded to scream obscenities at us and to get off his @#$$% bus, Hell I did not know he owned the bus!
In the end, I could not have made a better choice. What the USMC has done for me is immeasurable. I came from a family where I was the first high school graduate and lived a not so privileged life growing up. The free lunch tokens at school and gifts from charities at Christmas time were a constant reminder of my families financial status. After high school I went to work at a factory driving a fork lift for 10+ hours a day. After 7 months I began to question, there has to be more to life than this and looked for a way out. With no money and not great high school grades, college seemed a long shot, so the military looked good. I had uncles who had served in the Army in WWII and Vietnam, as well as my grandfather who was in the Navy during WWII. For me I always wanted to be around planes but the Air Force was not for me. As a young man I found a great way to release my frustrations with life was fighting and I sooner or later found myself in a boxing ring. I did pretty well and went on to win 3 state titles and become a golden glove winner and even had an offer to go pro, so for me the Marines seemed like the place to be. What I have found over the last 25 years is the Marine Corps provided more than a challenge for me, it provided discipline, leadership and taught me how to be a man.
The people who guided me as a young Marine were all Vietnam vets who had seen many things prior to me. The leadership and real world knowledge they passed to me began to build a foundation for things to come. I went on to get a B.S. Degree and eventually followed that up with an M.S. Degree, both completed in night school only with the discipline and tenacity I learned from the Corps. I also grew up in the Corps as a young man of 19 when I joined to 27 years old when I left active duty, the change looking back was dramatic. I left as a Sergeant who had a lot of responsibility working in a Marine Air Wing, something years before I never would have imagined. I got married, started a family and embarked on a new career in the Federal Government as a civil servant. Through out this time I had my base of the Marine Corps as I could not leave it totally and joined the reserves.
So as I walked into the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico VA for my official retirement ceremony I admit I did get choked up....it was over, something that had been a part of me for more than half my life was now ending. This was a very strange and emotional feeling and then to see old friends and family who had come to join me on this day from Japan, California, Florida, Wisconsin and Marines from my current unit made it all that much more special and rewarding. Old friends from Japan and my first active duty posting to my friend and can mate in Fallujah Capt Licari, brought it full circle. Some very kind words were spoken, a flag from my Maryland Congressman, a certificate from the President and Commandant of the Marine Corps and a Medal for my work in Iraq filled the official ceremony. A perfect way to end a great career in a museum filled with some of my own memories made me think about the privilege to serve this great nation we have and the opportunities I have had. The privilege and honor to lead Marines, and grow from a young private to now an old grizzled Chief Warrant Officer 4 made me smile and give thanks for my good luck.
This is now the end of this blog as it has gone full circle from when I started it over a year ago to chronicle my journey to Iraq and my personal observations of war from the front. To my return back and leading up to my retirement. So for anyone who cares let me close a couple of loose ends in this blog.
Those who read about Pearl the IED dog I met and who spent some time with me and Capt Licari in Fallujah will be happy to know she is back in the states. She has no permanent damage from her tour of duty and was adopted by her handler in Iraq and is now living the comfortable life of a family pet.
Capt Licari is back from Iraq as well and now working on Capitol hill as a military advisor to a U.S. Congressman, a long way from our can in Fallujah a year ago. He will also become a father in the near future as his wife is due any day now and has been selected for promotion to Major.
Col Visconage is also back from his tour in Baghdad. I ran into him in Quantico preparing for my retirement while he was checking out. He is now back in Texas and his civilian job.
For me, I now join the list of retired Marines and look forward to the days of telling my stories to my daughters children someday when they ask "You were a Marine?" I can smile and say yes I was and in my heart and mind I will always be.