I have been in the Navy now since 2004, both Active Component and now Reserve Component. I appreciate what the Navy does, while I do not always like administratively how it functions. I admire my fellow Sailors that I have served with who do incredible work in the defense of our country, and are among the best that this country produces.
That being said, no matter how long I serve in the Navy, there is a stronger side of me that still identifies as a United States Marine. Defining what it is that makes a Marine, and then defines you as that for the rest of your life is hard to put your finger on. There is an intangible difference that going through Parris Island, MCRD San Diego, or Quantico and earning the title Marine creates, that cannot be defined simply by the fact that you wear a uniform that say U.S. Marines rather than U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force or U.S. Coast Guard.
I believe that I can only define that intangible difference for myself, and that other Marines may experience it differently or possibly for some none at all (although in my experience, that is rare). There is an Esprit de Corps that is formed in boot camp or Officer Candidate School that constantly tells you (brainwashes is what most of my Navy friends say) that you are becoming the best of the best, the few and the proud when you earn the title, Marine. It is not about gaining a job skill, although all Marines have a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS); it is also not about being a bunch of brainless robot warriors who are all exactly the same, as anyone who has ever been privy to the sometimes less than good-natured ribbing between POGS (persons other than grunts) and Infantry (grunts) or the Air Wing Marines and the rest of the Marine Corps. It is about the fact that no matter what else you are, you are first and foremost a Marine.
Other services, probably a natural outgrowth of their size, find a similar sense of group belonging revolving around their particular job or skill, such as Navy Seabees, Navy SEALS, Air Force Para Rescue, or a unit like the Army’s 82nd Airborne. Within those units and group identifications, there is loyalty and devotion; but only within the Marine Corps is every single member bonded together in a single defining statement that they are a Marine. Marines do not wear unit designations on their standard dress, service or working uniforms; because the emphasis is on the Corps as a whole, not on the individual or the individual unit. The Marine Corps Ball is the premier event across all units in the Marine Corps. In the Navy which I am most familiar with, the Navy Ball is available, but in many if not most cases is overshadowed by the Seabee ball, Chaplain Corps ball, Supply Corps Ball or various unit activities. Until 1991, and only now due to the media not properly identifying Marines instead of soldiers, Marines did not wear nametapes on their camouflage utilities, because it is not about the individual but the unit and Corps; also, the good leader should know his Marines’ names without having to see a nametape. Even today, no nametag is worn on the service or dress uniform except in special instructor and recruiter scenarios. Again, it is about being a part of the group, that Esprit de Corps that finds its meaning from your place within the group.
As I reflect on the Marine Corps Birthday today, 10 November, I can take pride in having earned the title Marine. Not a pride in what I did as Marine, because to be honest, I was in the Reserves and did not do much of anything warrior like or memorable. I had a great time, made some lasting friendships and God used that experience to move His plan forward in my life. No, my pride is a pride that I bear the same honorable title that the true warriors of Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Chosin Reservoir, Khe San, Fallujah, Sangin and so many other spots whose names are unknown to the average American, shed their blood in service to our great nation. It is that sense of Esprit de Corps that allows me, a Navy Chaplain, who served as an Ammunition Technician in the Reserves after finishing Parris Island to feel a common bond with the great Marines of the past and present who lived out the motto, “first to fight”, because each of us earned the title, Marine. Happy Birthday, Marines!