About 18 months ago, Rachael and I committed to retiring from the Marines in 2020. It felt like the right decision for our family for a few reasons. We wanted to live close to extended family in either Ohio or Massachusetts, and after years of going back and forth, we had chosen my hometown, Grafton, MA. A new development is being built across the street from my parents' neighborhood, and it looked perfect for us. I don’t know how many times I uttered the words, “I want to be able to tell a kid to get on a bike and go to their grandparents!” As our oldest kids approach their teen years, we wondered if it wouldn't be better for them to finally get to settle in one place and go to one elementary school, middle school, and high school. To see mostly the same set of faces from one year to the next. Next summer I’ll reach the 26-year mark of my career. I have achieved so much more than I ever thought possible going into this at age 20. What better way to end on a high note than with a (hopefully!) successful command tour? Every time we talked about the possibility of staying in, what it would entail to try to get promoted to colonel, and the additional sacrifices that would be required of this family, I kept concluding that it was time to call it quits. Rachael agreed, if only because she didn't want me to have to go to the Pentagon, which would be a distinct possibility.
While the idea of hanging up the uniform and putting down roots was exciting to think about, at the end of the day I never felt I was ready to stop being a Marine (and yes, I know, I know, I know, “Once a Marine, always a Marine!”). As I kept telling Rachael, there is something about being an active duty Marine.
From the moment I took command of Second Low Altitude Air Defense Battalion (2d LAAD) last summer, I knew I would probably never experience the job satisfaction I get each and every day coming to work here. I tell the Marines all the time, as corny as it sounds, I want them to wake up and be happy to come to work at this battalion. I set the same goal for myself, and there honestly has not been a day in which I did not look forward to coming to work. God willing, the next 13 months go the same way.
I want to tell you a quick story. When I first got to LAAD, there was a lance corporal who made a good impression on me. I thought, this is a guy who's locked on, fit, smart, and I instantly knew he was going to be one of my best Marines. Then I came to find out he'd recently been demoted, or "busted down" from corporal to lance corporal because of some mistakes he'd made in the wake of a messy divorce -- for instance being drunk on duty (BIG no-no). But for the next eight months I saw this Marine prove that my first impression of him had been the right one. He worked tirelessly -- first in, last out of the building every day. Besides excelling in his MOS as intelligence analyst, he volunteered his time to battalion activities, the Single Marine Program and other organizations. In November he was promoted (again) to corporal. In January he organized a contingent of 2d LAAD Marines to assist NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) agents in the search for a little boy lost in the woods. After observing how this young man had completely turned his life around, we submitted him for meritorious promotion to sergeant, and about a week ago found out he was approved. The sergeant-select's father was a Marine himself, and someone we'd gotten to know in the past few months. When I got the news of his promotion, I said to my sergeant major, "You've got to call his dad up. Let him be the one to tell him." As I was later relating this story to Rachael, her eyes got misty. Here was a man who had watched his son screw up and take a big step backward in his career in the Marines. Now he was going to be the first to congratulate his son on his meritorious promotion. I said to her, "It's pretty hard to imagine I could have a day like this anywhere else besides in the Marine Corps." Not to say all my days are like this – not everyone’s story has a happy ending -- but this is what it's about. To be in a position to mentor men and women who want more out of life than just to get a paycheck and get by; to reward them for their hard work, to have a front-row seat to their successes ... it doesn’t get any better than that. My Marines motivate and inspire me.
Just recently I had to give Delaney a lesson about selfishness and selflessness. I think she understands the difference, but afterward, it got me thinking. I have not always been the best at being selfless. Prior to being married, I only had myself to worry about. Sure, I would put my Marines and the Corps first, but outside of that it was only me. Enter Rachael and then these four crazy kids, and my priorities have definitely changed. There isn’t a single thing I would do, or stop doing, for them. So I thought retiring from the Marines was the most selfless thing I could do. Or was it?
Our family LOVES being in the Marines. We have enjoyed every duty station together (yes, even Okinawa for a whopping seven months), and we always look forward to the next adventure. Even Delaney, when asked the other day, said she liked me being in the Marines, even though we know what it has cost her and the other kids over the years. All the goodbyes and transitions, and the withdrawal we all go through when time spent with our faraway loved ones is over. It can be nerve-racking for Rachael and me, as we keep finding ourselves on pins and needles waiting for the Marine Corps to tell us where we are going. (Nothing like late-night Zillow searches in zip codes we may or may not end up in!) The news hasn’t always been what we were wanting to hear, and the changes can be chaotic and stressful. But through it all we have one another, and we consider "home" to be wherever the six of us are together. Our kids know they always have that, and by all accounts are extremely resilient toward whatever this life throws at us.
So the other day, after spending many moments in self-reflection, and after being asked for the hundredth time, “What are you going to do when you get out?” I asked myself this question: “What is my ideal job?”
That was easy: I am already doing it.
We talk often about the transformation we go through in boot camp or Officer Candidates School to become a Marine. For the most part, it becomes our identity. Sure, it may sound like I’ve been brainwashed, but this truly is the best job I could possibly have. Not just being a commanding officer, but first and foremost, being a Marine. And I believe I only become better at being a Marine because of Rachael and the kids.
Maybe in this instance I can be both selfish and selfless. I was never ready to give this life up, and if my family wasn’t either, then why do it? If I am still able to pour myself into this calling, and for as long as I can physically keep going, this may not end up being the end of the road after all.