Happy birthday, Marine Corps

U.S. Marines prepare for the "Rifle Salute" during the ceremonies honoring the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kilo Pier on Joint Base Pearl Harbor - Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii December 7, 2016. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry - RC197CC0F250

Many people—whether they are a part of the Marine Corps or not—know that the Marine Corps reveres certain legends, men like Dan Daly and Chesty Puller, and events like the Battles of Belleau Wood or Chosin Reservoir. This is so that we never forget where we came from, and because it gives us strength when we feel we are fully spent, mentally or physically.

I believe in that, and over time those legends become real for Marines themselves. We also develop legends of our own. Those, in turn, become part of our spirituality and guide us.

Anyone who has worn our cloth, whether it be for a few years or over 40, will likely say the same. Our membership in this greatest of fighting organizations has forever impressed upon our lives in indelible marks, and we wear it proudly.

One of the most charismatic and proud Marines I ever met was Sergeant Benjamin Davis. He was in the Oklahoma City recruiting office and talked my ear off when I was a “candidate”—someone who is accepted to go to Officer Candidate School (OCS) and training to be an officer—about how proud he was and what was to come for me as a Marine. He was selected to attend OCS with me, something else of which he was incredibly proud, but he never did. He was killed on April 19, 1995 by the domestic terrorist that blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

This event galvanized my entry into the Corps, and I thought of him often—along with the others I knew that were lost or horribly injured that day—when I thought I could go no further in the sleep-deprived, injury-ridden hell that we call Officer Candidate School, and many other hells since. From beyond the grave, they help me through.

There is another right of passage for officers, which we call the Basic School. The Basic School is like a prolonged version of OCS, except now you are an officer. Demands of “What now, Lieutenant?” and the fear of being “that guy” who can’t lead ants to a picnic has its pressures. It’s an extremely competitive environment—however, one of my squad-mates, Alan Rowe, took the time to lead, mentor, and train me at times when no one else would. (And trust me, I needed a lot of leading, mentoring, and training.)

He would often accompany me as I ran through the trails in the woods, and talk to me on hikes or other challenges when I thought I couldn’t go any further. He was a true leader, and the first lieutenant in the history of the Basic School to earn all three awards for leadership, physical fitness, and academics. He died leading his company in Iraq, a few miles from where I was engaged in a separate firefight the same night. Every promotion and command opportunity I get, I can imagine him looking down with pride—or maybe scratching his head in wonder. Moments when I think of Alan and other Basic School classmates and friends are always bittersweet: They should be there getting promoted with me, but aren’t.

The last Marine I will talk about is Major James Weis (“Weasel”). We sat next to each other in Command and Staff College and realized through conversation that he had bailed out my Marines and me one night in Iraq near Haditha. We were caught in a crossfire between bad guys and civilians who we didn’t want to kill in order to get to the bad guys. Weasel was a Cobra pilot (helicopter gun ship) and he…well let’s just say he swooped in and eliminated the threat.

Tragically, he was later shot down in Afghanistan in 2010 doing the same: taking care of his fellow Marines who were pinned down and taking fire. He gave his life for his brothers and sisters fighting on the ground.

Many Marines have shaped what the Marine Corps means to me—those are just a few. The Marine Corps birthday is an opportunity to look in the mirror (“am I worthy?”) and re-commit to our Corps, pushing on for those who cannot.

As a member of a great organization that is constantly in a state of rebirth, growth, old age, and renewal, most importantly, I would like to say:

  • To the high school kid who has become a man or woman and made the greatest commitment of their life by swearing allegiance to the Constitution—and then receiving the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor for the first time,
  • To my brothers and sisters currently on the watch around the world, serving as living guardians of freedom and democracy,
  • To the retiree or those who served a few years and are still “once a Marine, always a Marine,” and
  • To my brothers and sisters who have gone on to the most reverent assignment of all, guarding the streets of heaven,

Happy birthday, Marines. Semper Fidelis.