FORT A.P.HILL, Va. (MCN - 10/12/2010) — “My name is 1st Sgt. LaFountain and I am absolutely humbled to be in your presence. I know of all the great things that you have done in the past, the legacy of the (Marine rifleman). I know that they are the backbone of the Marine Corps; they inspire me. I am so proud to serve with them,” said 1st Sgt. Philip Joseph LaFountain, company first sergeant, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment.“I saw how much attention he was getting and I said “man that's pretty cool,” he said with a grin. “Then I started doing my research on the Marine Corps.”
He sat in a tan field tent in the early hours of the evening. A bluish hue cast a somber glow on his confident visage, revealing nearly two decades of Marine Corps experience. A youthful smile exposed the continued passion and energy for a lifestyle that less than .06 percent of the American population chooses to live by. He broke the silence. A modest tone began the story. And words of wisdom and understanding poured like water from a canteen.
“I kept myself in a good crowd,” said 1st Sgt. Philip J. LaFountain, honestly. “It really paid off and I owe a lot to my parents. Like the average kid in America, I came from a pretty good background, my parents were hard workers.”
Growing up in the cultural melting pot of Toledo, Ohio, LaFountain quickly found his niche playing sports. Throughout junior high school, he ran track and wrestled. It was this time spent wrestling, training, and watching his weight that forged the foundation of his discipline. He wrestled until his junior year in high school, hoping to receive a scholarship and continue his education in college. That all changed, one day when his brother, a Marine, came home as a lance corporal in his dress blues.
His brother, a combat engineer throughout Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, ignited the fire of competition in the younger LaFountain and in 1992, at the age of 18, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.
Having grown up with the spirit of competition thriving between the two brothers, LaFountain had a strong advantage when entering the Corps.
“My brother was a huge inspiration in my life. Seeing him become a Marine, seeing him do well; he was a high shooter in boot camp and graduated high in his platoon,” he said. “When I went there I was a high shooter, I had high (physical fitness scores). I found a niche and I liked it.”
LaFountain matured while in recruit training and entered the Marine Corps as a motor transport operator assigned to 8th Motor Transport Battalion. Even though he felt better suited for the infantry, LaFountain began his career with endless motivation. Consistently being chosen for meritorious boards and receiving high performance scores, he found the Marine Corps to be a good fit and adapted well to the new lifestyle.
Years quickly passed and when the opportunity to reenlist arose, a question lingered in his mind. As a sergeant of Marines by his fourth year, LaFountian was convinced by the feeling of bonding and brotherhood and inspired to keep doing what he was doing.
“I always tell my Marines that you have to go with what's in your heart. Being a Marine is the most gratifying thing that I've ever done. Earning the title of being a Marine is my most proud moment, and that's what has kept me in over the years.”
With his next few years spent in Hawaii, thoughts of becoming a Florida state trooper became more and more prevalent. He did his research and readied to leave the Marine Corps, but for some reason didn't fly back to Florida to take the exam. The enduring idea of becoming a drill instructor remained and he had to try.
“One day I'm walking through the battalion and I don't know what it was, but I passed the career planners office, with no intention to go there, I stopped dead in my tracks and I said to myself If I don't at least try to become a drill instructor, I don't want to go through the rest of my life regretting it. I ended up putting in a drill instructor package and I guess the Marine Corps wanted to keep me around because they gave me orders to the drill field.”
Between the years of 1999 and 2002, he spent his time on Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island making Marines. As a green belt drill instructor, a senior drill instructor, and a series gunnery sergeant, he molded fresh recruits into the newest generation of Marines and added a fresh face to the Marine Corps.
Stepping off the parade deck and heading to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion at Camp Pendleton, California, LaFountain went twice to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom before becoming the Enlisted Assignments Monitor for his MOS at Headquarters, Marine Corps.
After several years, he was given the opportunity that he had longed for, to work with infantry Marines. He received orders to be the company first sergeant for Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, an experience that would earn him the bronze star with combat valor and one he would never forget.
“I owe that bronze star to every Marine in my company,” he said with a serious tone. “We inserted by helicopter into Mian Poshteh, Afghanistan on July 2, 2009. It was pretty quiet and we knew a bunch of the local population was fleeing the area. We were on the ground for about two hours and then we began receiving contact from every direction, from (rocket propelled grenades) to machine guns. We weren't being overwhelmed we were just holding our ground, trying to identify where the fire was coming from. A couple of hours later our first casualty was Lance Cpl. Berry. He had passed out from heatstroke. My team of Marines and I rushed out of a building in the middle of the firefight. We ran about a hundred meters through RPG and AK47 fire. We collected the Marine up, got his gear off, and put him in the water to try and wake him up. He wasn't conscious at all. This whole time we're getting shot at and I heard my (Executive officer) yelling for us to get him out of there. From the moment we left that canal we were getting shot at. We really cared about that Marine and getting him inside the wire. I can't tell you how proud I am of that group of guys. I was only able to do that because I had great platoon commanders, great platoon sergeants, and great squad leaders that kept us as safe as they could. They surrounded us as we moved under fire to get that Marine. I owe it to them why I'm alive today.”
Having fought bravely, side-by-side with the Marines of Echo Company, LaFountain couldn't illustrate enough the courage and heroism of his Marines on that day.
“I was in complete awe to see my Marines run straight into bullets to protect me, to protect their fellow Marines,” he said. “When we are fighting next to one another, all we are thinking about is not letting my buddy down to the left and to the right. If I can do that then we will succeed because we will fight to the death.”
Currently the company first sergeant for Headquarters and Service Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, LaFountain reflects on a younger generation of Marines, stressing the importance of seizing the day, making the right decisions, and working hard to be the best.
“Junior Marines need to strive hard, he said. “If they start making the right decisions and start doing the right things they will find themselves very successful in their lives. If they try to set the standard the Marine Corps has always lived by, they will get every ounce of the Marine Corps that they were looking for, but they have to want that, no one can give that to them.”
He stood as his story drew to a close, the faint tent lights illuminating the pride in his eyes. Pride, not for his endeavors, his medals or his accomplishments, but pride for the men he serves with. With a pause, he ended with one last thought.
“My success story is my Marines. I believe in the team and I would be nothing without them, that's why the Marine Corps is great, we don't fight as individuals, we fight as a force. We are the Marine Corps and there is a legacy behind what we do.”
By USMC LCpl. Jeff Drew
2nd Marine Division
Reprinted from Marine Corps News
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