I don’t like writing about holidays, especially on the holidays themselves. Some people do it all the time, but I find it repetitive and boring. Today is Veterans Day in the United States and I’ve decided to make an exception this time and reflect on my former life. The life I had when I was on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. In just under four years (from the date of this article), I will have been retired from the Marine Corps for as long as I served in the Marine Corps. My former life in the Corps was far harder than after I retired from it, but it’s not something I can easily explain.
I joined the Marine Corps when I was only 17. By the time I was 21, I was already at my second duty station. While I suffer from not being able to remember all the dates, I can give you a general description of where I was and when:
Yes, I was an administrator. My official occupational title started as “personnel clerk”, which morphed to “personnel chief” at some promotion level. I was called many things by those outside of the admin field. I was an office poge, a Remington raider, a paper shuffler and a pencil pusher. Unlike other military branches, however, I had to stay proficient in some of the same areas as other specialties. The difference between an admin guy and a non-admin guy going to the field was that the non-admin guy got time off afterwards. The admin guy still had work to do.
I was an enlisted marine. Some civilians don’t know the difference between enlisted personnel and officers, thinking a sergeant’s next step up is lieutenant. It just doesn’t work that way.
Promotions were slow in my field. They were great for those who joined a few years earlier, post-Vietnam, but not for everyone after that. Promotions were better in other fields and even though I tried to change fields many times, my requests were always denied.
The only other choice I had, other than to keep doing what I was doing, was to get out for more than a year and then join again. Of course, I’d lose rank (and money), but that’s the price I would have to pay. After getting married and starting to raise a family, I just couldn’t afford to do that.
I retired as a Staff Sergeant, pay grade E-6, without doing anything wrong. I was never punished and I was only passed over for promotion twice (to Staff Sergeant). The quotas just weren’t there. Of course, that had a lot to do with the downsizing of the military that started when Bill Clinton was the president.
A promotion meant more pay. Without promotions, I had to rely on longevity increases and cost of living adjustments to get by. It was rough until we settled down in Phoenix because my wife could finally keep a job for more than a year. Despite what you may have heard, you couldn’t raise a family on one income back then. It’s even worse today.
It’s not like the other branches of the military and I can’t really explain it. For whatever amount of time a person serves in the Marine Corps, it’s their life. It’s 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Spouses who can’t deal with it tend to turn into ex-spouses.
Self-discipline is the most important thing about being in the Marine Corps. Without it, a person will be lucky to finish their first and only contract. Imagine how much self-discipline I needed to finish 20 years of active service. I had to do things I didn’t want to do, go places I didn’t want to go and put up with some of the worst types of people just to get through each day, month and year.
There was a lot of things I didn’t like about the Marine Corps, but there was a lot of things I did like about it. Job security was just one of the things I liked. You had to want to get kicked out to get kicked out.
The things I learned while in the military about people, about my job and about the things I taught myself outside of the job enabled me and my family to have a better life after the military than many who avoided the military. Getting a job was easy, if I really wanted the job.
To this day, there are some people who make snide remarks about my retirement pension. It doesn’t take me long to explain the details about how I served the country so they wouldn’t have to.
There are soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines serving today who will be our future veterans. That is, if they live to become veterans. If you’re not a veteran, please show some respect. Without them, the United States would not exist as it is today.
For all the veterans out there, especially the United States Marine Corps veterans…
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