It was 20 years ago on this day that I stepped on the yellow footprints at Parris Island, South Carolina and began my journey as a U.S. Marine. I was 17, and only 2 months into my summer as a high school graduate. I had enlisted on my 17th birthday, but the decision to become a Marine had been made a few years before then. I wanted a challenge and adventure. I wanted out of the small town U.S. I was living in and my home life. I didn’t think college was going to be all that different from High School, nor did I actually know what I wanted to be. I graduated top 10 in my class, I was class President and had plenty of other accolades and accomplishments for a well-padded college application…I was just not interested in college.
The Marine Corps offered opportunities to travel to distant lands, to push me to my limits, and to fast forward me into full adulthood. Boot camp proved to be a disappointment, and the follow-on years, less than exciting. My biggest challenge was overcoming being bored to death by my mindless job…working in an office, on a computer, at a desk. Of course, I made the best of it by setting goals for myself, making the best impact I could, and getting myself commissioned.
In October of 1999, I found myself once again doing a sea bag drag while getting screamed at, but this time it was at Officer Candidate School, in Quantico. I entered a whole new world on December 10th, 1999, when I pinned 2ndlt on my collar. A world that would challenge me immensely and reward me with the opportunity to lead some incredible Marines. However, in July of 2005, after returning from Iraq…I took off the uniform. After a hard but incredible tour in Okinawa, I was not able to adjust to what was next in my career. As a mid-level Captain, I was told it was time to learn how to become a good staff officer which interested me – not at all. I escaped to Iraq, but came back and got out to embark on the next phase of my life, and a whole new set of challenges.
Almost three years went by during which I had nothing to do with the Marine Corps. I was struggling to make it as an entrepreneur; I was hooking and jabbing in whole new ways. I overcame so much in my time in the Corps, I thought there was nothing I couldn’t do. I only had to try harder and be more persistent. Turns out, that wasn’t enough. My business failures lead me to losing everything. So in 2008, I turned back to the family and organization that had taken me in at 17. It took no time at all for me to get snapped back in. I considered my return to the Marine Corps a temporary solution to get back on my feet. For the Lord, it was part of the plan to bring me to my knees and to finish what He’d started.
Now, seven years later, with the last three years spent back on Active Duty, and experiencing a complete change of heart about my future in the Corps, I celebrate my 20 years anniversary, knowing I am committed to giving it a few more years.
The older I get, the more significant milestones have become in my life. They’re a reflection on what I figured I would have accomplished at this point, and who I would have become. I didn’t join the Marine Corps with the intentions of making a career out of it. I believed in the saying “If it’s not fun anymore, it’s time to get out”. When it stopped being fun, I got out. I left the Marine Corps with no intentions of coming back. I had entrepreneurial blood in my veins, so I figured by now I would have been a successful entrepreneur, living a completely different life.
Not so, instead, I kept finding myself back to the Marine Corps. Each time I came back, I was reminded why I go out. But each time I came back, I was also embraced by amazing Marines and friends…by my second family. Each time I came back, I returned to a place where I knew I felt at home. God ensured each time I came back, I was in an environment that continued to help me grow, prosper and provided me reassurance I make a difference in the world.
In 51 days, I will get on a plane, return to the States and no longer get up at 0535 to get ready to go to work to lead and serve Marines. I will endure an emotional tsunami of leaving my Marine Corps family and a place (Germany) I have absolutely loved calling home. I will leave with 20 years under my belt and with some tough tasks I need to accomplish in order to reach my next set of goals in the Marine Corps. I will leave still knowing getting off active duty was the right decision, but knowing being a Marine, leading Marines and being part of the Marine Corps has been and will continue to be a very large part of my life. It took almost 20 years for me to get it – being a Marine and leading Marines has always been part of God’s plan for my life.